I'VE seen The Revolution and it's tacky. But don't take my word for it, come and look at my neighborhood, where reams of oppressive litter sounding the battle cry against worldwide repression are firmly glued to just about everything in sight. Take a close look at the trees riddled with staples, tacks and nails. There is a new species of tree in our neighborhood, the St. Sebastian Maple. An adult of that hearty breed has had to endure literally a hundred tiny arrows inflicted on it to hold up a long succession of posters bewailing years of outrageous fortune.
I live on Columbia Road NW, and during a leisurely stroll along my street between 16th Street and Connecticut Avenue, I counted 27 posters urging me to "oppose the Philippine dictatorship." And I counted those posters two weeks after the big "march and rally" they urged me to attend.
But those posters were only a fraction of the propaganda taped to walls, trash cans, construction sites, bus stops, trees, tree planters, light poles and anything else that can't run and hide. When the wind roars up Columbia Road, all the anguish of the world flutters:
Chile is in Deep Trouble !
Not to mention Ghana, Puerto Rico, Tigray, South Africa and, of course, the U.S. of A.
Some walls have protests three deep -- "Oppose the Philippine dictatorship" on top of "The Granada Defense Committee" on top of "Down with the Shah puppet of the CIA."
Other walls have protests eight across -- eight reminders not to miss the Mao Tse-tung memorial in New York last September. And while you're remembering, don't forget George Jackson, Orlando Letelier, American Indians and anyone on strike.
Of course, the news isn't all bad:
Celebrate the 17th anniversary of the Eritrean People's armed struggle for national liberation !
And here's my favorite:
Come to the Festival of the Oppressed !
I am being especially hard on the Left. There are posters for rummage sales, disco parties and local elections in the neighborhood. But one might not expect much from posters about such minutiae. One might expect that posters pertaining to The Revolution would have some pizzazz.
Posters can be grand -- bold colors, stark reminders, memorable statements in art and thought. There are studio-size books about wall posters chronicling a century of protest. Today any visitor to a European city which has a lively band of radicals will notice the billboards of mammoth clenched fists, red stars and stirring depictions of Che Guevara at one of his stations in the crossroads of history. But in Washington there are just a lot of paper tigers on the walls.
Our local Left has gone cheap. Beneath all the old predictable demands on the posters are vague pretensions at art, dingy reprints of bad photographs, inept cartoons, most printed on cheap 8 1/2" x 11" paper in drab hues of yellow, pink or white. The Mao posters in the neighborhood are larger and done in bright colors, but they are caked with cant -- a muddled effort. Besides, they were shipped down from New York.
Even the two dozen posters plastered up in the neighborhood by the U.S. -- China Peoples Friendship Association to advertise the Peasant Paintings Exhibit have a lot of fine print of an "old party secretary." Words, words, words. Where is the work of the peasant painters of the world?
It is of scant solace to the masses treading up and down Columbia Road that the litterbugs of the Left are quick to offer excuses for their artistic shortcomings. Indeed, all the groups I talked to were apologetic.
And I thought being a revolutionary meant never having to say you're sorry.
"We try not to attach our notices too permanently," said Nancy Jacobs of Potomac Alliance, a group fighting nuclear power. "People will see the message, and then it won't litter the neighborhood too long."
As if the battle against nuclear power might be over with the next strong wind?
When Ian Smith came to Washington an alliance of anti-Rhodesian groups organized effective protests. Smith left. The battle was over. But what remained was the litter on the battlefield: small white posters with hazy blowups of Ian Smith with swastikas on his eyeballs. Oh, my allegiance for a poster that deserves remembering after the event!
"We operate on a shoestring budget," a spokesman for the alliance said.
They certainly didn't hire Peter Max.
There are posters worth remembering, but they're not pasted on the walls growing from the sidewalks of Columbia Road.
The folks asking you to boycott Nestle for its marketing of milk substitutes to Third World mothers have in their arsenal a poster worthy of inclusion in Max Gallo's book. It's a silkscreen in Japanese woodprint style with a dash of Jugendstil and a lot of talent. The poster shows a mother, a baby and stalking death.
"We won't put that poster up on the streets," Fred Clarkson of Clergy and Laity Concern said. "This is a special silkscreen made in Minneapolis."
Apparently the work from that faraway center for art is too good for our local trash bin.
"Yeah," Clarkson agreed. "There's just no sense of aesthetics out in the streets. People sneak around at night and put hteir posters up."
Many claim they are afraid of police harassment, but I suspect they're simply ashamed of the tawdriness they spread.
Of course, most of the posters are illegal. A proper revolutionary protest group must get permission to place posters along the street from the D.C. Department of Licenses, Investigations and Inspections. With that permission a group can put posters anywhere but on trash cans, street signs, phone booths, telephone poles, bus stsops, trees... in other words, only on light poles. By putting posters anywhere else, or by not taking posters down eventually, protesters break the law, a law that is at best rarely enforced.
Only one man I talked to in city government was especially upset.
"Sure, staples and nails are bad for trees," said Martin Bell, a horticulturist at the D.C. Department of Transportation's Tree Division. "They can damage the cambium layer of the trees under the bark. A fungus can get in there. Up in that neighborhood some plant store went around nailing advertisements to the trees. We tore them down and told them it was illegal and a pretty stupid thing to do for somebody who cares about plants."
But the Tree Division doesn't call the cops on anyone. Division chief Hans Johannsen said, "How can you take action against the candidates for mayor? And if you don't get them, it's not fair to go after other groups."
Howard Horowitz, assistant chief of the Law Enforcement Division of the D.C. Corporation Counsel, has been around seven years and doesn't recall a single case against errant posterers. The maximum fine for the offense would be only $300, and with all the rules of evidence, the nasty tree-stapler probably would have to be caught red-handed.
But why not go after the real muckers anyway? At least the candidates plague us only every two years. And perhaps a campaign against The Revolution for crimes against culture and horticulture should start with the Communist Party.
The newspaper organ of the Communist Party U.S.A., The Daily World, recently held a "Young Workers' Festival." The so-called art used to advertise the festival pictured a little man with a derby hat holding a fistful of 15 ballons labeled "door prizes every hour on the hour," and "fight high prices," and "free grab bag prizes for tykes."
At Least 50 such atrocities littered our neighborhood. Some were on white legal-sized paper, and some were bigger -- orange even, not red. More than a few were crucified to trees.
At the festival an organizer readily admitted the poster "was a mistake." I tried to explore various aspects of propaganda and horticulture with the wrinkled revolutionary, but along the way I asked if she were a member of the Communist Party. She accused me of working for the CIA.
One would think that in a country with political parties as boring as the Demorcrats and the Republicans any splinter party would stop wasting energy on paranoia and put it into culture. Look at the Communists in Italy. They produce revolutionary operas! There music, art, drama and poetry can build the new society.
Here the local Reds hand out grab bags for tykes.
Perhaps one shouldn't judge The Revolution by its posters, but that's about all the revolutionaries show us.
As for me, when The Revolution comes, I'd rather be dead (or in Venice) than bored.