Whether they're fighting for Grenfell or gun laws, activists are harnessing the power of visual protest—and the rule of three—to make their voices heardby Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett / February 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Slaughtered in school”
“And still no gun control?”
“How come, Marco Rubio?”
Two days after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead and many more injured, three billboards showed up.
Sponsored by the online activist group Avaaz, the billboards, which were mounted on three trucks, confronted Senator Marco Rubio’s failure to support a ban on assault weapons, in three parts.
To those of us who have seen the much-lauded and award-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the syntax is familiar.
In the film, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a mother grieving for her raped and murdered teenage daughter. Furious at police inaction regarding the case, she resorts to direct action. Hayes hires three billboards that can be seen prominently outside the town and uses them to try and force the local police chief to reopen the case. They read:
“Raped while dying”
“And still no arrests?”
“How come, Chief Willoughby?”
There is nothing subtle about these billboards. The language they use, in its sheer force, is disruptive. “Raped while dying”; “Slaughtered in school”. Such phrasing is impossible to ignore. It conjures horrific, graphic mental images.
The film itself addresses this, when Hayes’ son Robbie furiously points out that he would rather not be reminded of the brutal nature of his sister’s death every time they drive by in the car. The billboards demand that everyone—whatever their relationship to the victim(s)—bear witness, long after most eyes have turned away from the injustice they address. In the film, this splits the community. People do not always react well to being forced to look.
Perhaps this is why, that same week, community coalition Justice4Grenfell also used three truck-mounted billboards to draw attention to inaction. They drove around the city, finally stopping at the Grenfell site. This time, the refrain was:
“And still no arrests?”
No individuals have yet been held accountable for Grenfell. A report has concluded that there are no reasonable grounds for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought. In the days following the tragedy, there was much soul-searching regarding Britain’s failure to provide safe homes…