Turning Angst into Activist Art

Do you ever feel the sear of rage-fear in your hands? It’s the one that starts when you contemplate the totality of problems we have made for planet Earth, that we continue to ignore, and will leave to our children to face. Yeah, that one. What do you do with the gnaw of your anxiety? Scoff and complain? Sing la-la-la with your fingers in your ears? Throw your hands up in defeat? I’ve done a lot of all of those – so I’m learning instead to transform my rage-fear into something else at the end of a paintbrush.

For a little over a year, I’ve been turning my angst into activist art with Extinction Rebellion PDX. My background is in space planning and design, and I’m a homeschool parent, so art supplies were at the ready when I decided to see if XRPDX could use some additional creative support. I figured I would paint some signs, but I didn’t realize I’d write poems, make soundtracks, lead street performances, and meet some people whose badassery I can only hope to attain – I’ve learned a lot so far!

What I know to be true is that art has the power to DISRUPT. What happens when we shake people out of complacency by disrupting something about their day? I like to think it’s the moment a new idea might make it through, a flash of curiosity.

Art speaks not only with words, but with color, symbols, ideas, and emotions.

Art turns a mirror on ourselves.

Art makes demands.

Art builds a vision of what could be!

Diana Meisenhelter cutting out images created by Patti. Photo credit: Patti Robrahn.

On June 4, 2022, XRPDX hosted the “Doom or Bloom” demonstration in the driveway of Zenith Energy. The event involved a meeting spot, a short walk, and a gathering, so part of the planning involved understanding how our banners and signs would read from Highway 30 as well as Zenith’s driveway. After all, only a message that can be read makes its point!

In the weeks leading up to the event, I created digital images that were printed on billboard material. At a group work party, the XRPDX team cut and taped our way to 50 double-sided signs. One major consideration in the design was the weight of the sign, since it would be held for an extended period of time, and the other was its weather resistance. On one side, familiar cautionary road sign imagery declared the dangers of Zenith, while the other side declared a new direction, with blue skies, birds, butterflies, and flowers. With few words, the signs spoke clearly: We have a choice. Shouldn’t the answer be clear?

On the day of the event, 50 participants held the “Doom” side out to the street as the soundtrack started with bits of dire news reports crackling through the sound system. After an audible frequency change sequence, a little like changing the station, the news reports took on a different tone. The narrative was shifting and the activists were winning! On cue, performers began to flip their signs – one after another until the driveway was in full “Bloom.” It was a performative realization of our future hopes for the CEI Hub. Because if we can’t imagine the world we want, how can we ever expect to build it?

Activism’s fire is fed by our rage-fear, but in order that it might not consume us, Art brings the rain to grow images, sounds, and themes to connect us, and our collective action gives form to an otherwise shapeless longing for a more just and sustainable world.

An Extinction Rebellion PDX Art team is forming now – connect with us at info@xrpdx.org.

About Patti Robrahn

Patti is an enthusiastic future-seeker, a homeschool parent, and an occasional soapmaker. She was born into a doomsday cult and she’ll be damned if she lets them be right.


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