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Caroline Henderson Headshot

Occupying Billboards: the Power of the Creative Crowd

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I remember ten years ago, as a middle schooler witnessing the tides change in our country -- seeing burning towers on the TV screen and in the months that followed, watching a war unfold. Over the last decade, Americans have faced a series of major upheavals, from housing crisis and the onslaught of the recession, to a historic election that stirred our guarded optimism. 2011 punctuated this decade of upheaval with a wave of unrest and revolution that spread from Tunisia to Wall St. As the year draws to a close, I can't help but feel as if a new era is approaching. What if the message that defines 2012, and this emerging era, came from the crowd?

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For this historical moment in time, it feels especially meaningful to live in the Bay Area. I recently moved from Washington DC -- which I had long considered to be our nation's center of gravity -- fed up with working to affect change amid the political mudslinging, gridlock, and compromise. Here in San Francisco, I am in awe of the revolution that is taking place regardless of the political climate -- all around me, individuals are tossing out the rule book, redefining the game, rebuilding and re-imagining whatever systems and industries stand in our way.

Days after I arrived in San Francisco, the whole country suddenly was swept up in a major wake-up call -- people flocking together, deciding enough is enough, the current political and economic system has got to change. What inspires me most about the Occupy Movement is the collective realization that the wait is over -- across cities and towns, people are rejecting the notion that we'll have to wait for change to happen to us, for the economy to recover, for the jobs to be created, for the policies to change, for the conversation to start.

Simultaneously in San Francisco, entrepreneurs, innovators, and builders are already at work using their own ideas, creativity and strength in numbers to build a more just and sustainable system. There's Square -- which is revolutionizing small business transactions via mobile payments, and Benefit Corporation based out of the Hub San Francisco -- that believe business can do good and do well -- as well as Kiva, CarrotMob, and countless other ingenious and inspiring groups that have refused to wait for change.

One Bay Area start-up is concerned in particular with the role of media in bringing about meaningful change. LoudSauce, co-founded by Colin Mutchler and Christie George, takes inspiration from tools like Twitter and Facebook, which have enabled us to influence our friends and networks. LoudSauce is working to expand the definition of social media, to take people-powered messages one step further by providing people with the tools to reach beyond their current social network -- occupying billboards, bus stops, and TV ads with messages created and funded by the 99%.

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It seems fitting that at the cusp of 2012, one of San Francisco's major commercial billboard spaces will be occupied by a message envisioned, designed, chosen and paid for by the people. Starting with community-generated ideas (via Facebook questions) and with the help of a handful of Bay Area designers and creative types, LoudSauce is asking the Bay Area to vote over the next three days on which message should go up on the billboard and greet over 600,000 drivers after crossing the Bay Bridge during the final week of 2011.

This project is just one of the many springing out of the Bay Area, showing the world that together, crowds of people everywhere can literally shape the kind of world we want to live in. I'm resolved in believing that 2012 will begin the era of the positive, entrepreneurial and crowd-driven spirit that will revitalize this country.