Arts & Culture Community Maplewood South Orange

Pussy Hats Appear on South Orange-Maplewood Street Signs as Form of Protest

A group of local artists and activists have subtly transformed about 25 pedestrian crossing signs in Maplewood and South Orange (and two in Millburn) by adding black pussy hat stickers to the signs.

And there are plans to add the pointy-eared hat stickers to more signs throughout the towns.

The pussy hat became a symbol of female empowerment and political protest around the time of the Presidential Inauguration when thousands of women knitted pink pussy hats and wore them to the Women’s March on Washington on January 21. More than 35 buses left from South Orange and Maplewood, transporting thousands of local residents to the march in D.C.

Now, pussy hat stickers are being used to transform the crossing signs, as a symbol of continued protest. The stickers are black, instead of pink, to blend in with the figures on the crossing signs and because “Black is cool. And this is not about being ‘feminine,’ it’s about being ‘feminist.'”

The local artist spearheading the campaign — which she is calling “Pussies United!” — said she wished to remain anonymous at this time.

“It’s more fun to have a kind of Banksy movement,” she told Village Green. Beginning in early June, the artist solicited the help of other activists and now a core group of about eight “pussy ninjas” have formed a “posse” which uses ladders and stickers to transform the signs. “The signs are very high – much higher than you think,” said the artist. “But they’re starting to go on people’s radar, which is good.”

“The idea was inspired by the women’s march,” she explained, “and bringing that positive energy back to our home towns. The power of that march was visceral – women were able to see the impact of our collective thinking, some of us for the first time. Continuing that momentum is an undercurrent of the Pussies United movement.”

She continued, “The idea here is that, while there are obvious issues with the Trump administration and everything that goes along with it, the pussy hats remind us of the work that we have to do here, in our own lives. We need to remain vigilant about both how women are treated, and the expectations we have of ourselves. As progressive and liberal as this community is, I still hear an awful lot of asinine, chauvinistic remarks from men — and some very outdated thinking from women. We have a tremendous amount of power in our daily lives to affect change, and we have to continue making that change if we want to create a better future. It starts here.”

The artist said that the posse is hoping to continue transforming signs and also planning to branch out to other communities, perhaps next targeting Bedminster — the home of Trump National Golf Club.

The posse is documenting its work on Instagram [email protected] and on Facebook page at www.facebook.com/hatninjas.

In its “Banksy” way, the protest is technically graffiti and the artists are violating the law.

“Although the Maplewood Police Department does support creative expression, we cannot do so when it involves defacing and/or damaging public property,” wrote Maplewood Police Captain Dawn Williams in response to an email from Village Green. “Individuals involved could face criminal charges. In the event we locate defaced and/or damaged public property, we report it to the appropriate authority and a determination regarding corrective action can then be made.”

However, don’t expect removal of the stickers to be a priority for the police force.

Township Administrator Joseph Manning said he “would like to have them removed but not sure how easy or quickly that could be done, maybe in a less busy season. I don’t support defacing public property for creative expression. I never saw one of the signs but I’ve seen less important items making news.”

Updated: Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca added another angle to the conversation: Pedestrian safety. When asked to comment for the story, DeLuca said, “I agree with Captain Williams and Township Administrator Manning this is defacing public property and will not be permitted. Furthermore, pedestrian safety is a priority of the Township Committee and changing the pedestrian crossing signs can be dangerous.”

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