A press release went out yesterday announcing that a group called the Sit Lie Posse had “liberated” six billboards and 60 bus shelters with original artwork in opposition to Proposition L, San Francisco’s proposed sit / lie ordinance. The posters bear three different images, including one featuring a "Gascon-topus," illustrated with the face of San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon and the body of a gigantic octopus. Gascon is a strong advocate for the ordinance, which would ban sitting and lying down on San Francisco sidewalks.
While members of the posse did not provide a phone number or reveal their true identities, the Guardian did manage to get in touch via email with a spokesperson of the posse, who goes by the name Jim Rawley.
Rawley says he chose his name in honor of the character from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, who manages the utopian Weedpatch camp and treats the impoverished Joad family with dignity and respect. Rawley also reveals the technique the Sit Lie Posse uses to liberate bus-shelter ads, and tells us how long it takes for the crew to put up displays of their artwork throughout the city. A few of our questions and answers appear below.
San Francisco Bay Guardian: Does the Sit Lie Posse have a budget? If so, how much?
Jim Rawley: The Sit Lie Posse is a volunteer group unaffiliated with any electoral campaign. We made our guerrilla ads by hand and paid for our materials out of pocket. It cost us $150 to liberate six billboards and 60 bus shelter ads.
SFBG: How long does it take to liberate a billboard? How about a bus shelter ad? Does the posse use wheat-paste?
JR: Our billboards took about 10 minutes and the bus shelters took 2-3 minutes. We accessed the bus shelters using a master key and attached our work with Velcro, the industry standard for bus shelters because of quick, easy insertion. We attached our billboards with wheat-paste. Despite the efforts of Clear Channel and a heavy rainstorm, our bus shelters and billboards are still up.
SFBG: The Sit / Lie Posse has created quite a stir. C.W. Nevius writes in this morning’s column: "Opponents are attempting to make a comparison with the civil rights movement in the South in the '50s and '60s. Apparently their view is that an unkempt panhandler camping on the sidewalk equates to the Freedom Riders opposing racial discrimination. Weird." What would you say to Nevius in response?
JR: We expected that the Chronicle would try to ridicule, belittle and smear our work, especially since C.W. Nevius and his advocacy columns instigated Prop L. In the 1950s and 60s civil rights workers were maligned by the mainstream press, harassed by the police and subject to physical violence. It takes time for social movements to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the state and the corporate media. In their own words, Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius and Police Chief George Gascon have said that Prop L enforcement would exclude tourists and center on the homeless. Regardless of your opinion on homelessness, it’s clearly discrimination when the law is based upon a person’s appearance and applies only to certain groups – the poor and people of color. Even more so when the stated intent of the enforcement is to drive certain people out of a neighborhood. This is San Francisco’s kindler, gentler version of Jim Crow segregation.
SFBG: What was the inspiration behind the Gascon-topus?
JR: We came up with the Gascon-topus as a reference to sci-fi movie posters. Prop L will give unchecked power to the police to conduct unconstitutional searches and arrests. In the face of such a monstrous attack on civil liberties, we wanted to respond with wit, humor and satire.
SFBG: Why do you think it’s important to fight against expanded policing in public space?
JR: It’s important to fight additional policing in pubic space to preserve our civil liberties and to save the character of San Francisco. Most San Franciscans don’t want to sacrifice the city’s diversity and rebellious creativity in order to recreate San Francisco as one massive, sanitized shopping mall with all action controlled by the police. Most San Franciscans don’t want undocumented immigrants and day laborers to be deported after a bogus bust for sitting. Most people don’t want to see the poor disqualified from government housing because they committed the crime of sitting. Most people don’t want to be subjected to unconstitutional drug searches after being detained for sitting, nor do people want to see parolees sent back to prison for the crime of sitting. Public space and civil liberties are vital to a healthy democracy. Public space is the only area beyond private property and the marketplace where San Franciscans can come together to exercise civil rights and collectively shape the future of the city. We need to defend that space and extend it against threats from wealthy business interests and their allies in government.