Anti-war messages carried to the freeway
Roger Otterson
January/February 2003

A dozen members of the Community Coalition Against War and Terrorism (CCAWT) met on an I-75 overpass in Gainesville on Saturday, Jan 3 with banners and signs protesting the Iraq War. The demonstration was in response to a call from the Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War (SNOW) in Washington State. They are hoping to get signs and banners on freeway overpasses around the nation before the January 18 Washington DC A.N.S.W.E.R. rally. There have been people on at least 20 overpasses along a 95-mile stretch of interstate from Seattle to the Canadian border the past few Saturdays.

The overpass action in Gainesville was very effective. There were about 12 people on the bridge with banners and signs. About 150 cars per minute were passing through on I 75. That is 9,000 per hour. Multiplied times 2 or 3 for up to 30,000 folks seeing an antiwar message! It was a very cold and windy day and there were some minor problems getting banners to hang straight, but with lots of string and duct tape and hand held signs the antiwar messages were visible to both north and south bound lanes.

Consensus at the beginning was to be as visible as possible until stopped by the police. So instead of being discreet, they hung banners on the bridge rather than staying on the embankment and holding signs. Banners were mostly double bed sheet size with one about 15ftX 8Ft. After the banners were hung the protesters stood on the bridge with signs and waved at the passing cars. There were many honks and waves from supporters of the No War message from the vehicles passing below. "The favorable blasts of semi air horns were especially encouraging," said one of the protesters.

The Florida Highway Patrol eventually noticed and stopped below the bridge. Also the sheriffs deputies showed up and parked on either end of the bridge with lights flashing. The police suggested that the signs were not allowed to be attached to public property and that it was distracting to motorists. If people hadn't noticed the activists before they sure did after the authorities arrived.

The demonstration lasted a full hour before the group finally pulled the banners and, as the cops were not going away, they declared it a worthwhile event and called it a day. No one felt compelled to push the free speech issues and the contact with the police was not confrontational, this time.

This method of antiwar protest has great possibilities for getting a message to the public and attracting attention from the media. Members of CCAWT will definitely plan on doing this again in the future with some refinements to get as much publicity and notice as possible.

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