Dear Bill: the voice of American graffiti At the Inaugural

January 19, 1993|By Dan Rodricks

WASHINGTON -- For two days, men, women and childre have been writing refrigerator notes to Bill Clinton. They've been penning bits of American graffiti on 6-inch-square construction paper and sticking them on the American Town Hall Wall, another brainchild of the image magicians who brought you the American Reunion on the Mall.

They've written reminders, admonitions, scolds, quips, jests, sincere send-offs and even a plea for the pardon of Pee-wee Herman. They're Dear Bill-o-grams, and their authors have taken to this invitation with such enthusiasm you'd think the president-elect had promised to read every last one of them.

BThat's not the case. No one will be sticking these epistles on the First Refrigerator when the Clintons move into the White House after tomorrow's inauguration.

But the wall, 88 feet long and about 12 feet high, was deluged with free-expressionists Sunday and yesterday anyway.

It's as if the people clamoring to express themselves believe that "inclusion thing," the promise that the Clinton presidency will be inviting and open and considerate of all. That, in case you didn't know it, is the Theme Of The Week.

The idea, if you're looking for the long-hair explanation, goes something like this:

"The transposition of the American Town Hall forum to a visual and low-tech medium enables countless numbers of people to emit ideas simultaneously and to browse through each other's ideas at their own pace. The freshness of people's handwriting and the directness of genuine and original expression housed in this formality of design is a surprising and powerful experience."

Says who? Says Phyllis Yampolsky, a "visual artist" from New York who says she has been developing the Visual Town Hall medium for 30 years.

It's the perfect medium for a society that likes to communicate through bumper stickers and refrigerator notes and letters to the editor. It's a great outlet for closet graffiti artists, too. And cheaper than Ross Perot's Electronic Town Hall.

"It is so simple it is accessible to everyone and adaptable anywhere," says Ms. Yampolsky, who thinks that the finished product "resembles a Mondrian painting."

"I think it's great, wonderful," says William Jefferson Duddleson of Bethesda.

"I wrote one that said, 'Reform the political process.' That will take care of everything. They shouldn't take this wall down. Maybe it should stay here permanently."

That's not the plan, says Ms. Yampolsky, but it's not a bad idea. Here, in the city that feeds on political expression, is the rough, ragged, albeit ephemeral say-so of the American people. They have been asked: "What are your dreams for America?"

Their answers run all over the joint, from freedom for Haitians to justice for cat lovers. There's even a good dose of anti-Clintonism up there on the wall. It's the print version of radio talk. It demonstrates the clutter of democracy and the huge task that faces a president, or any politician, in arriving at consensus.

Wade Edris, from Gardenville in northeast Baltimore, hoisted his 2 1/2 -year-old son, Dylan Roskams-Edris, up to his shoulders so he could tack his note high on the wall.

"More arms for hugging, more bucks for learning, health care for all and Choice," said the lad's note.

"Dylan's already been to two anti-Persian Gulf war rallies and one pro-choice rally," says his mother, Jane Roskams.

Some people are old hands at expressing themselves in the nation's capital. Like the guy who walked through the Mall with the banner that said: "Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God, too." He's played the capital for years.

But others are new to this. Here's a bit of what they had to say. Fasten your seat belts; we're going all over the political landscape.

"Help the homeless and the poor."

"Support kids in business."

"Inhale to the chief."

"Stop playing golf."

"Sixteen years -- first Bill, then Hillary."

"More mass transit."

"Save our manned space program."

"Justice for lesbians and gays."

One writer's dream was simply, "A job!"

"My cat Cleopatra should meet Socks for the good of all."

"Heal the world."

"England out of Ireland."

"Keep the common man image a reality in your administration."

"Don't be a hypocrit."

"Support Palestine and an even-handed Mideast policy."

"I dream that Bill Clinton is more truthful in his presidency than in his campaign."

"Save the owls."

"Support Aristide. Vive L'Haiti."

"Give my daddy a job."

"It's the environment, stupid!"

"Please take care of the country til GOP returns in '96."

"Give me a reason to be proud of my presidential choice."

And the skateboarders were at it again: "Stop police harassment of skaters."

Expression -- one of the few things in inaugural week that's free.

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