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'No More Prisons' Graffiti Gets Public's Attention

It's spreading like wildfire, from New York to Seattle, Chicago to Dallas, and coming soon to an urban setting near you. It's the "NO MORE PRISONS" graffiti movement, a simple form of civil disobedience which requires only a can of spray paint and an unspoiled public canvas (such as the side of an overpass) to get the message out NO MORE PRISONS!

While protests against the prison-industrial complex have drawn upwards of several hundred people, they have largely been ignored by the news media. But, as one graffitist put it, toss up a little paint, and TV channels, alternative weeklies, and even the large daily newspapers begin to pay attention. Tagging public and corporate property with "NO MORE PRISONS" (often accompanied by the anarchy symbol) draws more attention to the prison abolition movement than so-called legitimate forms of protest ever could, the graffitists claim.

"I find it immature and shallow to write `No More Prisons' on an expensive piece of infrastructure owned by all of us and think somehow you're going to make a statement on the prison-industrial complex," said a Columbus, Ohio city official. The "No More Prisons" graffitists disagree, claiming the campaign has been a success so far. "I've heard complete strangers talking about it in coffee shops and in bars," said one.

The phrase itself was popularized by Billy "Upski" Wimsatt, a graffiti artist from Chicago whose 1999 book No More Prisons became a widely regarded manifesto for grassroots activism and self-education. Wimsatt promoted the slogan through his website,, and even did some tagging himself in New York and Chicago, according to Metropolis magazine.

City officials claim the graffiti leads to the decline of neighborhoods. Such claims are countered by one graffitist who thinks the tagging is doing the community nothing but good. "They always say it causes crime and brings down the community. That's all just rhetoric," he said. "The city will let people put up billboards and signs and posters if it's part of that corporate world," the graffitist continued. "If we do it, it's a crime. If they do it, it's just corporate advertising."

Source: Columbus Alive ;The Other Paper (Columbus, OH).

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