A Bike that Stamps Your Message on the Street, and 3 Other Open-Source Tools for Activists
Pierre Paslier is an artist and engineer who created a set of high-tech DIY tools to help activists get their message out. He doesn't identify as an activist himself—but through his experiences creating Banksy-inspired street art and participating in a handful of Greenpeace demonstrations, he began to wonder if he could use his own skills to help people spread their political messages more beautifully and effectively.
"The people were focused on the message they were sharing, but not so much the way they were spreading it."
Paslier hopes that his creations will inspire visitors to design their own tools for activism.
"I've always been fascinated by the creative ways street artists challenge the dominance of advertisement in the city," he said in an interview with YES! “I was interested in how ugly graffiti would be cleaned straight away, but how clever and good-looking stencils would stay and people would talk about it.”
When he moved to London for graduate school, Paslier got acquainted with the local community of street artists and activists. Those conversations inspired him to find a way to help make their work more impactful.
"I started to realize that often in small activist communities, most actions relied on giving flyers in the street or writing on posters," he said. "The people were very focused on the message they were sharing, but not so much the way they were spreading it."
Paslier wanted to change that. He started by doing research, talking to activists from Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and a handful of smaller organizations to find out which techniques and tools they found most effective. He also worked with them to brainstorm a list of qualities that new tools would need to have, such as replicability, affordability, and anonymity. And with those qualities in mind, he created a set of four tools called the StreetToolbox.
In June 2014, he published the prototypes on a web page where people can freely download instructions on how to build the tools. Paslier hopes that his creations will inspire visitors to design their own tools for activism and add them to the "toolbox."
"These tools are a fun use of the technology that's emerging for regular people," said Bill Moyer, executive director of the activist support-group Backbone Campaign.
Read on to learn about the first four tools in the project.
1. Write your messages in sand.
“OpenSquare” is a remote controlled toy car fitted with a plastic funnel-shaped container filled with sand. The car can be pre-programmed to drive in a set pattern and pour colored sand onto a flat surface to form words or symbols—for example, the logo of the Pirate Party, or a message like "Don't Frack NY."
2. Mount your messages where you can’t go.
“Flying Flyer” is a helicopter-style drone for peaceful protest. It's a small craft with a wire armature that lets it post stickers and decals in hard-to-reach places.
A CEO’s office window? A high-up point visible to a crowd of protesters beneath? It’s all possible with Flying Flyer. Bill Moyer at Backbone Campaign stressed that drones should be used with care because these flying crafts sometimes crash; that can be dangerous if there are people around.
"In the right context, where you have a controlled environment and you're not endangering anyone, it could be a very effective tactic," he said.
3. And … if you can get access to a wall ahead of time …
“Fade” creates a light show on the wall of a building. First, the wall is coated with transparent phosphorescent spray paint. Then a portable laser projector draws a bright-blue repeating message on the phosphorescent surface. Think of it as temporary, dynamic graffiti—and it packs a surprising visual punch after dusk.
This could be used to write a slogan on the wall of a shopping center, a bank, or an office building. But be careful with this one—you’ll want to obtain prior written permission from the owner of the building or you could face legal action.
4. Writing while biking, made easy
“Revolution” is a mod for your bicycle that allows you to print a message on the street along your morning route (or anywhere else that's bike-accessible). Stamp-like letters are attached to the wheel with a simple zip-tie system, and an ink pad is attached next to the wheel. The manual release allows the rider to choose when and where to activate the printing system.
"The Revolution mod could be used in a really targeted way," especially if used with washable and biodegradable ink, said Emily Johnston, media coordinator for environmental group 350 Seattle.
Molly Rusk wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Molly is a recent graduate of the program in Creative Writing at the University of Washington and an online reporting intern at YES! Follow her on Twitter @mollylynnrusk.
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