Big Ol’ Banner, a How To

WISCONSIN PRISONS ARE A CRISIS’ banner over I-43 during evening rush hour in Milwaukee.

audio version

As a part of the Shut ‘Em Down 2021 mobilization, some ABOLISHmke collaborators put together an art build to make a banner big enough to blow some minds. 

It’s easy to read and the message is clear: there is no fixing the humanitarian crisis that is wisconsin prisons unless we abolish wisconsin prisons, because they are a crisis, they are not in crisis.

We finished it just in time to do the evening traffic on September 8th and the morning traffic on September 9th, receiving lots of positive responses by way of cars waving and tractor trailers honking their horns at us. 

At least 3 different cops drove by on the highway, but none stopped to hassle us, which is a plus. Even if they had, this is basically a legal action—what we did is no different than putting up a billboard—worst case scenario, they tell us to pack up and move along.

Morning southbound traffic on I-43 passing the banner
Details on Making the Banner

We repurposed some old painters drop cloths. Ideally, the separate pieces should be sewn together before painting, and should overlap enough to create a vertical channel for bamboo/wood support poles. We prepared the used drop cloths by first sketching the final letter design out in wide sharpie by using a 6″ wide strip of plywood as a lettering guide, and then by painting the entire banner length white to create a clean, bright base layer  to help the lettering to really stand out. After the white layer is applied, the design sharpie underneath is still visible, making it very easy to paint your letters or images.

Coming in at about 4’ tall and 60’ long, this banner is perfect for rush hour traffic on highway overpasses, rolls up to make transportation struggle free, and leaves a big impression to the viewers both inside and outside the prison walls!

Minor challenges to overcome for this particular project were that holding up a banner of this size requires at least 4 people, and if your poles are narrow or sharp, the pole pockets may require some additional reinforcement to prevent the poles from ripping through the fabric or falling out the bottom. We also cut approximately 6 wind-flaps into each 4×12′ section to improve wind resistance while being displayed.

And all that is to say

We wanted to write this is to share with you all how something like this can be relatively easily accomplished. If you’ve got a couple friends, time for the prep work and a little money for materials (or even just some leftover materials from other projects), you can just do this kind of thing whenever you want. Joining an organization to take political action isn’t necessary or required. You don’t need to get approval from anyone either. You can just work on a project with some friends and show up.

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