In a similar way to social movements more generally, there tend to be trends in the topics addressed by protest stickers. Over the last year or so, the number of protest stickers relating to Covid-19 has decreased. The number of stickers relating to transgender (trans) rights, on the other hand, has increased dramatically, perhaps in response to high-profile events and controversies in the media. I have found stickers that defend and celebrate trans people, and transphobic stickers that attack and criticise them. For this blog post, I have decided to only feature the former kind, as I do not believe that the existence and rights of trans people is a debate. It’s bad enough that transphobic stickers are on the streets in such large numbers, I am not going to use my blog to give them a platform, even if it is to criticize them.
London’s protest stickers cover a whole range of topics, from housing to race and immigration. However, some of them don’t fit into any specific category, instead embodying a rebellious ethos. This post is about these stickers, the ones providing good advice for anyone with a subversive streak.
Brighton is a coastal city in the south of England, about an hour away from London by train. It is well known for being an open and accepting city, and it also happens to be my home town, so it’s very special to me. I have written about protest and dissent in Brighton on Turbulent London before, but the city also has an awful lot of protest stickers so I think it deserves (at least) one more post. I took the pictures featured here on a walk down a single (admittedly quite long) road in the city. London Road runs from the city centre to the outskirts in the direction of London, funnily enough. Quite run down when I was younger, the area along the road is going through a rapid process of gentrification, to the extent that is known by some as the Shoreditch of Brighton. Gentrification is frequently a contested process however, and London Road has no shortage of protest stickers.
London has the distinction of being home to the oldest professional police force in the world. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 in an attempt to impose order on the chaotic and undisciplined city. Their primary purpose was to deter crime, but they became involved in the policing of protest in 1830. Ironically, the first protest in which the police were involved was an anti-police demonstration on the 28th of October 1830. Demonstrators chanting ‘No New Police’ clashed with the boys in blue at Hyde Park Corner. The British people had long been hostile to the idea of a professional police force, so the Metropolitan Police faced an uphill battle convincing Londoners that they were necessary. Ever since then, the Met has had an uneasy relationship with some Londoners. Radicals have always been particularly critical, especially in regard to the policing and control of protest. Disapproval and mistrust of the Metropolitan Police is reflected in London’s protest stickers.
A few months ago, I visited New York on an undergraduate field trip. As I explored the city, I took pictures of protest stickers as I do in London. This post is about some of the stickers that I saw. At first I thought that explicitly political stickers were less common in New York than London, as it took me quite a while to find any. However I discovered that in some areas, such as the East Village in Manhattan, protest stickers are just as common as in London.
Stickers are a ubiquitous part of the urban environment, often more common than graffiti in city centres. They are quick, easy and cheap to produce and put up, so they are an effective way of getting a message across. They are employed for a variety of purposes, such as advertising, art and dissent. The meaning of many is not obvious, they remain indecipherable to all but the author and those with the right knowledge to decode them. They also come in many shapes and sizes, with many different techniques used to produce them. Like graffiti they are meant to be ephemeral, gradually disintegrating under the weight of the weather, idle hands and cleaners. As I move around London I photograph many of the protest stickers that I see, gradually building up a map of dissent in our capital. Below are some of the stickers I have seen.