“You can take this campaign we have going in many ways,” said @obeygina2020, an account claiming to be the creator of the recent Raimondo posters, “Whether you protest it or are agreeing with it. That’s on the audience. It’s doing what its supposed to do.”
Photo by Daniel Sweet
Socially distant things are happening in Providence streets. Near the Capitol, on Francis, Smith, and Gaspee Streets, around 100 cars circled the State House for about an hour, honking to grab the attention of someone inside. Near Westminster Street and elsewhere, a few mysterious posters began appearing, and with a certain politician’s face on it. The target of the protest and the subject of the poster are the same: Governor Gina Raimondo.
“It’s based off of the original shepard fair[e]y campaign for when he did Andre the Giant coinciding with Buddy Cianci running for mayor. It polarized that mayors campaign and statement. People paid attention. The same with the hope for Obama,” said @obeygina2020.
Posters with Governor Raimondo’s unofficial Covid-19 slogan “Knock it Off” began appearing in Providence this month. A design director, Myles Dumas, soon took credit. Some time after, pictures of new posters began appearing online, and this time the design seemed to be emulating Shepard Fairey‘s ‘Hope’ poster for Barack Obama. These posters changed Obama’s face to Raimondo’s, and his message of ‘Hope’ to ‘Obey’.
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Raimondo has been widely praised for decisions made during the Covid-19 crisis, and the litany of Raimondo merchandise, which now includes a ‘Knock It Off’ beer, certainly speaks to that positive image, for some. There are citizens who for weeks have been calling for Raimondo to take additional measures. They’ve been showing up to protests online and in their cars.
“The [state prison system] has facilities to produce some goods, making cloth masks. While prisoners have been tasked to work in those facilities for [less than minimum wage], they are not allowed to wear masks or gloves. In fact, they’re punished for wearing makeshift masks,” said Garren Jansezian of the the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, speaking during the online portion of this weekend’s car rally.
Governor Raimondo has released 52 people from the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), the state’s prison system. She stated that they were close to 90 days from being released.
A coalition of at least 26 community groups is calling for the Governor to use her executive authority to release medically vulnerable prisoners and improve living conditions for those still inside. “The individuals [that we put in prison] tend to be marginalized or particularly vulnerable… which makes them particularly vulnerable to Covid,” explained Brown School of Public Health professor Brad Brockmann, also speaking online.
“We believe art will always and should always document a certain event in history,” continued @obeygina2020, in our conversation which had not yet touched on the car rally, “It’s something about spreading the word to one another… in this type of environment that will get the point across better.”
Artists are certainly paying attention to the posters; those who haven’t had the chance to speak to the likely creator are speculating on the intention.
“I’m into it tho,” said Blue, a Providence artist known for his philosophical cartoons, “Into spreading shit about Gina, not the obey style… It’s def not in support of her,” he concluded.
Another sees this as building on the momentum of the recent ‘Knock it Off’ posters.
“I’m not the biggest fan of raimondo and for someone to do this brings joy to my life,” said one Providence artist who is not a street artist but has done street art in recent months. “Knock it off posters on hope st and now these, I think they are on the same tone,” they decided.
@obeygina2020 offered to quash the mystery, saying that the poster is primarily a bid to gain attention and raise money to buy meals for doctors and nurses while they are at work.
“The last thing they need to do is worry about lunch and dinner. So we will donate portions of proceeds from sales to a local Providence restaurant, they would in turn cook and donate the food to the hospital. So everyone can ‘eat’,” claimed the account, as a part of their ‘Mission Statement’. They added that a web store will be launching on their Instagram soon, and reminded me to claim my free stickers.
With these posters of Raimondo being seen on Providence streets in the same week that activists are taking to the roads to make demands of her, I asked @obeygina2020 what they might say to someone concerned about people in prisons, and asked what they thought about the posters being spray-painted over.
“The fact that its being defaced and not torn down means its working, people are paying attention and it evoked an emotion in them. thats what its supposed to do,” they said, then bringing the conversation back to their mission, “We’re trying the best to stay away from the politicalness of this situation. If it triggers enough emotions for people to debate more and more that’s good. Attention in 2020 i[s] everything.”