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How to remove a swastika in your neighborhood

Guest Post By Claire Ganado

I was walking to Ashby BART a while back and saw a stenciled message “The future is female” which had been vandalized with “now we’re in trouble”… Days later, someone had spray painted over the vandalized part and my heart smiled. I had hoped it was me that had the gumption to go back and fix what someone had broken, but I’m so glad someone took the initiative. Admittedly, it feels too easy to spray over something… what if that message was etched into the pavement?

The following tutorial isn’t your typical Pinterest Pin. How to remove a swastika in your neighborhood can be done numerous ways. However, when it’s in the cement of a sidewalk, there’s a few extra steps to take.

Photo of the swastika found on the sidewalk in the Haight Ashbury.

The First step is to TAKE ACTION. One San Francisco resident, Bee R., saw a swastika in the sidewalk and decided to hammer it – cover it up – and spread a lovely message of inclusion instead. The original story goes – she was innocently walking her dog in The Haight last week and saw a swastika carved into the sidewalk. Knowing the city wouldn’t take the time to remove it, she took the matter into her own hands and said – enough is ENOUGH. By the end of the day, she had gathered her friends and removed it from the sidewalk – leaving an inspirational message behind instead.

Art as Direct Action in the Haight Ashbury

Bee is a person who acts on the injustice that she sees in the world. And thank goodness that she does! Fighting the alt-right in the Bay Area seems to be pretty fuckin’ fruitless & sometimes violent these days. I know we all feel that it’s been downright exhausting to watch, read and digest the sickening nature of the world these days. But what Bee did was an act of defiance in a more positive way. She calls it “Art as Direct Action”.

I’ve been so inspired by her and her initiative, I wanted to get to know her and ask her some more questions. She was generous enough to sit down with me and tell us more about what the act meant to her and tips on how to recreate this act in our own neighborhoods.

——–

CG: How many times had you walked over it before you noticed it?

Bee R: Once.  I walk my dog past that stretch of sidewalk most days when I get coffee.  There’s no way it was there longer than 24 hours.  

CG: Do you find yourself itching to go on a hunt for more symbols like it in hopes you’ll cover them, too?

Beer R: Ugh, no. I absolutely hope that’s a freak incident and there aren’t more, and that if people see them they take them down immediately.

I would like to go on more guerrilla cement art raids though, and put some art out on the sidewalks around the city though.  That sounds like a fun and constructive act, and a way to spread some joy in the city.  Also, my one regret is that I didn’t put some glitter in the cement to give it a little sparkle.

A faster approach by the way, would have just been to hammer it out.  If you see a swastika in the cement, you can just grab a hammer and smash it – it’s better to have a bit of messy concrete than a hate symbol, and the city will smooth it over within a week or two.  Or even just using spray paint to turn it into a windows 95 logo works, or just cover it with a bunch of stickers.  You don’t have to spend hours sitting around to eradicate hate symbols, but you should absolutely eradicate them somehow.  It doesn’t matter what you put instead as long as it doesn’t forward their message.  A drawing of a dick is better, or Reagan’s face, or the word fuck, or a million other unattractive images are better than this, not that I’m recommending these.

I will say though, that theses symbols seem to crop up in my neighborhood every now and again.  Someone put KKK recruitment flyers through peoples’ mail slots a while back, and I recall seeing some stickers about the Elders of Zion years back.  Whether or not these were the acts of residents I can’t say, but we have to remain utterly intolerant.  A lot of people have this image of evil people as being like Disney villains, with affected clipped speaking styles and green smoke.  A lot of nazis can be quite charming, and might bring their neighbors a casserole when they’re sick.  If a person believes that Hitler made some positive contributions or that the white race is under threat then they’re probably a nazi, even if they do nice things for the people or buy rounds at the bar.


Who was with you? Do you feel this brought you closer to the friends who helped you?

Adults friendships are complicated!  How do you measure how close you are to someone? I love a lot of people, but we’re all too busy to spend as much time together as we would like, and these are all folks I trust who I’ve known for a while.  A handful of those who came are people I’ve known for fifteen years, some I’ve known for ten, and one is someone I’ve spent a lot of time with at Burning Man. It’s pretty amazing to know that I have so many friends who will sit on a sidewalk with me at night. in the cold, to watch cement dry for hours.

 

We’ve all heard the phrase “be the change you want to see in the world”… how does that resonate for you after you covered up the symbol?

I think about that phrase a lot! It’s a kind of philosophy of mine, but to put it in more practical terms, I think we are all accountable to contribute within our capabilities, especially now. The promise of America for the people has never been delivered, but I still believe it is possible, even now while humanism and democracy are under attack.  It’s more important than ever that all of us step up.

 

What message do you hope to spread with this act?

If people take anything from this, I hope it’s that they can affect change on their own, and that action can be creative and fun and social.  I’m a big Andrew WK fan, and his pro-party philosophy, and activism can be a party and a source of fun and joy.   I don’t romanticize the Summer of Love – it was pretty rapey in a lot of ways, and very very white-centric. Still, in context, it’s hard to not think about how this symbol is completely antithetical to the philosophy they espoused, and that’s relevant to my neighborhood while it’s been celebrating the anniversary of it.

I did contact the city, but they didn’t respond with the appropriate level of haste – it just needed to be gone immediately –  and I’m just handy enough to know I could do this.  Initially I just wanted the swastika to be gone, and we sort of realized we could put some truth there.  I didn’t think about a message, but if more people stepped up to work for the world we want, we wouldn’t be in this mess.  

“We belong” isn’t my phrase – I had a much clunkier version of that, which a friend of mine refined, and you can’t go wrong with a Pat Benatar reference.

Someone suggested “fuck nazis” or something like that, and while I fully embrace that sentiment and would punch them all if I could, it felt important to not invoke thoughts of fascism, and instead to go with more fundamental truths.  We all belong here, and this country is for all of us.  They can’t have it.  That’s the most important thing. This country is ours, and we have to work to keep it right now.

What’d I learn from Bee? Next time I see some kinda bullshit I don’t agree with, I can think about ways I can change it OR I can take action and actually change it. I believe that we can ALL make a difference and take action even in a small way. “Art as Direct Action” to fight the hate in this world. I like it. Let’s start a guerrilla group and take out sidewalk hate speech one sidewalk at a time.

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