Interview With Brad – the Guy Who Has Been Organizing Human Banners for 10 Years

by on April 19, 2018 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

Editor’s Note: Hundreds of people will congregate at Dog Beach in OB this Saturday, April 21st to spell out “VOTE!” with their bodies. Here’s the OB Rag interview – via email – with Brad, the guy who has been organizing human banners for ten years.

Question: Brad, we understand you’ve been doing what’s called “human bannering” for some 10 years now. And you’re part of a group who will be doing human bannering at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on Saturday, April 21st – the same time people in Ocean Beach, San Diego are doing it. Both towns spelling out “Vote” … and maybe more.

First, for the uninitiated, what is human bannering?

Answer: A group of people get together outdoors and arrange their bodies on the ground so that when they are seen from above — from an airplane, a helicopter, a drone, an apartment building, a treetop — their arrangement will look amazing and inspiring to the viewer. It could be words or images or some combination. Another name for the genre is “aerial art.”

Question: How did this coordinated effort between the two cities with places called Ocean Beach come about?

Answer: I don’t exactly recall. For a while in 2017, after 5,000 people showed up to a RESIST!! event I organized in San Francisco, I was involved with organizers in a dozen places around the country who were interested in doing, or who in fact were doing, their own banners. And I think Mike James was one of those, but I didn’t do much coaching of him, if any, and then I saw the images from Ocean Beach, San Diego, and thought, “Oh, this guy’s good.”

San Francisco, January 2017

Question: What’s the significance of both Ocean Beachs spelling out “Vote”?

Answer: Beyond serendipity, and a similar view of the political situation, I’m not sure I see one. But I keep hearing that fifty percent of eligible votes under age thirty-five sat out the 2016 election, and everyone everywhere knows that if we can get the young folks to turn out — if we can lower “the age to engage” — we can completely overthrow the regime in Washington. THAT would be significant.

Question:  Did you know about our “Impeach” and “Resist” on the sands of San Diego’s Ocean Beach last year in March?

Photo by John Montgomery

Answer: I sure did! I think I saw it on the Internet by mid-afternoon. Everyone sees everything everywhere almost immediately these days. And that one was very impressive. I particularly liked the idea of the trek between the two images. “Impeach” looked a little scraggly, but if I had to judge the event:


Question: You’ve been doing this at the northern Ocean Beach for quite some time, yes?

Answer: Since 2007. At least fifteen of these by now.

Question: Are you part of a group that does this?

Answer: I wish! I think I have proven two things. 1) I’m at least semi-effective as a one-man-band. And 2) I’m horrible at the skill of forming an organization. I keep thinking and hoping that an organization will spring up around this idea, this art form, this genre, and it’ll happen without me having to go out and twist people’s arms to come to meetings and raise money and such. But it doesn’t really happen that way. At least it hasn’t for me. I have a handful of friends I’ve met now, especially one, my event-staging partner, and between all of us, we get them done.

Berkeley (Photo: Manuel Ortiz)

Question: Tell us a little about yourself – who are you?

Answer: I’m 66, grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC. My mother was a coal miner’s daughter, my father a cartographer in the OSS and then the CIA. When I graduated from Principia College in 1972, I had one goal: to become the best darned hippie I could be. I think I became a pretty good one. Worked a lot of low-level construction and restaurant jobs, circled the world with my backpack four times, kept notes, threw myself into becoming a writer and wound up having two round-the-world travel memoirs published by Random House. Drove a San Francisco taxi for 28 years. Two years ago self-published a book about a year behind the wheel of my cab — I spent ten years writing that one while raising our daughter. Married. And now our daughter’s in college. Never made any money. My wife keeps the family afloat.

Question: What’s your background?  You live in San Francisco, and ….

Answer: I did live in San Francisco for thirteen years, but we’ve been in the same house in Oakland now for…twenty-three years.

Question: Have you been involved in politics before?

Answer: In 2008 I ran as a write-in candidate in the primary against my congressperson, Barbara Lee, who seemed to shy away from the impeachment movement. I got seventy-nine votes. She got eighty. Thousand.

Sunset on the night before Obama’s inauguration, January 2009 — Ocean Beach, San Francisco  – Photo: John Montgomery

Question: How and where did you get into human bannering?

Answer: My very first one took place on Jan 6, 2007, two days after Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House. In the run-up to the November 2006 elections, we had all seen the possibility coming that the Democrats might take the both House and Senate and give the country a real opportunity to impeach Cheney and Bush, but I started worrying that no one was promoting that idea — at least not in any way that I thought was impactful, and I wondered what I could do.

Question: How did you come up with this idea? Did anyone inspire you?

Answer: Maybe 15 or 20 years ago I saw an ad on tv where some corporation had its employees form the company logo in a field in the middle of nowhere and filmed it from a helicopter. It was pretty awesome, and I filed it away. And one day in October 2006 it popped back out.

Question: Why kind of prep work do you do – or must do – for a successful human bannering event?

Answer: It’s always seems that attracting a crowd is the most crucial and most difficult thing. The rest is just mechanics. But to get people to leave their houses and give you an hour or two of your time, you have to offer them something fun, I think — you have to offer ME something fun to get me out. And these have always been over-the-top fun.

Selfie in early April at my beloved Pt. Reyes National Seashore, where I go hiking to get my head straight before an event…

Question: What are some of the things you’ve spelled out?

Answer: “TAX THE 1%” — that was during the Occupy Movement. DUMP CITIZENS UNITED. I think we’ve spelled out IMPEACH six times, with minor variations. We did “END HATE!” last year. And I’ve done a couple of images, too. An actual US flag surrounded by a thousand people forming a heart shape — that was a big hit.

Question: Where else besides Ocean Beach have you done bannering?

Answer: We’ve done three at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. One in Berkeley, over on “my side” of the bay.  And one on the Mall in Washington DC, but that’s a long, long story for some other time. It could be a book, but I’ll never write that book.

Question: What kind of press do you get?

Answer: ABC put up its own helicopter for my first one. They aired the footage nationwide and CNN took it world wide. Sean Hannity denounced me by name on national radio. The three events we did in 2017 got lots of coverage — I think just about everyone saw a photo of the 5,000 people at “RESIST!!” But you never ever know. I’ve done a couple where, literally, zero press showed up. The novelty has worn off, perhaps. I’ve sent out lots of press advisories for VOTE!, but you are the very first person who’s approached me, and it’s three days away now.

Question: Has there been a jump in interest in doing bannering since Trump was elected?

Answer: There certainly was for a while. I thought it would be a cinch to get a crowd after those 5,000 people showed up a year ago, but I’ve only got 300 registered for VOTE!

Question: Have you ever had any incidents with law enforcement – who were not down with what you were doing – or were taken by surprise?

Answer: No — ever since the first one, everyone in San Francisco has been very supportive. The National Park Service has been great.

Question: Any incidents with other beach goers, neighbors or right-wingers?

Answer: Once we had some counter-protesters, but the Park Service found a creative way to deal with them, diffuse that threat. Then last year, while I was organizing a “SHOW U.S. YOUR TAXES!” banner for April 15, I received a threat of gun violence and it scared me and I took it to the FBI. They said it was a credible threat and they had to check it out. They didn’t get back to me for six weeks, and the short story on that is that I cancelled the event. That whole thing was extremely upsetting.

Question: What else would you like to tell our readers, or the people of OB or San Diego?

Answer: It is a great comfort to have allies. And I think every little effort we make makes some sort of difference even if we can’t see it immediately. Also, one of these days I’m going to come and pay a visit — maybe during one of Mike’s banners.

Thanks Brad



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