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The Banner Seen 'Round the World

It was a banner day for a few hearty activists who happen to be crack climbers.
 
 
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It was an audacious idea. Whack the Republican invasion of New York with a stiff upper cut, even before the R's got off of their stool. Fire a preemptive shot seen around the world – and especially in swing states – that would strike the public imagination. Create and execute a clean, clear and inspiring act so cool that the media would be compelled to carry the message.

But so many things had to go right, especially in those early morning hours when the anxiety was pulsing through the veins of crack climbers Terra Lawson-Remer and David Murphy, hanging at the top of the Plaza Hotel, and ready to unfurl their giant "Truth-Arrow North; Bush-Arrow South" banner.

The highly organized activists – including compatriots Cesar Maxit and Rebecca Johnson – started their stealth effort at 5:00 a.m. from a cozy room inside the Plaza Hotel. At 6:15 a.m. they began rappelling down the face of the opulent building, a symbol of New York aristocracy and a favorite City landmark anchoring the Southeast corner of Central Park. Finally at 9:30 a.m. – more than three excruciating hours later – the banner was unfurled.

Made out of rip-stop nylon with a plastic coating, weighing 85.5 pounds, the banner was 40 by 60 feet, or 2400 square feet of straight-up message, prepared by a hard working banner team who stayed up all hours for almost two weeks to get it sewed up, said Lawson-Remer, who carried it down the side of the hotel.

But in the words of Murphy, "it was a miracle that we pulled it off. So many things could have gone wrong." Lawson-Remer adds, "it took us three hours up there because I was trying to be so careful not to damage any property, to avoid heavy duty legal charges."

Murphy continues, "There were workers on the ground looking up at us – maybe they just thought we were window washers. There was a guy watching television in a room right near where I sat while our radios were squawking...but no one noticed."

Essentially the action was the brain child of Lawson-Remer, who pulled the team together, and raised the funds, at least enough to make the action happen. Just 25, Lawson-Remer is nevertheless a veteran activist who counts Tom Hayden and Ruckus Society leader John Sellers as mentors. She hails from San Diego, graduated from Yale and is a doctoral and law student at NYU.

As a result of the banner drop, Lawson-Remer and her partners have been charged with felony assault and reckless endangerment and as well as criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor. While the charges are clearly trumped up, a stiff legal fight will be required to get them reduced or thrown out, as the City seems determined to throw the book at the climbers, especially after one of the cops badly cut his leg when he put his foot through a skylight.

But like everything else in this meticulously planned project, Lawson-Remer had secured legal help long before the event. She went to Gerald Lefcourt, a veteran progressive attorney who long ago was Abbie Hoffman's lawyer. Lefcourt agreed immediately to do the case pro bono.

With all the risks, the grand goal was the media message. Lawson-Remer said: "It is all about winning the election in November, about inspiring people to take action, and get the message to swing states. A photo of the banner was on page 2 of USA Today, a paper that gets read in middle America, the action was on television screens across the country and internationally."

"Our message to people who already know what the problem is get involved, do everything you can this fall – talk to friends, neighbors – and not just in this election but ongoing. The Bush regime represents self interest and deception, but Bush is not the only problem. Murphy seemed a little more ambivalent about the election: "I'm not sure how much better Kerry is going to be, but I know getting Bush out is incredibly important."

With a tremendously successful march on Sunday – the NY Times reporting half a million creative, outspoken, colorful, determined marchers, with the incredibly array of art, music and culture resisting the Republican visit and celebrating the utter "blueness" of New York City – the huge banner hanging was a fitting opening frame to the media battle for NY.

Needless to say, Lawson-Remer and the team have a bunch of bills to pay and there will be considerably expenses in the legal case beyond Attorney Lefcourt's time. Contributions can be sent to Operation Sybil c/o Gerald Lefcourt, 148 East 78th Street, New York, NY 10021. Contributions are not tax deductible.

Don Hazen is the Executive Editor of AlterNet.