Facebook Slider
Get News Alerts!
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 01:04

Freeway Blogger: Keeping the 1st Amendment Alive

Written by 
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email
Rate this item
(0 votes)
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

In this country, putting up political dissent is the same as waving a flag. Any country in the world will let you stick up a flag. But this is America, and what makes America different is we’re allowed to put up a sign that says impeach -- a sign that says impeach, over a freeway, is just as patriotic as a flag. After 9/11, that was a time to put flags up on freeways. This is the time to put up signs that say: "Impeach this president who lies."

-- Freeway Blogger

* * *

BuzzFlash loves the grassroots messaging work of the Freeway Blogger and his movement.

It's simple yet innovative; inexpensive, yet effective.

We would love to see a Freeway Blogging uprising across America. It's a First Amendment guerrilla movement that can have a tremendous psychological impact on mainstream Americans.

It offers a chance for anyone to broadcast messages to end our involvement in Iraq and to remove Cheney and Bush from office.

It doesn't require a hierarchy or large funding. It just requires minimal material, a little work, and you.

WARNING: BuzzFlash sincerely and adamantly cautions readers not to engage in any public messaging that potentially could harm people. For instance, if you put up a sheet with a message hung over a highway overpass, it could blow onto a vehicle and cause a fatal accident. Do not engage in any Freeway Blogging that can result in an accident or harm to others! Not only would you be responsible for the death or injury of people, you would be legally liable and might go to jail. So, only engage in safe Freeway Blogging. Think smart!

In addition, know the law. We love the Freeway Blogger, who wishes to use a pseudonym, and think that he is brilliant in the simplicity and effectiveness of his concept, but we disagree with him about legal issues. In short, check the law out in your area before you engage in public messaging or Freeway Blogging. If you choose to break the law as an act of civil disobedience, know the risks that you are undertaking. If the public messaging that you are engaging in is legal, know your rights in advance in case that you are approached by the police.

We also should note that placing stickers on property owned by public or private entities (including toll booths, telephone polls, stoplights, etc.) may result in a fine and a bill (which could be hefty) for paying employees to remove the stickers or affixed signs. Again, know your rights and your risks in advance.

Once more -- and most importantly -- do not engage in any public signage that will potentially cause harm in any way (a big sign over a highway can be blown down onto traffic if you don't take proper precautions). When in doubt about safety issues, don't do it.

With those warnings taken to heart, if you can do it safely and understand the legal risks (when they exist), please join the Freeway Blogging movement.

It's a concept whose time has come.

And now, the BuzzFlash interview with the leader of the Freeway Blogging movement.

* * *

BuzzFlash: You’ve begun a really simple but tremendously innovative effort to make more Americans aware of the majority opinion in this country, which is that Bush and Cheney are doing a dreadful job in leading the nation, and a particularly horrific job in the Iraq war leading to the deaths of more than 3,000 GIs and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars. You have a site called freewayblogger.com. Can you explain what freeway blogging is?

Freeway Blogger: Yes, it’s very simple. Freeway blogging is a way of reaching the greatest number of people with the least amount of expense or energy on the part of an individual. Essentially if you want to spread a message to as many people as possible in this society, and you don’t have a TV or a radio station or any kind of media outlet at your disposal, the best way to do it is simply to place signs next to freeways. Make large texts and put them next to freeways where they can be seen. One sign sitting next to a major urban freeway will be seen by about 200,000 people every day until it comes down. And a sign costs ten cents.

BuzzFlash: The cost here can be minimal. It can be a poster or posters stapled together.

Freeway Blogger: I use cardboard, and if I can extend just one thing to the peace movement in this country, it’s use cardboard. Cardboard is stiff. You can paint on it much more easily than on a soft medium. And you can put it anywhere. You can nail it to trees. You can put it on posts. You can put it up against fencing using just a bungee cord and a little bit of duct tape. And also, you put it on the inside of the fencing. Before I started doing this, for some reason, people thought they had to put the freeway signs on the outside of the fencing so that it could be read. But the fact is, if the letters are nine or ten inches tall, they’ll be read just fine through the fencing. And the difference between having a sign on the inside of the fencing and the outside of the fencing is that on the inside of the fencing, it is absolutely safe. The sign will not be flying off onto the highway.

BuzzFlash: How many people can you reach?

Freeway Blogger: The stats here in California are for the major freeways in like Los Angeles and the Bay Area and San Diego run up to just over 200,000 cars a day. And that’s per direction. So if you have a sign that can reach both directions somehow -- you know, ten lanes of freeway -- and it stays up for 24 hours, that’s 400,000 people, provided it’s lit at night. And believe it or not, you can actually do that fairly easily.

The other thing is, a lot of it is the content. If you wanted a large percentage of the people that live in Chicago to think about Darfur tomorrow, all you would have to do is paint ten or twelve signs that said “Think about Darfur” and put them next to the freeways. Try to get as many freeways and as many different directions as you can. And you’ll get half a million people to think about Darfur when otherwise they wouldn’t have. Otherwise, all they would have seen would be fencing. So it’s an incredibly efficient way, for better or for worse, to get people to think about what you want them to think about, even if it’s just for a moment on the freeway.

BuzzFlash: The important thing about this is, as much as demonstrations and marches are valuable and supported by BuzzFlash, this is something people can do at any time, and one person can do it.

Freeway Blogger: Yes. That is very important, because I believe that that we have sort of lulled ourselves into thinking that the only way we can affect any kind of change is by working in large groups. Politically speaking, organizing into large groups is a good idea, but it’s not the only idea.

BuzzFlash: And that takes time and expense. This is something you could decide you were going to do on a Friday night, or, let’s say, a Thursday night, and have it up for the Friday rush hour in the morning.

Freeway Blogger: And all you need is cardboard and paint.

BuzzFlash: What about the safety issues? We don’t want to cause any accidents, so you have to be careful. If you drape a sheet over an expressway and it’s not secure, it could fly on a car and possibly cause an accident. So one has to be responsible in doing this.

Freeway Blogger: Yes. And the way to do that is just to evaluate the physics of the matter. Frankly, if the sign is on the inside of an overpass, it can fall two feet and be on a sidewalk somewhere. If it’s on the outside of the overpass, it can fall into traffic and theoretically cause a whole lot of damage. It's safer on the inside of the fence or on the side of the road.

And that brings us to another important strategic factor -- that a sign placed to the side of the road, that’s not in your face like a big overpass banner, is going to stay up for days, possibly weeks, and it’ll be seen by a lot more people than something that’s in your face. The most effective signs are ones that are only as large as they need to be to be seen and to be read. A sign nailed to a tree that says “Impeach” is going to have as much visual effect as a gigantic billboard that says “Impeach,” for no other reason than that the sign is an anomaly. You don’t see these things all the time, but you see billboards all the time. So long as the text is directly visible to the traffic, it’s going to be seen by a whole lot of people.

BuzzFlash: We should let people know that there is some risk to this, In some jurisdictions, it is possible that police may choose to arrest someone if they are seen putting up these signs. Is that correct?

Freeway Blogger: I don’t think they could actually arrest you for it. They could arrest you for talking back to them. They could arrest you for not obeying a lawful order to take down the signs.

I should mention, just numerically, I have put up over 4,000 signs now, and directly over or next to freeways. I’ve been caught by police officers seven times. Each of those times, it was with no other consequence than having to -- cheerfully, mind you -- take down the sign. The one time I was handcuffed and taken down to the station was when I was caught by a San Francisco cop working for the Department of Homeland Security. I just went along with it cheerfully, because I know this is America. I know perfectly well ain’t nobody gonna throw you in jail for putting up a political sign, the purpose of which was simply to reach as many of your fellow citizens as you possibly could. Because when you get right down to it, that’s what the First Amendment grants us.

BuzzFlash: What was the basis for this person arresting you?

Freeway Blogger: For putting up the sign. He made it a point that he wasn’t actually arresting me. He just was questioning me and doing that dance that one has to do with police from time to time when you’re working in a gray area. I have an attorney on this, and he said basically: Look, you can be taken into court for this. But there is almost no way that you’re going to get any kind of problem. You’re going to win because essentially your First Amendment right trumps all the little vehicle codes and local ordinances and things like. You can say, provided you believe it -- and believe me, I do -- that when a citizen feels their country or its democracy is in danger, it’s not just their right to speak out as loud as they possibly can. It’s their obligation practically.

I think everyone in the court system realizes and understands this. This is one of those things that they don’t want to promote, certainly. The mayor isn’t going to write everyone a letter and say: Hey, you know what? You should all speak out on the freeways. But they know they can’t arrest you for it.

BuzzFlash: The freeway blogging signs we’ve posted on BuzzFlash that you forwarded and we see on your site, mostly say "Impeach Bush" or Cheney, or "Stop the Iraq War," or "Save Our Soldiers." Is that the vast majority?

Freeway Blogger: My first real big campaign was “Nobody Died When Clinton Lied.” Those were five words that came to me after the Joe Wilson letter came out. And when I Googled it, I found that there was only one citing of those five words, so I thought, well, more people need to hear these words.

Another thing about free speech is, provided you’re not directly threatening anyone, you can say whatever you want. And so I’ll put up signs that say pretty much whatever I want them to. I focus a lot on the fact that Bush lied -- just a sign that says “Bush lied” -- it’s only eight characters. It’s not incredibly witty. But it is saying something that, to this day, you will not hear on CNN. You will not hear it on Fox. You will scarcely read it in your newspaper. They’ll say there was faulty intelligence, that people were misinformed. There was cherry-picking. Damn it, I -- you will not hear anyone say that Bush lied about this.

BuzzFlash: In fact, we wrote a commentary on this. The primary White House reporter for The New York Times was on a panel in about covering D.C. On this panel, when asked why won’t you say Bush lied when it’s quite apparent, she said, “Well, you just can’t say that about the President of the United States.”

Freeway Blogger: Unless he’s a Democrat.

BuzzFlash: Yes, exactly. She said you could say his statement seemed to contradict an earlier statement. Or his statement was at variance with the facts provided by the Pentagon. But it is inappropriate for a journalist to say that the President of the United States lied.

Freeway Blogger: That’s right. This gets right to the heart of what’s wrong with this country. Those journalists are all paid. They’re all paid to talk to you. I’m not paid. I can say whatever I want because nobody can fire me. That is another reason why people need to do this.

BuzzFlash: If someone goes to freewayblogger.com, what will they find? Do you have tutorials there? We’ve seen on your site, how to assemble a banner on four dollars, and what you need to do.

Freeway Blogger: Yes. The essence of it is you make large text. The best way to do that is on cardboard that you’ve painted white. And I use an overhead projector so that I can make these beautiful fonts and styles and lettering. But, if you just want to give it a try, you can use duct tape or paint, or freehand. The point is just make large letters and then drive around and look for the right place to put them.

And that is the real fun of this -- the sort of chess game that occurs when you try to find the perfect place. You ask yourself, where can I place this so that the greatest number of people will see it for the longest period of time? And the simple way to do that is just drive around. See what you can see that looks difficult to get to, and then go there and put up a sign.

And I can’t tell you the feeling. The freeways are very locked-in courseways. There’s places you can go and places you simply can’t. They’re filled with these spots where there’s a piece of fencing that’s a hundred feet away from the traffic, but it would take literally twenty miles to reach them if you’re in a car. What it feels like to stick a sign up right there in front of a traffic jam, knowing that none of them can possibly reach it -- it’s classic.

BuzzFlash: This freeway blogging movement really seems a guerilla movement. Anyone can do it. No one needs to report to anyone. You can be like Superman. You just go and do it. You come home. Your wife or husband doesn’t even need to know what you did. Do you have any idea about how many people are doing this?

Freeway Blogger: We’ve got about 3,500 people who are pledged to do it. About a thousand people so far have put up a sign or two.

BuzzFlash: That you know of.

Freeway Blogger: That I know of. Right now, I have a core group of about two dozen people who actually get it. And by getting it, that means that they’ve realized that it’s a war. We’re fighting an information war here. As citizens, we’re soldiers in that war. And that means you kind of have to fight a little every day. The thing is, once you’ve nailed down about five or six signs, or five or six places to post signs, you can reach a majority of the people on your freeways giving maybe a half an hour a week. Just detouring from your commute by a couple of minutes, you can reach 200,000 people.

BuzzFlash: Is there a best time to do this?

Freeway Blogger: No. That’s something that’s misunderstood. Four in the morning is no time to be doing this. You can do it in broad daylight. I work in broad daylight simply. Using the cardboard and bungee cord method, it literally takes eight seconds to put up a sign. And since cardboard folds, you know, you are just a person walking around with some folded cardboard, except for eight seconds when you’re putting it on the fence. After that, you’re just a person walking away. I also wear one of those orange highway vests which allows me to walk pretty much anywhere alongside a freeway and, you know, belong there.

BuzzFlash: In the interest of full disclosure, people are taking any risk on their own. And it’s not without a risk. If you’re walking along the side of a freeway, you could be hit by a car or a truck.

Freeway Blogger: I spend my time in this area beside freeways in the trees, the plants -- and it’s a veritable no-man’s land. Nobody’s around there. The only way a car is going to hit you if you’re up in the trees next to a freeway, which is where you belong, is if the car careened a hundred feet off the freeway.

The biggest risk people have is that of looking foolish. But if you can overcome that, then you’re unstoppable.

BuzzFlash: One of the most satisfying results of participating in freeway blogging is for those people who feel, appropriately, that the mainstream media is biased toward the Bush Administration and the status quo. This is a way of launching a massive counter-information approach to reaching the American public.

Freeway Blogger: And being able to do it massively, literally all by yourself. I'm going to be spending this summer literally papering the West Coast with protests.

BuzzFlash: There’s a devil’s advocate argument that police officers could make, or the people who work for highway maintenance, that putting up signs like this distracts drivers. You had an excellent response to that.

Freeway Blogger: It’s take down all the billboards. Take down all the corporate logos, and I’ll stop putting up my signs -- maybe. The fact of the matter is that, when the Founding Fathers gave us the right to free speech, it wasn’t just window-dressing. They meant for us to use it in times of crisis.

I was talking on some right-wing show, and the guy was pushing this argument that it’s illegal. It distracts drivers. I said, “Look, if you could bring the Founding Fathers back and show them a sign on the freeway, they’d say something had to go, but it wouldn’t be the sign.”

BuzzFlash: And on any interstate highway, there’s dozens of signs, chain hotel logos that you can see from a distance.

Freeway Blogger: Sure. And there’s also something called bandit signs, which are used a lot by furniture expositions and gun shows, in particular. There are those one-by-three-foot fluorescent signs that they put up on telephone poles next to the freeways advertising gun shows. If those guys can do that, you’re not going to stop me from expressing myself politically, which is -- honestly, the most protected right we have -- political free expression.

BuzzFlash: And before the interstate highway system, we had the famous Burma Shave signs on the highways throughout the United States.

Freeway Blogger: The other blanket precedent for this was all the flags that went up on overpasses after 9/11 -- that opened the door. Those flags weren’t illegal. In this country, putting up political dissent is the same as waving a flag. Any country in the world will let you stick up a flag. But this is America, and what makes America different is we’re allowed to put up a sign that says impeach -- a sign that says impeach over a freeway is just as patriotic as a flag. After 9/11, that was a time to put flags up on freeways. This is the time to put up signs that say: "Impeach this president who lies."

BuzzFlash: Think about a sign that says “Support our Troops.” I assume 100% of the people in the United States could say, well, I’m behind that sign. Well, if you follow Bush, you say support our troops by sending them to Iraq to possibly be killed. If you’re like us, you say support our troops by bringing them home from a fruitless war that’s been going on longer than World War II, with no end in sight. So it’s not the phrase "support our troops," it is what comes after that.

Freeway Blogger: I amended a support our troops sign with a sign of my own that said “impeach the murdering bastards that sent them to die for a pack of lies.” Rhetorically perhaps a bit excessive, but this is what happened. The picture of that got to a reporter with the Guardian, and he printed a story in the U.K. using that sign. It got reprinted in about eight different countries all over the world.

BuzzFlash: Do you find that highway blogging sometimes does get photographed and reproduced in papers, reaching a further audience?

Freeway Blogger: Some of my stuff has been picked up by the AP and others, too. But the point I was trying to make. is that the best thing that we can do for our country right now is show the people in other countries that we’re fighting. We’re really trying to change things here. Because anyone can feel good about their country. It’s getting people from other countries to feel good about your country. That’s what we need to work on more than anything. Right now, people around the world are dying to hear that Americans are the kind of people that they remember us being.

BuzzFlash: Under the Nixon era, they spoke of the silent majority. Right now, the silent majority is the group of people -- the vast majority, by a landslide -- who disapprove of what Bush and Cheney are doing, and the vast majority who disapprove of the Iraq war. This gives a chance to make that silent majority a vocal majority, because the mainstream media isn’t going to allow their sentiment to be heard. This becomes, in essence, a grassroots articulation of the majority opinion that’s only achievable through individual action because the mainstream media won’t represent that silent majority.

Freeway Blogger: Yes. No kidding.

BuzzFlash: So to finish up, when a person decides they want to do this, do they go to freewayblooger.com first?

Freeway Blogger: At Freewayblooger.com there’s a how-to. There’s a lot of examples. But the best advice I can give is go get the cardboard and paint it white. Then you’re committed, because you’ve got all this white cardboard now sitting in your house. You can either throw it away at this point, or you can put a message on that cardboard. And once you’ve done that, then you really are committed.

Then you have to find a place to put it. And believe me, it doesn’t have to be a freeway. It can be a library. It can be wherever you are comfortable putting it. Once you put a sign up, people will read it until somebody takes it down. And you would be shocked at how long I’ve had signs stay up because nobody took the ten minutes it would take them to go take it down. It’s just amazing. I realized the power of this once I saw a couple of signs that had stayed up long, long after they should have come down. Everybody who drove by who hated that sign thought the next person was going to do it.

BuzzFlash: Two technical questions -- if there’s not something to fix the sign to, what do you do? Put it on a pipe like a stick?

Freeway Blogger: You could. For hillsides, which is the only place where there really isn’t anything that you can do, I take out a wooden pallet. I’ll just, you know, drag it out to the middle of the hillside. And then you can put the cardboard on the pallet using just binder clips -- those large legal things.

The thing is, someone will come and take down the sign, once they’ve gone for that walk onto the hillside to do it. But they always leave the pallet. I had one sign on the Altamont pass that stayed up for two weeks --was seen by 200,000 people a day for those two weeks until somebody took away the sign. I replaced the sign. I did this about five times before they finally took away the damn pallet that I was putting the signs next to. Then I just brought another pallet out there.

The real fun part of this is that honestly you’re unstoppable. If you just decide what I want to do is convey a message to as many people as possible, there’s no way they can stop you.

BuzzFlash: Now on overpasses in Chicago, there aren’t, in general, chain-link screens. So they wouldn’t necessarily be a good place, because if you fixed a sign, it could blow off into traffic.

Freeway Blogger: There probably are some that do have chain-link screens, and you should concentrate on those. And there’s always trees by the freeway. There’s all sorts of infrastructure. Anything you can see when you’re driving is a place you can put a sign. And if you put a sign there, it will get read. It doesn’t have to be an overpass by any means.

BuzzFlash: You don’t staple them to trees, right? That would be anti-environmental.

Freeway Blogger: I do actually. But if people don’t speak out, there ain’t gonna be any trees, you know? There ain’t gonna be much left of this planet if we don’t do something to turn things around. And you know what? A tree next to a freeway is used to suffering.

BuzzFlash: I’m sure you remove the staples later.

Freeway Blogger: Recycle them.

BuzzFlash: One other question and I’ll let you go. If people do this -- and we certainly hope this is the beginning of taking your movement to the next stage -- you would like them, if possible, to send you a photograph or a jpeg?

Freeway Blogger: Yes. Send a picture to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . And you don’t have to get a picture of the sign on the freeway. Unless you really know what you’re doing, sometimes that can be dangerous. Just send me a picture of the sign after you’ve painted it.

BuzzFlash: We’ve seen on your site, sometimes it says, "posted over a freeway in Seattle," for instance.

Freeway Blogger: It’s good to know that, but the most important thing -- once you’ve done six signs, you’re an expert. It’s really that simple -- the learning curve on this is pretty quick and steep. But the most important thing is just paint the signs. Once you’ve done that, you will find where to put them.

BuzzFlash: Thank you very much. And great job.

Freeway Blogger: Okay, peace.

* * *

BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.

Resources:

Freeway Blogger.com

A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Read 536 times Last modified on Sunday, 13 May 2007 05:07