Some close friends planned an art project/performance/protest, and I was flattered to be asked to help film, though I take no credit for the idea. My wife and I put together this video:
The signs made headlines in two Portland papers--the Mercury picked it up first and then the Oregonian Metro section and Business section--and appeared around the local blogosphere at Indymedia, Matt Davis, livingyellow, and JustSeeds, as well as MattressZine, some kind of mattress trade pub.
Clips were used to mount the signs, so that they could be removed without causing damage, and a safety cable secured it all just in case. One important thing the video doesn't make explicit--but maybe you can still tell--is that the DMC is located right on Belmont St, the namesake for one of Portland's trendiest neighborhoods, fully gentrified over the last decade or so. Someone commented in an old Flickr image that the DMC "gives shiny belmont some much-needed squalor," and this had been my unofficial position on the issue before my friends ever suggested the protest. But the original Mercury post elicited seventy-four widely varying reader responses, most of which made valid, intelligent points.
"Although the art is interesting," blogged jmacphee on JustSeeds, "the responses to it are whats really worth checking out. A fascinating, rambling road through varying opinions on street art, vandalism, gentrification, class, yuppies, and property values."
The most critical reaction to the signs came in a lengthy response to the Oregonian Business section write-up. Someone called "Mannis" detailed his family's longtime business relationship with the DMC. He describes how the DMC's actual business model--selling inexpensive, refurbished mattresses--has directly and indirectly helped "thousands" of local needy families and individuals (a good, liberal notion), while simultaneously, on the environmental front, reducing waste (also a good, liberal notion). Mannis goes on to defend the Confederate Flag and condemn those unwilling to acknowledge it as an authentic symbol of legitimate Southern heritage, separable from the notion of slavery.
Mannis's critique of liberal elitism seems on-point, and, sure enough, a huge majority of the other responses were to the effect of Way to stick it to that ugly store. Don't they know they're in Portland?
I happen to know that the artist's intention (though he wouldn't call himself an artist) was a comment on the symbol and not on the storefront, but no one seemed to notice what he thought was obvious: in Progressive Portland, gay rights, animal rights, and separation of church and state are front page bumper sticker issues, and transgressions will get your business boycotted or your politician blacklisted. Mention racism or segregation, by contrast, and (here's the punchline) the activists shrug their shoulders. Naw, we don't really have those problems here.
For the record, I think it was that specific little slice of hypocrisy that catalyzed the artist.
As expected, the MLK signs came down the next day.