The graffiti of politics and the politics of graffiti

Adam Kader

I am writing this as a member of the Students For Leftist Action. As is hopefully already known, our group stands in opposition to the Iraqi War and we have been taking various actions to express our dissent as well as to influence people of power. Our actions have included a class walkout and open forum to discuss the war, weekly protests downtown, and critical editorials in the One Minute Left.

However, our actions have not included vandalism in any form, including the “No blood for oil” graffiti that has appeared on campus.

While some of SLA’s members (including myself) believe that graffiti is a legitimate means of political expression and protest, none of our members believe that this particular act of graffiti on campus is acceptable or even makes sense.

We deny any responsibility for the message scrawled in front of Downer, and more recently, the message near the seal in front of Main Hall.

Graffiti represents a reclaiming of space-it challenges notions of ownership and contests the purpose of that space. Furthermore, the act of tagging acknowledges the ineffectiveness of, or the actor’s exclusion from, legitimate forums of political discussion.

However, the graffiti that has appeared on campus does not accomplish any of these things. Rather, its placement suggests the tagger lacks an understanding of the politics of graffiti.

Lawrence is not a state institution or part of the U.S. war machine (on the contrary, many members of the institution have been quite vocal in their opposition to the war), nor is the cement in front of Downer or Main Hall a space which warrants any reclamation.

Those sections of cement do not otherwise serve as vehicles for propaganda of any sort, except maybe for the pursuit of knowledge in the case of the Lawrence seal.

Lastly, there are many effective and accessible forums for political dissent on campus, including an entire organization and two publications.

Certainly, I encourage fellow Lawrentians to explore innovative and radical means for political expression. However, I also urge them to do so intelligently.

I applaud graffiti artists who deface the capitalist landscape of billboards, and activists who contradict the sanctity of private property. Such actions can be highly symbolic and evocative.

Carelessly scribbling on random sections of cement, however, (especially when done with no artistic merit!) deserves no praise.

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