The Joy of Message Correction

By Rainforest Action Network

This post was sent to us by Flora Bernard, who works with Peaceful Uprising. A fellow activist from Salt Lake City, UT recently sent Flora this report about their “message correction” mission, and Flora passed it on to us. Salt Lake City, you might recall, was the site of not one but TWO recent Chevron oil spills.

Message correction in Salt Lake CitySpending all day at a desk — even if you’re doing your damndest to corner climate villains, save the planet, and build a better society with clipboard, keyboard and mouse — can be bone-wearily discouraging. Meeting and networking to put pressure on elected officials; penning earnest media entreaties to expose Chevron’s blatant callousness, and the damage they have done to my community; trying to incite sad or complacent citizens to action — all add to the distance between me and the actual problem itself. That’s why I have to let off some steam and reconnect with a little light message correction.

Nothing can compete with the self-affirming feeling of gathering sneakers and a black track suit, posters and a flask of wheat paste, and hitting the streets at the witching hour.

Liberty Park is a cop haunt in a cop-heavy part of Salt Lake City, but it’s the place where the posters were needed most. Yards and yards of orange CAUTION tape still ring Liberty’s centerpiece: the tiny lake into which Chevron dumped hundreds of gallons of oil from a sprung pipe months ago, now fenced off and garnished with garish signs stating: “For your own health and safety, please keep the hell out of here.” Hard-hatted workers mill about all day, doing God-knows-what beyond failing to effectively clean the pond.

The little lake used to be frequented by children and couples, pedaling paddle boats, picnicking and tossing bread to lure families of ducks. Months later, it sits sad and stagnant, a telltale Chevron sheen still staining its surface.

My strategy was simple: I rolled the posters up in my yoga mat, wrapped the flask and a paintbrush in a towel, and packed them into my gym bag. I arrived at the park at 4:30 AM on a weekday with my backstory — meeting a friend for some one-on-one yoga instruction before work.

I pasted up six posters before a cop rolled in and started eyeballing me. My proudest placement: smack in the middle of a huge sign right at the south entrance, urging folks to stay away from the poisoned pond, and to be patient with ongoing efforts to mop up Chevron’s filth. The poster with which I adorned that eyesore featured Polaroids of some of Chevron’s most onerous crimes, right next to a snapshot of our own Salt Lake City, with the caption: “BEEN THERE, DONE THAT.“

I returned to Liberty Park that afternoon, and when I arrived a handful of folks — a young couple and their toddler, a 30-something jogger and an older gentleman — were admiring my handiwork. I declared victory then and there. If I remind just a few people where the culpability lies — if I can make it briefly clear that a resistance exists and is paying close attention — I have accomplished more in two hours of darkness than I typically do in an entire eight-hour shift of desk-bound daytime effort.

For the record, it’s also a whole lot more fun.