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Street Posters (Wheatpasting)

Excerpted in part from: Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits byJason Salzman, Westview Press, 2003.

First, ask yourself, "Who needs to see my poster?" Then determine which part of town your target inhabits by day or night? What subway stops do they frequent?

Scout the areas where you want to poster and figure out what size poster makes sense. For example, traffic-light switching boxes are great for hanging posters. Their size varies from city to city. Measure and plan accordingly. Print on a light paper stock, recycled.

How to Apply Your Posters

  • Work at night on "vampire standard time," as the Lesbian Avengers suggest.
  • Work in teams of three, if possible. One person brushes the wheatpaste glue (See recipe below.), another slaps on the posters, and a third watches out for the authorities.
  • Obtain a bucket for the wheatpaste, and a wide brush-like a wallpaper brush, sponge, or paint roller. See what works best for you. You may want a large bag to conceal your tools if police approach. I don't think gloves are worth the hassle.
  • Brush a thin layer of wheatpaste on the flat surface where the poster will be pasted. Slap on the poster. Smooth it out. Some people brush a thin layer of wheatpaste over the poster as a topcoat, but you should at least cover the edges and corners of your poster with wheatpaste so it can't be peeled off as easily. (Most wheatpaste is fairly clear when it dries.)
  • Make sure all corners of your poster are pasted down, and minimize bubbles or wrinkles. The posters are more difficult to remove this way.

Recipes for Wheatpaste

Like salsa, great wheatpaste can be made using various recipes. (In other words, this ain't no chemistry formula.) The easiest way: skip the kitchen and buy it. Go to your local independent hardware story and purchase wallpaper adhesive, either in pre-mixed or powdered form. Mix the powdered stuff according to the directions.

Home recipes for wheatpaste call for varying combinations of wheat flour and water. It's sort of like making gravy. (Wheat flour is regular old flour made from wheat. Use white or whole grain.) Here's a typical recipe: Mix one part wheat flour (e.g., 4 cups) with three parts water (e.g., 12 cups). Cook over medium heat until boiling, stirring constantly to remove all lumps. Lower heat and simmer for about a half hour. I never stop stirring. You will probably have to add water as it's cooking to get a substance that's smooth enough to use like paint but thick enough to stick to walls. Do not burn. Let cool before using.

Legal Considerations

Arrange to have a lawyer available if you are popped. Cops might just confiscate your gear, warn you, and let you go-even in the post-9/11 world. But arrests happen a lot, and you could face felony charges for property damage.

If you're stopped, do everything asked of you—including removing the posters—and you will have the best shot at avoiding jail.

If you're using a vehicle, make sure it works and that it—and you—are free of illegal substances.

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