Banner Drops

This teaches a time-honored strategy for quickly deploying a powerful message in a public space.
You will need ( tools or supplies ): 
Fabric—you can use painters’ drop cloth covered in white primer paint, or visit the laundry bin of a disagreeable institution one night to collect their tablecloths
Paint—preferably water-based, as oil paint takes forever to dry; house paint works well enough for banners that need not be exceptionally detailed, and is cheapest
Rope or chain
Plastic water bottles or similar weights
Extra-strong upholstery sewing thread or dental floss
Gallon jugs filled with sand for weights, if there is nowhere to tie the banner up
Optional: Padlocks (no key necessary, if you come upon them unlocked), or metal clips
Optional: sewing machine, automobile

A banner drop can enable you to get a simple message out in dramatic style. Drop-banners take significantly more time to prepare, but significantly less to deploy, than graffiti of comparable size, and are less illegal. They can be most effective in crowded environments during special events, or to accentuate and clarify an action taking place nearby.

You can make a really huge banner by sewing together smaller pieces of cloth; be sure they won’t come undone, though! Double- or triple-stitching with exceptionally tough thread is probably necessary. When deciding on the size, keep in mind the way it will be transported to the place of use, the dimensions of the area where it will be deployed, and the distance from which it will be seen.

To decorate your banner, you need not be an accomplished artist; simply draw a scale model of the image or statement you would like to paint, separate that image into equal sections, mark off matching sections proportionately on the banner, and use these as guides. You can trace the lines first with chalk. You will probably need an open space outside the surveillance of the authorities to work in, since when your banner appears you won’t want it—or yourself—to look familiar to any agents of law enforcement. The paint will almost certainly soak through the material and onto whatever is beneath it, so be prepared for this as well, in terms of security as well as tidiness. Be careful above all not to spell any words wrong (!) or bunch up your lines of text near the end, and make sure your colors are striking and high-contrast and your images similarly easy to discern. Don’t use spraypaint to paint your banner unless you are especially talented with it.

Fold the edges of both sides of the banner over equal lengths of rope or chain, and sew the fabric around it. Run the thread through the rope or chain and the banner, so the banner won’t just slip off when it is vertical, and make sure to leave plenty of rope or chain at the top. Chain is heavier and thus provides more stabilizing weight for the banner than rope does, but is also much harder to transport and use quickly (and more expensive, unless you’re hunting/gathering it); it is much more difficult for police to break, but they will probably pull the banner up before cutting it off, anyway, so unless you can somehow anchor the bottom of it as well as the top, using chain will probably not add to your banner’s time in the limelight. If your banner is exceptionally long, it’s probably wise to sew a length of rope or chain along a segment in the center of the top side, too, leaving some of it on each side, so the banner can be hung from four points rather than two.

At the bottom of the ropes or chains, attach your water bottles, full of water. Attach them very firmly, so they won’t drop off, as that could cause problems. These are weights to hold the banner in place (the first banner we dropped, off the balcony of a restaurant at which we had bought a root beer as a pretext, simply tangled up in the wind and was useless). For further protection against the wind, make U-shaped cuts in the fabric—the wind should blow through these without troubling the rest of the banner (see illustration). Roll your banner up bottom first, with the water bottles inside and the text facing the inside of the roll; practice being sure which way your banner unrolls before you are in the moment of truth, so you don’t lose time panicking or, worse, get it wrong. Be careful not to roll your banner too tightly, especially as the paint, even dry, can make it stiff and a little sticky: it may not unroll all the way when you drop it, forcing you to pull it up and unroll it yourself in perhaps less-than-optimal circumstances.

For deployment, a team of two is usually best. Pick a time and location where the visibility balances out the risk. You’ll have to get the banner there, somehow: if it’s a freeway overpass, you could pull over and hop out, or just run up the ramp with it if you don’t want to risk a license plate number being taken; if it’s at the top of a busy corporate office building patrolled by guards during a terrorism scare, you’re probably better off not carrying a huge, suspicious parcel up in the elevator—are there stairs in the back? If you find an abandoned building that you can get in and out of easily enough and that isn’t frequently checked upon, and you don’t have anywhere else to work, you could theoretically smuggle in the materials and go through some or all of the banner-making process inside before dropping the banner(s) off the roof—and securing the hatch behind you with your own padlock for extra longevity. The hard part is always going to be getting out of the place after you’ve dropped: generally speaking, the more conspicuous the location is, the more people know immediately that you’re there, and the longer it will take you to get down and out—and the less likely you are to have any kind of crowd cover as you do so. Dress as nondescriptly as possible (or as maintenance employees!), and practice moving quickly up and down stairwells without getting suspiciously out of breath. Check the area out ahead of time; if you’re going to be on security cameras at any point, bring a change of clothes, glasses, a hat, a reversible jacket, or other accessories to disguise your identity.

Transport your banner in such a way that you know exactly how to orient it when the moment comes. Unless you think you’ll have time to tie knots at a leisurely pace, consider using padlocks or carabineers: have a loop pre-tied at the end of the rope so you can simply loop it around the bar or pipe or whatever you’re securing it to and snap the lock or clip onto the loop and the rope on the other side. If there’s nowhere to attach a rope or chain, you can use heavy weights—plastic jugs filled with sand, for example—to anchor the banner. Make sure the ropes or chains suspending your banner are stretched tight apart at the top, so it won’t bunch up—check in advance to make sure this is possible, and that your anchor can handle the weight you’re suspending from it. Then walk or run like hell and keep your cool.

There are a variety of other approaches to bannering. If you can toss a weight with a string attached from one rooftop to another across a street, and your friend on the other side ties a rope to the string for you to reel back and secure, you could then pull a banner across the rope to hang in the middle of the street on carabineers or shower curtain loops; some hardware stores stock a little dart-gun device that electricians use for getting wires across cramped spaces, which might be useful for such situations. There is a banner-dropping technique in which people are suspended in the air with the banner, as a form of civil disobedience to ensure the banner will remain up for as long as the individuals are willing to hang there; this has been applied, among other places, in Seattle just before the W.T.O. meeting in November 1999. Such a technique is dangerous enough that it should only be taught in person.


Optimal Deployment Locations:

Parking garages
Highway overpasses
Building roofs
You could also try the balcony level of a church, movie theater, coliseum, auditorium…


Alternately, try a banner toss!

This small-scale banner-hanging technique takes its cue from that perennial feature of suburbia, sneakers wrapped around power lines. Add text to a strip of cloth, plastic, or Tyvek about four inches wide by about three feet long. At each end, sew or glue a loop big enough to fit a four-inch section of broom handle. Cut two such sections, and use waterproof glue to secure them in the loops. Tie about four feet of string to one end of the banner, and tie a third section of broom handle to the other end of the string. Roll the whole thing up—it should fit in your pocket—and take it out to the streets. Practice tossing until it only takes one try to get your string wrapped around the power lines and your banner hanging down.


For our final test run before composing this recipe, we dropped a 27’ long by 18’ wide banner (fourteen stolen tablecloths triple-stitched together by sewing machine, a gallon and a half of house paint, 100 feet of rope, two water bottles, and four metal clips which were the only items we had to pay for) off the top of a six-story parking garage in the middle of a Fourth of July parade in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. The banner could be seen from down two streets along which the parade proceeded, on one of them up to a distance of many blocks. We tailored our message to be accessible to an audience attending a patriotic event, an audience composed largely of white and African-American working parents and their kids, while responding clearly to recent government propaganda encouraging people to accept curtailed freedom in return for “protection” from the “terrorist threat”: Those who trade liberty for security will end up with neither, with Ben Franklin’s name (as the dubious author of an earlier version of this quote) and a circled A at the bottom. That same government propaganda had made us quite nervous in the days leading up to the event: every time the radio was on, it was some announcer talking about how police and plainclothes F.B.I. agents would be out in force and on full alert this Independence Day to prevent terrorist strikes. We were afraid that, running up to the railing above the crowd and dropping a great bundle toward them, we could look even more dangerous than we were.

The parking garage was closed, off limits to the public (POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS) on the day of the parade, but we had noted in advance that some vehicles were left parked there for many days at a time, and parked a car with the banner in the trunk on the top deck there the preceding day. When the parade began, two of us, dressed in our nicest clothes, snuck past security and walked up the first couple of decks; a man drove past us in a staff vehicle, but for some reason did not stop us (our story would have been that we had left something in our car, which was parked there before the area was closed off, but I’m glad we didn’t have to tell it). We then took the elevator, which we hadn’t been expecting to work, to the top deck, which was—amazingly—unguarded, took out the banner, lost precious instants debating which side was the front and struggling to lock a car trunk neither of us had ever locked before, clipped the ropes around a metal pipe, threw the banner over the side, and realized that it hadn’t unrolled all the way. We had rolled it far too tightly, especially since it hadn’t needed to be all that compact, waiting in the car trunk! We had to pull it back over the edge, having already made our presence known on the street below as well as on the security cameras, and unroll all twenty-seven feet of it into the parking lot, before struggling to throw the banner, bunch by bunch, back over the edge, with great difficulty (and more than a little vertigo, as a vertical shaft opened between us and the wall). All this induced feelings of panic, but there would have been no reason to leave then and render all the work we had done and risks we had taken for naught; we got it right, finally, and made for the stairs. We took these to the second floor, but, on opening them, saw police; we ran back up to the third floor, walked across one length of the garage and took a single flight of stairs we had scouted out in advance, and managed, against the odds, to escape without even being questioned. One of us changed clothes immediately after the banner dropped, but still in front of the security cameras, the other after we reached the street and the safety of the crowd, which was perhaps a better strategy.

It took them an amazing half an hour before they began to pull up the banner—that is, it hung above the parade for most of its duration! There were two sympathetic groups participating in the parade—the Greensboro Peace Coalition, and the more radical anarchist contingent—and both made sure, as they passed, to emphasize the presence of the banner to any who might have missed it before, by pointing at it. Several photographers took pictures or footage of it, and there were many others at the parade who were visibly thrilled about its appearance. Best of all, later that day, when the banner had been brought down and thrown under the police truck in attendance at the festival following the parade, someone managed to sneak it out from under the noses of the pigs, to be returned to its makers! So when they least expect it, it will hang again over the city.

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