There has always been graffiti and I suppose there’s always been political graffiti of one form or another, but the 1960s brought it to a new level. When you think of a turbulent decade, images from the news flood thought your brain: JFK assassination, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the emergence of the counterculture, and so much more. With the mainstreaming of spray paint in the mid-60s and the invention of the Magic Marker, political graffiti seemed to be all the rage.
Among the more popular slogans and images were: FREE HUEY, FREE ANGELA, the Weathermen symbol, peace signs, U.S. OUT OF HANOI, BLACK POWER, FREE GREECE, WOMEN’S LIBERATION, U.S.A. LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, and THE YOUNG LORDS. They were very powerful because they were beginning to appear in neighborhoods that didn’t normally have graffiti.
If you strolled around the campus of Columbia University or NYU, the peace symbols and anti-war sloganeering wrapped around you like a tapestry; of course, at Columbia (the home of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society) it seemed all political dissent was fodder for the neighborhood walls. It would be fun to try to link the two movements together, but the reality was that teenage graffiti writers had no interest in politics.
BEYOND THE STREETS New York, 2019. Photo by Dan Bradica.