A Dream of Doing More
Political Loudmouth started with two advertising people in San Francisco who looked around after years in the business, and said, “I wish I could do something with my skills that was more meaningful.” One of us was a graphic designer and the other was a copywriter, so we had the makings of a creative team.
Our first attempts were laughable. We thought, “Let’s make up punchy hard-hitting postcards on the issues of the day, and…leave them in Mission coffeehouses…and people will read them and…zzzzz….” Or “Let’s have…an event….with, like, really cool logos and stuff….and, um…”
We tried to think of something useful to do. We created magazine ads in favor of the proposition to legalize marijuana in California, but we had no client who would pay to place these ads. So they just sat on our hard drives.
We started a blog, but we had no traffic. Trained as we were by our years doing advertising for Big Business, we could not really conceive of any kind of connection that was not paid for. So we floundered: Rebels without a client.
What Do People Need?
Finally, we thought, “We can see in looking at photos of protests that well-financed side always has good-looking posters, while the other side struggles. So…maybe we can give the gift of well-crafted advertising to the peeps on OUR side. Why should well-designed communications materials be monopolized by the powerful?”
So, inspired by the graphic punchiness of the Westboro Baptist Church signs, and the work of LA metal sculptor David Buckingham, who cuts words out of old metal and then welds them together, we got together our first guerrilla poster campaign, in support of marriage equality. To our surprise, they took off. People printed them out and took them to rallies. We made large versions and took them to all kinds of events and parades. They appeared on hundreds of blogs. People loved them, hated them, argued about them.
We handed out thousands of stickers, which people enthusiastically applied to their bodies. Often their naked bodies. We cheerfully posted photos everywhere, and Facebook locked us out of our account for awhile for posting nudity. (I guess the colorful pair of stickers the young lady in question was wearing wasn’t deemed to be as supportive as a more traditional brassiere.) For two San Francisco ad geeks, this was about the most fun we had ever had.
Around this time, we also started our Facebook page. Strangely, this very obvious step had not been obvious to us. Suddenly, we were talking to people online! We were meeting people. Making connections, and making friends. It was amazing, and just what we had always wanted.
Our second year at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, Sarah Silverman was the celebrity marshall. As her car passed by, we ran out and handed her one of our stickers. She laughed and said, “Hey, that’s pretty funny!” And a little later, she tweeted a photo of herself holding our sticker to her more than 3,000,000 followers. Our sites exploded. It was like a perfect storm of jollity. Our blog and our Facebook page ranneth over, and we were spiked to a bangin’ level of traffic that took weeks to wear off. Thank you, Sarah!
We started doing posters for other kinds of events. Our graphics appeared at the Rally to Restore Sanity put on by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When the Wisconsin uprising began, we were feverishly creating posters for people to take to those rallies. We made many connections with people throughout Wisconsin, which led us into our next adventure.
In addition to all the people like us, demonstrators, agitators, and loudmouths, we also met people who wanted to actually get a seat at the table. When we heard them talking about this, we were quick to volunteer our skill set, which is how we wound up doing branding campaigns for Luisa Evonne Valdez, Green Party candidate in Arizona, and Angela Smillie, Democratic Party candidate in Wisconsin.
Interacting closely with these two women, and having the opportunity to see how hard they worked to make these campaigns happen was a real eye-opener for us. They’re expected to be totally informed about everything, have answers for every question that falls out of the sky, and basically be on deck from 6 am to midnight.We gained a whole new level of respect for the people in political office.
You may agree with the people walking the halls power, or you may not, but people who get elected are working their asses off. The idea that they are sitting around having a posh time is ludicrous.
Welcome to Memes
By this time, we had started to realize that our graphics really lived mostly online: That for every person who printed out one of our posters and took it to a rally, a thousand shared it with friends via the oh-so-easy Facebook “share” button. So we stopped making every poster available in large hi-res formats for download by those who might want to use them in the real world. (We still do make our graphics available like that for free, but only on request.)
When we started, four years ago, the level of graphical and marketing sophistication of the graphics made and shared on Facebook was pretty low. Our work stood out because of our professional training, and that helped us build our presence. But then something interesting happened: The general level of quality started to get better. The meme-makers were learning, and they were catching up with us. Very soon, they were keeping us on our toes, and even passing us up. We stopped calling the things we were making “posters.” We were meme-makers among meme-makers.
As the Occupy movement started heating up, we are once again hurrying to come up with a fresh and punchy perspective that we could deal out from our growing sites. We had always struggled with timeliness, but we were getting better, and were able to get out some good material quickly. And it was wonderful to see our memes getting picked up and featured by such high-profile players as DailyKos and MoveOn.org.
But there was something special about Occupy. This was something we had never seen before. It was a movement. There was electricity in the air. For a moment, it seemed like anything was possible.
A movement needs an anthem, so we wrote and recorded “Anthem Occupy.” You can download it here for free. This was a driving, bouncy tune designed to work as both a radio single and as a live performance. In one of our early performances at an Occupy rally, it was pouring rain, and we found out what happens when water gets down into the horn of a bullhorn. It shrieks like a demented steam engine, and it goes on for a loooong time. But we persisted, and were eventually performing at rallies where we followed speakers like Robert Reich.
“Anthem Occupy” was picked up by a number of radio stations, in different parts of the world. We were amazed to see that people as far away as Lithuania and New Zealand were interested in the Occupy Movement.
INDI 101 FM, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
KUOW, Seattle, Washington, USA
FM 99, Alitus, Lithuania
Roothog Radio, Deep Ellum, Texas, USA
Best Unheard Music, Long Island, NYC, USA
CRS FM, Wellington, New Zealand
In 2013, one of us had the opportunity to go to Netroots Nation in San Jose. It was an extraordinary experience to be there and meet in person people with whom we had been engaging for years online. Suddenly, they were there, in the flesh, eating a hot dog, and sharing tips about Google AdSense.
For the first two years of our existence as Political Loudmouth, we knew no one, talked to no one, and generally behaved like shy wallflowers, which is who we really are. Around the time of Wisconsin and Occupy, we began to make some connection to a larger community. But it was at Netroots Nation that we saw, spoke with, broke bread with, got toasted with, and hugged members of our online community. It was a quantum leap forward. And it was a wonderful time.
Reaching 100,000 members is an important milestone and we can’t thank you enough for being part of it. A big and heartfelt “thank you” goes out to all the friends, allies, mentors, admins, readers, posters, sharers, commenters, arguers, grammarians, contrarians, and people of all political shades and stripes who have contributed to making Political Loudmouth a fun and vibrant online community. We could not have done it without you, because it is you.