Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
"We thought in this moment it was important show solidarity as caring human beings."
In the search for some kind of hope in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, people have been passing around photos of solidarity messages written in light.
One, in Brooklyn, was the work of the Illuminator collective, a New York-based group describing itself as "a 'spectacularization machine' that stops people in their tracks and draws them into a space where [new] kinds of conversations may take place." Born of the Occupy Wall Street movement – their first projection was on the Verizon building after the eviction of OWS from Zuccoti Park -- the Illuminator’s members work out of a van fully equipped with video and audio projection equipment.
On the day of the marathon bombing, they had been planning to participate in a national tax-day action called Tax Evaders, "which calls out corporations for tax dodging," according to Lucky Tran, a member of the collective. What happened in Boston changed that, and quickly. "We thought in this moment it was important show solidarity as caring human beings," writes Tran in an email.
They drew inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Fear cannot drive out fear, only love can do that." Those words were one of the messages they projected on the cream-colored Beaux Arts façade of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in the heart of Brooklyn.
Another showed "NY ❤ B" with the last letter in the familiar typeface of the Red Sox. "Much is famously made of the NY versus Boston rivalry, particularly sports, but really in all facets of life," writes Tran. "So we thought it would be powerful to take those symbols of sporting and pop culture and remix them into a symbol of unity." The images quickly spread around the world via Twitter and Facebook.
The group chose BAM for the projection because it is an iconic and beloved building in a part of town that wasn’t locked down in the bombing’s aftermath.
"They didn't know about it, and at first security was suspicious," writes Tran. "But as soon as they saw the message, they embraced us with approval. Even police officers who drove by gave us a warm nod and beep. The most beautiful thing about the location is that is really is a hub for many neighborhoods in Brooklyn."
"As soon as people saw the pictures on Facebook or Twitter, they rushed to the space to gather with the community, their neighbours, to mourn, to talk to share," Tran writes.
Another message in light came from the Overpass Light Brigade, a Wisconsin group founded by Lane Hall and Lisa Moline back in November 2011. Their first signs were part of the campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker, and according to organizer Joe Brusky they now go out once or twice a week and stand on overpasses to display messages written in easy-to-make LED letters (there’s a how-to video, if you want to make your own). The messages are mostly political and left of center, although the group has participated in nonpartisan vigils as well, as when they displayed a message saying “Wisconsin Weeps” after the Sikh temple shootings in that state last year.
On April 15th, they too were planning to participate in a tax-day action, this one outside the downtown Milwaukee post office. But Brusky says that the news from Boston made it clear they needed to do something else.
"We all had the same feeling, I think," says Brusky. "Most people in the country were feeling this helplessness, and wanting to show support for Boston."
And so, in a heavy downpour, the group stood under the interstate in Milwaukee, holding letters that spelled out a simple message.
Brusky says that although they were standing on a quiet street, many people driving past honked in support (he likes to call those “democrabeeps”) and gave the thumbs-up. And the image has been spreading online. Brusky says he hopes it is an antidote of sorts to the tragic pictures showing the bombing’s aftermath. "There are so many of these photos that are so horrendous," he says. "It’s nice to see something else."
And in Hawaii, Occupy Hilo posted its own message in lights.