This notice is placed on nearly every telephone pole in Tacoma, WA.

Ever walked down any major (and potentially interesting) street in Tacoma?

examples include: So. 72nd, So. 56th, So. 38th, So. Tacoma Way, 6th Ave., Pacific Ave, Tacoma Ave., MLK, St. Helens, etc.

… and noticed these annoying Public Works stickers posted on all the telephone poles and cabinets?

To the Office of Public Works,

Sorry, but you guys made a big mistake. Nowhere does the law say that putting art or posting “any signage” there is illegal.

The law cited, RCW: 46.61.075 says this:

(1) No person shall place, maintain or display upon or in view of any highway any unauthorized sign, signal, marking or device which purports to be or is an imitation of or resembles an official traffic-control device or railroad sign or signal, or which attempts to direct the movement of traffic, or which hides from view or interferes with the effectiveness of an official traffic-control device or any railroad sign or signal.

(2) No person shall place or maintain nor shall any public authority permit upon any highway any traffic sign or signal bearing thereon any commercial advertising.

(3) This section shall not be deemed to prohibit the erection upon private property adjacent to highways of signs giving useful directional information and of a type that cannot be mistaken for official signs.

(4) Every such prohibited sign, signal or marking is hereby declared to be a public nuisance and the authority having jurisdiction over the highway is hereby empowered to remove the same or cause it to be removed without notice.

If you can show me where it does say it is illegal, prove it.

But even though they got it wrong, they’ve got you, and they’ve got me, scared. They got us on the run. They’re the government; they can justify whatever they want.

Common telephone pole along Alberta Ave. in Portland, OR

Let me put this into perspective. Why does a mid-size city like Tacoma care so fucking much that signage is illegal to post on the poles or the cabinets? Especially since the City of Tacoma talks up its so-called hip downtown “artist scene,” — um, who and where exactly? — and its cutting-edge art museum programs — boooring! — you would think it would allow people to put some motherfucking art on the telephone poles. But no. Instead, everywhere people are putting up posters, event advertisements, stickers, or whatever they are doing, they actually risk getting arrested and fined.

If you walk down any neighborhood streets in Portland — any neighborhood street, it’s a common sight everywhere — you’ll see these telephone poles and cabinets covered in local event advertising and art. High school kids slap stickers on the poles. Anarchists advertise punk shows. Artists advertise their galleries and show spaces. Venues advertise the next party. It’s free information.

I spoke to some Portland locals as we were browsing some event posters together on Alberta Ave. “Hey and just think,” I laughed with a sigh of relief, “a telephone pole like this is actually illegal in Tacoma.”

“Really?” one of them asks, “illegal?”

“Well, yeah. It says so right on the pole.”

Their hearts turned cold. “What kind of place do you live in, man?”

“It’s scary,” I said. “People in Tacoma will just go with the flow and not question anything. They’ve never thought about why something basic like that is illegal, or what they would do to overcome it.”

I took another look at the street we were standing on. Lots of young people. Plenty of things to do, and it was obvious because everywhere was an invitation to do something or be a part of something.

I started musing. “It’s such a rare occasion that someone in Tacoma actually does put up a poster anywhere. But it obviously wants to happen… people naturally want to communicate, but the city workers wanted it to be illegal. The city workers didn’t think they needed to cite any actual ordinances either.”

They stare in blank disbelief. “That sounds unconscionable. How far will people let authorities go without challenging?”

“Tell me about it.”

_________________________________________

So, Tacoma, answer me this.

What kind of place are you? — is this some kind of concentration camp where the prisoners aren’t allowed to talk to one another for fear they will rise up against the administration bureaucrats? The banality of evil has taken shape in this city, and I don’t know if anyone can effectively flip this shit upside down. But does they city really not want people to communicate to each other? You’ve got to wonder why they’re so adamant about this non-existent ordinance in the first place.

Even as “progressive social democrats” (or whatever they call themselves these days) I don’t understand why city workers think “any signage” should be illegal in Tacoma. Can they see how much information is being conveyed by the signage? What democratic function does it serve? Is it not opening up lines of communication, lines of dialogue, providing sites of interest for people to explore? etc.

And from anybody’s perspective, consider the sheer hypocrisy of it all:

The group Beautiful Angle was awarded in 2007 with an arts award. Everyone knows who these people are — they’re famous in Tacoma. And on the City of Tacoma website the text of the award says the following:

“The community outreach by an artist award goes to artist team Lance Kagey and Tom Llewellyn for their work as Beautiful Angle. This duo produces a limited run of hand-crafted letterpress posters which are distributed throughout Tacoma neighborhoods via wheat paste and staples. This sustainable art project, which began in October, 2002, brings fine letterpress art and poetry to the public in a creative and accessible format.”

If only everyone had the resources to create “fine letterpress art” then maybe it wouldn’t be illegal to post signage.

But not only was this group wheatpasting posters around the city, but they were making Christian propaganda and because they knew the right people who were buddy-buddy with the city bureaucrats… they received a big “community outreach” (*cough* community outreach?) award for their efforts.

But remember:

"IT IS ILLEGAL TO POST ANY SIGNAGE ON THIS POLE OR CABINET."

Hypocrisy.

For the past six months I was trying to get the City Council to realize the hypocrisy of the sign policy, and just let everyday people put posters on the poles. But to no avail. (In fact, I heard they recently created more regulations for the signage policy.) I was in communication with the city manager and some council members, but suddenly they stopped talking to me after I mentioned the 2007 Beautiful Angle award as part of my argument for changing the sign policy.

I don’t want to be that snarky motherfucker attending all the City Council meetings with some schizophrenic telephone pole platform. This idea is so obvious and reasonable. The city should not have given it any thought. But now I’ve got other shit to do and so does everyone else. The city workers fight so hard to preserve the urban wastescapes of Tacoma.

The Glass Museum of Tacoma

My advice: pour molten hot glass all over Tacoma, everywhere. That would perfectly suit the cynicism of the city bureaucracy and its ideology: unattainable transparency, uniformity, and sterilization.

Cheers to the City of Tacoma, for creating a city that no one wants to play in.