Blog / 2024 / Today’s Symbols Enable Tomorrow’s Reality

January 1, 2024

[video transcript]

The book I refer to at the end of the video is Tim Snyder’s On Tyranny and I recommend the version that’s illustrated by Nora Krug, which you can find here. It’s an especially important book as we go into another presidential election year, when the leader of an insurrection is inexplicably being permitted to appear on some primary ballots.

If you’re in New Jersey and you care about the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge as well as the trees on the tow path in the Lambertville area, let the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission know! Their contact info is here.

Many thanks to my adorable accomplices for this project: you lookouts, you cheerleaders, and you documenters, you are the best! And a shoutout to Dede Bandaid, whose work I discovered after I’d already designed my bandaids. Check out all the lovely things that Dede does with bandage imagery here.

hateful graffiti and a bandaid to heal it, Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge near Lambertville, New Jersey, street art by Gwenn Seemel
before, after, and later still
VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

This is the story of a trail near my home. And, in particular, it’s the story of this bridge. From here, everything looks fine, but, as you get closer, that’s when the problems become obvious. These are just few of them, but I think you get the idea.

For months, I watched a silent conversation unfold. Some Trump-worshipper or worshippers (plural) would come along and scrawl 45’s name all over a bridge, and then someone else would come along and remove the graffiti. At first, Trump’s name was just appearing in sharpie, but then the Trumpers amped it up and started carving their daddy-god’s name into the bridge and also spray painting it everywhere, including on trees.

There was some attempt to smoothen out the graffiti with a hand planer, but the Trumper seems to have just kept on coming back with a knife to carve that name still deeper into the bridge.

And that’s when I realized my talents were needed—I mean both my abilities as an artist and also my skill for silliness.

I made some big bandaids out of paint and paper I had in my studio, and then I asked the Internet to teach me everything it knows about wheatpasting. I did some experimenting at home, to make sure I had the hang of it. Once I knew I could do it, I was ready to help heal the bridge, and, on a different day, to heal the trees too. I couldn’t wheatpaste bandaids on the bark because it’s too rough to create a seal with the paper, so I had to go in directly with paint.

When I went back, everything looked amazing. The trees were wet but, happily, the paint had dried. And the wheatpaste had set nicely. I might have been projecting just a little bit, but I think the bridge was feeling better.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

And this time, the Trump-worshippers seemed triggered by my attempts to help the bridge heal. The sharpie attack was brutal. Signs of the Trump infection appeared every few feet.

For a couple days, I pondered my response. I reached out to the state commission that’s in charge of upkeeping this bridge and trail, and I asked them if they’d be open to me painting a design over the entire bridge. I’m still waiting to hear back—the executive director is on vacation.

In the meantime, on a visit to the bridge, I noticed that someone had started scraping away at the graffiti again and that inspired me. I put some sandpaper scraps in plastic bags with notes inviting those who love the bridge to help out. And to my utter delight, they did. Scraping off many of the Ts as well as an F-word.

I’m not sure where all this will lead—I’m not sure whether or not the commission will finally be inspired to take care of this bridge—but it makes me feel good to be working on this with my community.

To paraphrase Tim Snyder from his excellent book On Tyranny, today’s symbols enable tomorrow’s reality. Don’t look away from the signs of hate, and don’t get used to them. Take action. Because together we can make a kinder and more just world.

UPDATE

January 2, 2024

The D&R Canal Commission got back to me today and they’ve let me know that the State Park Service owns the bridge and therefore it’s the D&R Canal State Park we need to contact.

UPDATE

January 25, 2024

There’s been more Trumpy carving on the bridge and no response at all from the D&R Canal State Park, so I decided to take my civil disobedience to a more colorful place.

UPDATE

January 30, 2024

NJ.com’s Andre Malok filmed my rainbowing and made this video.

UPDATE

February 21, 2024

The D&R Canal State Park finally took an interest in the Alexauken Creek Spillway Bridge and cleaned off the wood, removing both my glued-on rainbows and all the Trumpy carvings and scrawlings that they’d allowed to accumulate on the bridge throughout the course of 2023. For pics and more info, go here.


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