Rachel Maddow   |  November 18, 2011

A landmark in guerilla projection

Mark Read, who organized the Occupy Wall Street "bat-signal" for the November 17 Day of Action, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the project came together. Denise Vega, whose apartment served as the base for the projection, joins to describe her role in the event.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MADDOW: Earlier this year the new Republican governor of the great state of Maine ordered a mural depicting the state's labor history be removed from the lobby of Maine 's Labor Department building. No artwork about the labor movement allowed under a Republican governor, even if it is the Labor Department . But, then, some anonymous protesters got together and decided to project an image of the mural back on to the side of the building that contains the Labor Department . They put the mural back up. Watch this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putting the mural back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean putting the mural back up?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because if you do, we'll have APD right after us.

MADDOW: They're putting the mural back up. This is sort of a thing now. You may also remember that amid all the protest against Republican Governor Scott Walker 's union-stripping law in Wisconsin , we got this photo from protesters in Wisconsin who told us that in addition to this projection, they had also projected a 40-foot dollar sign on to the side of the Wisconsin statehouse. Then there was the anti- Koch brothers protest outside Lincoln Center here in New York , where a theater has been named after David Koch . The protesters' goal there was to re-brand the Koch brothers -- an effort that included a multimedia program projected on to the side of the building during the protest. And over these last couple months, protesters have been making use of projectors in Lower Manhattan as part of the Occupy movement. But the projection as protests move, I don't think hasn't really been done like it was done last night . And it's in part because this was technically an amazing thing to have been carried off. All right. Here if your visualization sake, here's Manhattan , right? This is the Hudson River on the left side there. And then, over there on the other side , the east, that's the East River . Now, here's the Brooklyn Bridge , the same place where there were 700 arrests made when Occupy Wall Street protesters marched on the Brooklyn bridge early last month. But that March and those arrests, that will happen on a weekend during the day. The new Occupy Wall Street action was planned to be on a weeknight this week during rush hour after the time changed, so it was going to be in the dark. And, of course, they announced it in advance. So, everybody knew a ton of people were going to be protesting on the Brooklyn Bridge . That's last night . And right here, going over the Brooklyn Bridge , there is a perfect site line, not only for the protesters, but everybody covering the protesters, for this whole scene that everybody was gearing up for on the Brooklyn Bridge last night . Right in that line of the bridge is what everybody in New York refers to as the Verizon Building . Now, it's not actually Verizon 's headquarters, as the folks at the " Village Voice " pointed out today, Verizon just has couple floors there and their name on the top of the building is essentially just a giant ad for that company. But more importantly, for the protesters' purposes last night , this is what it looks like, right? It's a big, flat building that has a big flat surface on it facing the rough and a big, flat surface that doesn't have windows or sharp planes or anything else that might obscure the purpose its divinely inspired purpose as the best possible place in the world to show off this year's non-marring, nonintrusive but oddly effective and evocative visual arts/protest technique -- the projection. You need three things to pull this off. You need a really, really, really bright projector, you need a place to project from, and you need chutzpa to even try to do this. The guy who pulled this off is going to be joining us in just a second. We were able to track him down -- thanks to the geniuses at boingboing.net. But they were able to pull this off, and this is what it looked like. This is just one of a whole of series of images. See that projected on to the side of the Verizon Building last night . It was a whole program of projected images, almost like a visual speech. Here's part of the message. To we have this? Mike check. Mike check. Look around. You are a part of a global uprising. We are a cry from the heart of the world , it goes on. We are unstoppable. Another world is possible . Happy birthday, Occupy movement, 99 percent. Here's what it looked like on the ground from the Brooklyn Bridge where the Occupy Wall Street protesters were marching.

CROWD: We are the 99 percent! We are the 99 percent!

MADDOW: They are psyched. Joining us now is Mark Read , who organized the projections on the Verizon Building last night . Mr. Read, congratulations. Thanks for being here.

MARK READ, ORGANIZED OWS "BAT-SIGNAL": Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: When you look at that footage of it, obviously you saw it live when it was happening. But when you see it as sort of, I guess a document of what happened in New York , how does it feel?

READ: It's a little surreal. I mean, it was -- I knew it would be a really powerful projection, and I hoped that it would have that effect on the crowd. And we were able to hear the crowd, actually, from the window where we were projecting. I didn't expect that at all. We could hear them chanting along to what we were projecting in this kind of interactive dance we were doing. It was really beautiful.

MADDOW: How long ago did you have this idea? How much planning time did this take?

READ: Well, about three weeks.


READ: And it wasn't technically my ideas. We were -- we were having an action coordination meeting to discuss the 17th which had been called as a day of action for labor, 17 bridges in 17 cities, to call attention to the crumbling infrastructure and the people that are out of work. Like we have these people out of work, we have a crumbling infrastructure, let's make jobs and make bridges better. So, that was the idea. And then Occupy happened and it became, like, a birthday party. Exactly on the two-month anniversary of the birth of the Occupy movement. And we wanted to do something a little more spectacular. And we were -- the first idea we were talking about were these lights that we handed out to the crowd, 10,000 LED lights to go around to create a river of light around the city hall and up on the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge . And then we were kind of done with that discussion and there's a guy, Hero, the name he goes by is Hero, and he's been involved from the beginning with Occupy . And he was like, I didn't get a chance to get my idea. I was sitting next to him. I said, what's your idea? He said, we need a bat signal. And we need like bat signal with 99 percent. And I thought about it for a half a second and knew I could pull it off. I had done gorilla projections before and I knew people who had and I just said, we're doing it.

MADDOW: How did you figure out where you should be projecting from? How did you find a place?

READ: Well, I mean, there's this, you know, gigantic gray monolith as a perfect projection screen a lot of us have seen over the years and I've probably had the same idea. And there are these -- city housing actually. It's, you know, the irony of it is kind of incredible. In the shadow of this gray corporate monolith is city housing projects -- you know, people, working class , working poor . It's the same thing these days -- working class , working poor . And they're, like, 17-tall-story buildings and right up against -- the one we were in is 130 feet from the face of the building. Literally in its shadow. And, you know, I knew we needed a secure place so we -- I need an apartment. I need someone in that building to sort of open their home and so, I went into the building and put up signs, you know, like, could you rent us your apartment for a few hours on Thursday, November 17th for $250? And I got a few phone calls . Most of which didn't make a whole lot of sense.


READ: And then I got a call from Denise Vega who I went and visited. Actually didn't think she had the window that we needed. She talked about her views of the Brooklyn Bridge and I didn't think it was going to be right. But lo and behold, it was there. In her bedroom she had a perfect view of that face and, you know, it was on. I told her immediately what I was doing. I didn't say that in the sign, but I said it was an art and film project. But when I met her, I said I'm with Occupy Wall Street . Have you heard about us? She said, of course, you guys are awesome. She knew all about the movement. And she was excited about the idea of doing something in her apartment. And so we shook hands and the last thing I said to her was, she said to me, was, like, let's do this thing. That was really exciting.

MADDOW: So it was 250 bucks and it was probably a long night in there setting up and --

READ: Yes, well, the thing was -- it was about 20 minutes setting up. The thing with Denise was, on Tuesday, on Tuesday, which is the day after the eviction, which happened, like, early Tuesday morning.

MADDOW: The Zuccotti Park eviction, right?

READ: I have been trying to meet Denise , because I need to give her her money . I want to give here like half in advance and half after. And this was coming up on Thursday. So, the finance working group from occupy Wall Street was in disarray. No one was around. I couldn't get her the money . So, I was playing phone tag with her and talked to her at 9:00. And the first thing she said to me was, you know, I can't take money for this. This is --

MADDOW: Oh, wow.

READ: This is for the people. I can't take any money .

MADDOW: Mark , while I have been talking to you we've been trying to reach Denise on the phone. I'm told we have Denise on the phone. Denise , are you there on the phone?


MADDOW: Hi. How are you?

VEGA: OK. And you?

MADDOW: I'm great. I'm here with mark who you did the projection project with last night . And I 'm just wondering if you could tell us why you decided to do this with him? Why you decided to let him use the apartment and participate in this.

VEGA: This all happened as a token to my sister. That's her apartment and it so happens we were together. She was saying, oh, you got to do it, you got to like do this together, we got to do this together. I said, what do you want me to do? She said, listen, there's a project that's about to take place. Give him a call, Mark Read . That's exactly what I said. I said, oh, that sounds like fun, let's see what we can do here, let's do this. That's when I called Mark Read and we started talking. And, you know, money was offered, and I refused the money . It's not about the money . I am working, but, you know, we got to be together, work together.

MADDOW: How do you --

VEGA: Stand as one.

MADDOW: How do you feel about the overall -- I mean, how do you feel about the messages that were projected and the overall Occupy Wall Street movement?

VEGA: It's great. I'm so happy it's going on, and I didn't even know it was going to be this long. It's crazy. But, you know, I'm showing my daughters, I do have two daughters. I'm showing them what the world is about right now. We got to stand up for what's right.

MADDOW: Denise Vega , thank you for calling in tonight. We had a hard time tracking you down. I'm really glad that we found you. Thanks for calling us. Thanks for being part of this.

VEGA: Thank you. Have a good night . Good night , Mark Read .

MADDOW: Mark Read , Occupy Wall Streeter who organized this, and who must have a really amazing projector.

READ: Yes.

MADDOW: Thank you for coming in and explaining this how you did this, this made a big impact on a lot of people. Appreciate it.