Signs of Road Rage
Instead of HTML code, he's got black paint. He breathes car exhaust rather than recycled office air. The highway patrol is on his case, not the FCC. At this tense election precipice, there is one political blog that bridges the digital divide, the brainchild of a Southern California man who goes only by the moniker "The Freeway Blogger."
Freeway Blogger's signs are simple black-on-white statements like: "War President? My Pet Goat"; "The War is a Lie"; and "Rumsfailed." His personal favorite is: "Nobody Died When Clinton Lied." Attached to highway overpasses and cyclone fences, the messages stay up for a couple of hours, perhaps a couple of months. They challenge the Bush administration, displaying the blogger's disgust with the war on Iraq and obliquely indicting the mainstream media's suppression of alternative voices.
"The first signs I put up were after the election of 2000. I had been taught as a child that democracy is a place where you count the votes, and when I saw that was not going to happen, I felt cheated," he says in a phone interview.
"The reason I've done this is not because I'm consumed with a hatred of Bush or flaming with political passions," he points out. "The men who founded this country gave us the first amendment as a way of making sure that democracy stayed alive and vibrant. The reason they gave each of us the right to speak out was to sound the alarm if we felt our country or democracy was in danger."
Freeway Blogger is sounding that alarm by encouraging a nationwide sign-posting extravaganza called the "National Freeway Free Speech Day: Driving America to Think" on Oct. 13. The date coincides with the third and final presidential debate.
"I'm getting swamped with emails from people all over the country saying they're going to participate. I really believe there will be a thousand of us by the 13th." Through his website, he has garnered commitments from nearly 700 people to put up signs in 175 cities across 45 states. His web site advises that laws vary from state to state, and taunts, "But you'll have to catch us first."
To Freeway Blogger, he is simply exercising his first amendment right; to law enforcement in California, where he plies his trade, he's breaking the law (which states that signs must be 600 feet away from freeways) – though he has yet to be caught or cited for his acts of protest.
He'd ideally like to see people join in from the southern states like Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi and of course, more participants from the swing states. "I'm particularly proud of Phoenix, the location of the presidential debates, where at least 25 people will be papering the city," he says.
"I am just a guy with a pickup truck and an overhead projector and I've been able to reach millions of people for a nominal cost. It's hard for me not to think that if there were just ten more people like me we'd have the Western United States covered."
Freeway Blogger says he is not inclined toward organizing large movements of people, but he believes in showing others that their voices can be 'heard.' "The 13th is a dry run. We know what happened in the last election; we'd be fools to think it can't happen again. This time, I want to know that we spoke out, that we won't go down without a fight."
Since he began his sign-posting protest acts, he has single-handedly put up over two thousand signs. His most intense effort was in early September – the day that the death of the 1000th American soldier was announced. He attempted to put up 100 signs in one night as a statement, but fatigue forced him to quit at 83.
Freeway Blogger has learned a lot in his four-year journey. He originally used bed sheets, heavy bicycle chains and clunky, large canvases. Through trial and error he's learned to use lightweight cardboard, upon which he slaps a coating of white latex paint. With an overhead projector he blows up the letters and traces them in black paint. Then he finds some sort of freeway infrastructure to nail or staple or prop his signs to. Other than doing a "victory lap" to see how the sign looks, he doesn't wait around. "I'm very careful to do this in such a way so as not to get caught," he says.
From now until Nov. 2, sign-posting will be nearly a full-time job.
"Freedom of Speech: Use it or Lose it" is his website's tagline. He claims that the Bush administration's slow erosion of citizen's rights on behalf of Homeland Security scares him less than "our own laziness and sloth."
"This is the Age of Information and yet half of America thinks Saddam Hussein is behind the attacks of Sept. 11. Obviously there is something wrong. Another thing that astounds me is that from July 8 of 2002 until November of 2003, the president never once uttered the name Osama bin Laden in any press conference, radio address or publicly at all." This fact inspired the sign, "Osama bin Forgotten."
Emulators have been crafting signs of their own. Some of these notables include: "Texas Crude, We're Screwed," "Fear More Years," and "Support our Oops."
"If what happened in the election of 2000 happens again in 2004, this country will be papered in signs that just say "NO." We will have painted the country in a sea of "NO" and will have, at least, spoken out."