From 2011 to 2016, as part of the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), I painted five large murals on the alley.
All five murals spoke, directly or indirectly, to the critical need for a fundamental shift away from capitalism that puts profit before all else and negatively impacts the health, environment, and wellbeing of all.
The response to each of these public works was, and continues to be overwhelmingly positive. I still meet people, who when they learn that I work with CAMP, will pull out their phones and show me an image of one or more of these murals, often being used as their screensaver. I’m also regularly contacted by students and academics who want to interview me, write about the murals, and/or use images of the work in books or articles.
Thankfully too, the murals rarely got tagged with graffiti, and when they were, it was fairly innocuous and easy to repair, with the exception of CAPITALISM IS OVER! If You Want It, which I encouraged during its final month as part of its conceptual framework.
While flattering to have one’s work hit a nerve among diverse and global audiences, more important to me is that the attention coincides with a shifting consciousness on the views of capitalism among youth.
According to a comparison of Gallup polls between 2010 and 2018, in 2010, 68 percent of youth ages 18-29 polled had a positive view of capitalism; in 2018 that percentage had dropped 23 points to 45 percent. Additionally in 2016, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) had 5,000 members. In 2019 that number has grown to 56,000.
In fall 2018, I replaced the “Stop The Corporatocracy” mural with one that now reads “End Apartheid B.D.S.” in large stylized letters in the foreground with slightly smaller, narrower text recurring in the background that reads “Boycott Divest Sanction.” The entire mural and pavement in front are adorned with my signature flowers. Like the five other murals, this one advocates for social justice and speaks to global systems of colonialism, imperialism, and development. More specifically, the work speaks to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians as an apartheid state. This claim is not just my personal belief; in 2017 the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) released a report on the treatment of Palestinians by Israel that concluded: “The weight of the evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the contention that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.” Additionally, the mural directly advocates for the use of a non-violent economic response to human rights abuses.
“End Apartheid B.D.S.” is one of five murals on Clarion Alley that represents solidarity with the Palestinian people. There has been a great deal of support for each these works locally and globally. However, in addition to the positive recognition, all of these murals have been repeatedly targeted with hate crime vandalism. Since October 2018, CAMP has received 16 hits in tandem against these specific works. The 15th hit on Sept. 25, 2019 called me out directly on my mural: “MEGANAZI,” the mural itself has no reference to my name. The message is clear: intimidation and harassment directed at Palestinian people and those acting in solidarity to call an end to Israel’s apartheid and settler colonial state.
The response of CAMP and the artists whose murals have been impacted has been one of resilience. We have continuously repaired each of the works. They want to silence us, but we are fierce and we won’t back down. Not only do we get stronger, the visual narratives themselves become more powerful and impactful, supporting the global movement for the Palestinian right of return.
Public response to these acts of hate from our City leaders has been negligible to non-existent; and the media’s has been almost the same. As I told one city aide, if these repeated hits of graffiti were of swastikas, I think we would have seen action almost immediately. Likewise with the press. Case in point: In early October 2018, CAMP experienced one single hit of MAGA (Make America Great Again) graffiti painted over 11 of our murals in one night. The perpetrators chose works that were figurative to paint MAGA hats onto and others that call out police violence.
The media response was unprecedented. Before anyone from CAMP was even aware of what had happened, we were receiving messages from CBS, NBC, ABC, The Examiner, KQED, and The Guardian. The MAGA attack happened two nights before a public event to be held on Clarion Alley: Dedication of Three of Murals – International Solidarity with Palestine. At that point CAMP had already experienced four attacks of hate crime graffiti targeted at all the murals created in solidarity with Palestine.
Rather than responding to the press messages, CAMP focused our energies on cleaning up the murals prior to the event. Our community came out in full force and we finished repairing all of the graffiti before the dedication started.
I had arrived at Clarion Alley at 7 a.m. that morning to repair my own mural. Starting at 8 a.m., the press began descending and asking for interviews. This went on throughout the day. My co-director Christopher Statton and I were the points of contact to address the press and when appropriate direct them to others. Each reporter we spoke with, it was noted that the MAGA hit was a single attack and that within several weeks prior, we had experienced four incidents of graffiti hate crime targeted at our murals painted in solidarity with Palestine. Two of the seven news outlets that covered the MAGA vandalism mentioned the other four targeted hate crimes: KQED—which also included images of those murals—and The Guardian—which did not.
Here we are, a little over a year later. The hate crime graffiti targeted at our murals created in solidarity with Palestine continues, along with the verbal harassment and aggression that some of us have received as we’re painting.
A few things have changed. CAMP is now working with OCEIA (SF Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs) to have a stronger presence on the alley through their Ambassador program, we have requested more lighting on the alley through our District 9 Supervisor’s office, and CAMP is an active member of the coalition creating a new cultural district in our north Mission neighborhood that will give a stronger voice in the direction and decisions as to how the District should be governed and how it should serve the community.
By the time you read this, I will have already gone to the alley to repair my mural, following the 16th hit.
Megan Wilson is an artist, writer, and activist based out of San Francisco. She and Christopher Statton are the co-Directors of Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP).