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Pinking Pershing

Chalkupying for the Women’s March, Los Angeles, January 20th, 2018 —

January 2018 I was busy laying down some more chalk art in Pershing Square, this time for the 2nd Women’s March Los Angeles whose attendance I would learn reached 500K, the largest in the country. My concept of a raised Fist in defiance and defined by power, seemed to resonate with the crowds intent; be seen, speak out, be heard, be counted! The Fist was an overall pink experience and featured a nail job lacquered pristinely in ultra gloss, designed to invoke the spirit of this significant gathering. In the final photos, filmed by drone, I had my own epiphany and the impulse to extend my middle finger was a heartfelt exultant gesture combined with pride in the finished product and pointed towards an outmoded patriarchy whose dominance is antiquated.

I would later find that this image would also resonate beyond the major metropolitan media and make it to my home town Santa Paula Times as a story told by locals and participated in by locals. Emily Floyd had served as my hand model, Justin Gafford, my drone camera person and of my fellow Santa Paulaians would travel to assist with the chalking itself.

The first time I chalked in Los Angeles was in 2012 after people were tear-gassed and rubber bulleted for chalking slogans at DTLA’s Art Walk. Local activists organized “Chalk Walk” for the next month in response. I was living in Oakland at the time and arranged to come down and support First Amendment rights. About 25 Oakland activists came with me.

I began doing my version of “Chalkupy” (pron. Chalk-Yoo-Pie) events with a few Oakland friends earlier that year. Soon after we started, we were joined by about 30 people who walked up at one time or another and became regulars at the Plaza in front of the Oakland City Hall where the Occupy camp had been. Chalkupy is basically our name for easily reproducible, temporary, political street art happenings that speak to social justice issues. I was not the first person to coin the word “chalkupy.” Several people came up with it at around the same time. It is a type of action rather than the creation of any particular individual. When I chalkupy (both a noun and verb) I map my designs to the square’s pavers, using the existing grid as a guide and colored cones to mark my place on the squares. Passersby are welcome to participate. I bring the design maps, chalk, washing and drinking water. Several people I’ve taught now do it on their own.

When activists invited me to Los Angeles, our first experience with chalking in Pershing Square involved a frustrated police force who had handcuffed three of us only to be let go when the official LAPD spokesperson declared it “good art” and allowed the chalking to remain. As comical as this may sound, the vandalism statutes in California revolve around the word “defacement” which, requires aesthetic judgments and who better to make them but the police? (LA Times Article on the incident

After that first incident, I continued to chalk Pershing Square, less molested each time. The city began to make requests. I won’t do any corporate promotions but I was willing to do a “Why buy a plastic friend when you can adopt a real one?” mural for a Disney event and some “Summer of Love” imagery for the free concert series. I began to like and respect the woman in charge of the park, Louise Capone, a weakness she deftly exploits to keep me in line. It’s useful to me honestly. I don’t want my messages to be offensive in spite of my cheeky tendencies. What I do want is for the public to see and respond to the message, get a sense of empowerment to create on their own, and especially seize upon their own efforts for change. This is what the Fist represents for all women. A chance to speak up, alter history and vote for those who support all women’s rights.

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