Yesterday LALIT has launched a new series of political posters. The pasting up has begun in three cities, and then the campaign will blossom out across the country
Let’s look at the art of this form of activism: pasting up posters.
One of the mass media forms that have been most efficiently exterminated by the bourgeois state is the pasting up of posters in public places, a very old art. So, reclaiming this has made the art become even more of an art.
First, the bourgeois press ran campaigns against posters, saying they were “ugly”. The “beautiful” ones, they implied, are the huge, glossy billboard advertisements that trick people by scientifically-tested-means-of-manipulation into buying harmful soft drinks, extortionist insurance policies, private cars that pollute the world, and so on. These billboards, at the same time, block one’s view of the world one is living in. One advantage of the downturn in the capitalist economy following the coronavirus shut-downs, is that the outlines of the empty billboards, though looking ridiculous, frame what is behind them – sometimes as you come down a hill, you get a glimpse of a mountain or of the sea, other times, a beautiful tree, or a busy working class street framed by the steel girders that make up the empty billboard’s structure. All the views are more beautiful than the ones on the billboards before the economic downturn. The campaign in the press was not enough. The Government, in particular the Ministry of Tourism, employed teams of young men to go and paint big black crosses over the contents of all political and neighbourhood posters. This sure looked much uglier than anything except, maybe, a billboard.
Meanwhile, by banning posters, the powers-that-be closed down a mass media form that had, from the beginnings of working class struggle a hundred years ago, been available at low cost. The printing shops with the big letters and the whole art of type-setting have thus all closed down, typographers are laid off. And now, it is not so easy for a Village Council to organize a petanque tournament, or a carom tournament, making sure everyone is invited, or to invite everyone to a local debate. So, there goes one anti-discrimination tool. And now, trade unions, women’s organizations, left political parties have great difficulty finding a place to put up a message to “the public” i.e. everyone in society – not just one internet bubble, or one social class. The monopoly of the bourgeoisie is well-nigh total over visual messaging in public spaces. No longer are meetings, forums and talks advertised in public space as they used to be. No longer are there campaigns demanding price freezes, opposing wars, boycotting firms involved in apartheid practices, calling on Government to revoke repressive laws or any other political issues, put out for all to see, read and then think about.
But, in LALIT, we persist. Like we did today. There were, at the time of the shrinking of poster-space, others who helped try to preserve it. For example, one shop in the village I’m from, Labutik Ledan Lor, now Labutik Kung Fu, the son of Ledan Lor having taken over the shop, when building a wall over 30 years ago, made a special spot for a poster to be pasted up. Imagine if every commercial building was as enterprising as that, how a mass media would still be with us?
In Belle-Rose, the Pepsi plant apparently put up big round structures (perhaps for their own ad at the time? There is still a Pepsi ad on top), and left it there to be used for ads for a political meeting in St. Pierre and the Divali block buster films alike. Plus now our LALIT campaign to force the big land owners, in times of a pandemic and thus all dangers, to assure food security, to take on workers for this, and for the state to use the capital it is releasing to assure this is done.
Anyway, all this to say, we, in LALIT, persist.
A poster campaign needs to summarize a well-thought-out demand. For example, today’s campaign is about the Rs80 billion (repeat 80 BILLION Rupees) of capital that the Government is releasing to the capitalist bosses from collectively owned funds, for the bosses to re-launch their profit-making enterprises after the Coronavirus shutdowns have affected their profitability. LALIT, in the poster, says “Bizin Servi Rs80 milyar fon piblik” (in small caps, and we will come back to the significance of this later) i.e. “Government must use the Rs80 billions of public funds” to (in big letters, all caps) TO create A FOOD INDUSTRY WITH NEW JOBS, and so as to produce foreign exchange” (“Pu lindistri alimanter avek kreasyon lanplwa [e] pu gayn deviz”, adding in smaller print, thus linking to the petty-bourgeois campaign, “All this, with transparency”.
This campaign was not sucked out of some individual member’s thumb. It follows years, nay, decades, of calling for the country’s arable land to be used for food crops that also simultaneously need nearby factories to be set up for preserving and transforming food. We have over the years called for this so as to avoid the long-threatened bankruptcy of the sugar cane industry that Government is subsidizing already (even before the billions of capital from public funds), and the destructiveness of the sugar oligarch’s circumventing their crisis by selling off land to millionaires from all over the world to build luxury villas on, and to ruin with golf courses for rich men to mess about on. We have, at the same time, also called for diversification from the tourism industry and into fishing. So agriculture, planting, raising animals especially for milk, and fishing can all be linked to food production, thus job creation, and even foreign exchange. Now, during the Coronavirus crisis of capitalism, that crashes in on top of already existing crisis of Mauritian capitalism, that, in turn, crashes in on top of the world crises of capitalism of all kinds, we link the long-term demand to the Rs80 billion being handed without conditions, and even with Non-Disclosure Clauses attached, to the capitalist class every day, and that is in the Press every day, too.
So, this poster campaign, starting today, is a new incarnation of an on-going campaign that LALIT, in fact, started in 1984. It was called “What on earth future is there in sugar?” or “Disik ki lavenir?” It was initially met with criminal charges laid against us for showing slides without going through the censorship board! (Slides, for young readers, were a kind of ancestor of “Power point” talks using a projector and screen). When they Authorities saw we would win our case, they then passed a law in Parliament making it an offense not to go through the Censorship Board for a slide show, and so our case fell away, their being a new law. Anyway, then, too, there were posters. And there have been others, like “Government must use the European union capital grant for the end of quotas for sugar, in order to diversify into food production”, or “Plant food on sugar estate land!” All these demands are “transitional demands”, meaning they are easy for any working class person to relate to and to understand in that particular moment of history, while at the same time, challenging the capitalist private ownership and control of land, the very land that nourishes us all.
All this to say, that the slogan is important. It is easily understood and related to, eminently possible, and all the while challenges the status quo on a vital issue: the private control over the means of survival of all of us.
In a campaign, as well as a clear slogan, it must be obvious that the posters are LALIT posters. Often there is the feeling, from the very design of a LALIT poster, of a wave going past, or the passage of time, visually-speaking. There are little details within the fonts, quite often. And the posters are clearly signed “Lalit”, usually diagonally, in a sturdy, no-nonsense type-face. Often there is an element to suggest that mobilization is also needed – a person, or a group of people with banners – or an element to suggest working people are involved – workers’ tools, for example. Our posters are often, but not always, on a yellow background. With red and black. (This time, there has been a glitch in the colour – the yellow has come out a kind of fluorescent green, from a little too much cyan blue in the mix – but we take it in our stride, and say it looks “green” like lush food crops can.)
All this to say that the design is important. The small caps and “all caps” are useful because they imply that is what we are saying, take it or leave it because we mean it. The actually printing of the posters – done on the LPT machine – is also important in getting the colours right. The good poster pleases the eye of the beholder. A perfect poster makes a passer-by stop, read and think. And then later start up a conversation.
And the poster’s slogan is backed up by the following: neighbourhood meetings, leaflets, our magazine, forums, our website and our Facebook page. The slogan is like a distillation of the essence of the campaign. And the campaign fits a philosophy for change that will involve, if it is to succeed, masses of us in collective action based on a common understanding of what we are up to.
And then, there is the art of where to paste posters. First at the macro level: is it a poster for the main thoroughfares? To interest everyone in the city centres? Or, is the poster more interested in communicating with people in the neighbourhood where they live? Or, at the workplace? This is a conscious decision. And it is important to weigh this up, and reach a common understanding on it. This is often done at the early time, when the idea of the poster campaign is being born. For this one, that is why we are starting with the cities so that the campaign hopefully becomes “talk of the town”, and then we will share out, 5 or so in a roll to members in different villages, and in residential areas of the towns, for pasting up over the next week or 10 days. (You will notice we know there is a bit more space once village elections are over, and before the end-of-year commerce takes over!)
And then, the real art is when each branch and each regional committee plans how to paste up the posters in the ever-decreasing space available.
One famous poster-paster-upper was the late, Serge Rayapoullé of Tranquebar. He could make 50 well-placed Anti-War posters look like 300 or so. And in his head, there was a map of every spot in Port Louis for a poster. He was a specialist. An artist amongst artists. And there was the late James Lingaya of Palma, who, when given a roll of 50 posters for Quatre Bornes, almost refused to accept them, saying, “Sa pa sifi, kamarad!” (That, comrade, will not suffice!”) Former LALIT members, Georges Legallant and Suresh Jahal, were charged in Court with pasting up one last poster, on which they had devised their own slogan, “Vive Larevolisyon!” or “Long live the revolution!” which, in Court, was not as easy to defend as the slogan to maintain food subsidies. And there was when Ragini Kistnasamy and I took on pasting up posters on the Casernes Central, police headquarters. We did it before the days of surveillance cameras everywhere, by means of pure gall. We chose midday. Posters folded into 16, with glue made of flour in a liquid soap dispenser in an under-arm evening hand-bag for invisible “loading”. Then while one of us caused a disturbance (me, of course, in clothing chosen for the action), while the other pasted up the poster nearby. Then we moved on, and did another one. It worked. And in LALIT, we have literally hundreds of stories of poster pasting, each more hilarious than the others. Although, not always easy. There was Henri Favory who broke his arm, when he fell down a rampart, while pasting up posters during the August, 1979 strike.
Anyway, the glue has to be well-cooked. Otherwise it leaves while marks on top of the poster. The glue has to be well-spread on the wall (or in the case of surreptitious posters, on the poster), meaning in all four corners, and along all outer edges. The trade winds demand that precaution. You have to know where goats are likely to eat the posters – they love glue – and put them high up in those areas. It’s always good to have a good climber in the team.
When choosing places, you need to think of people going past, so angles need to be taken into consideration. The lighting at different times of day can also set off a poster well. Sometimes, a team might paste four blank yellow posters, and then just one of the actual posters in the middle – for special effect, in an ideal place.
And if someone else, say an adversary, has already pasted up posters, if they have been greedy (or just getting rid of them, because they are paid by the bourgeois parties, and are not real artists) and taken up a whole square, repeating the same message 8 times or something, then you choose a single spot, and cover just one. This decreases the chances of undue conflict, while still making a point.
As a member of the public, I love to study posters that village election teams have put up. These days, sometimes people have begun to use small posters, that you can read at a bus stop, rather than big ones to be seen as you go by on a motorbike, say.
But, all this is to pay homage to the wonderful art of posters.
As we page through our collection of posters in LALIT, we can see a whole history of struggles, and a history of art-work.
Once, some years ago, the British Council, of all people, (how these imperialists still manage to out-do us, reminding us that we remain colonized) held a wonderful exhibition, which then became a little book. They had a world-wide book, and one just on Mauritius, called Upfront and Personal: Three Decades of Political and Social Graphics, Mauritius (2005). In it, there are some 10 or 11 posters from the LALIT political current, including the one on Disik, Ki Lavenir? or “What on earth future is there in sugar?” the forbearer of the poster we launched today.
Long live poster pasting in all its forms!