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Mask Up by Ryan Rosacea

The design of my project “Mask Up” is simple. First, I created a zine that compiles and illustrates important tips for activists, primarily regarding safety within both physical and online protesting spaces. Then, I got ahold of several old bedsheets and cut them into 22x22” squares, which can be used as bandanas (a crucial item for protecting yourself during IRL protests.) At the next protest I attend, I’ll hand out free copies of the zine along with free bandanas.

This is responding to how cyber security has been catapulted into popular culture in the wake of the November 8 election results. While the NSA/government’s nigh-omnipotent access to our personal lives was already terrifying, the growing wave of fascism currently overtaking America is inspiring panic in many non-tech-savvy activists who were previously complacent/oblivious about their lack of Internet privacy. (I’m guiltily among the many people who watched Citizenfour, freaked out, but ultimately changed nothing about their online habits.) However, the reality of neo-Nazis soon having unlimited access to NSA surveillance technology has sparked an intense fear in leftists.

Unfortunately, many of these vulnerable activists are unaware of even the most basic cyber security tools. In my project, I address this by providing a brief, simple primer on the most popular and accessible ways to protect yourself from prying eyes. As an artist who can’t code, but is involved in the games industry, I’m very aware of how insular and overwhelmingly inaccessible the computer-science community can be. Therefore, I kept the primer short and simple, with very basic explanations of the different tools I referenced.

I also placed the information within a more palatable format. Most activists are already familiar with the political zine, and relaying new information within a more familiar format makes it more palatable. Also, as an illustrator, one of my primary artistic interests is using illustration to make otherwise overwhelming information more accessible and approachable. I have ADHD, and that means that while I have a passion for activism, I find both wading through dense academic texts and listening to long lectures essentially impossible. The same is true for technological discourse, which I therefore have severe difficulty following. As such, I aim in this zine, as well as in my greater practice, to use illustration to engage readers in concepts that are usually relayed through walls of text, and full of complex and niche terminology.

Also, of course, I’m marrying this project with IRL activism. Many people are becoming radicalized in the wake of the election, and just as there are new online activists unaware of tools like Tor, there are many new IRL activists who are unaware of simple safety tips for physical protests. Most noticeable is how many protestors have been failing to “mask up” at protests—masks can can both shield the wearer from tear gas/pepper spray, as well as help protect their privacy. (In the Internet age, everyone has a camera, everyone has Facebook, and authorities will absolutely wade through posted photos and videos in order to identify and pursue activists.)

As such, I’m providing through this project not only online/textual tools, but also a very real physical one: the bandana/mask. This tangible and immediate form of help sets my project apart from those of the many individuals who hand out pamphlets at protests. We generally stash away texts which we either entirely forget or peruse much later. However, protestors can use a free bandana immediately. (In fact, the project was germinated when I realized that my friends had no masks for a protest we were attending, and hastily cut some from an old bedsheet before we left. Later that night, those same scarves protected them from teargas.)

Ultimately, the online is to the physical as the theoretical is to the practical. “Mask Up” is a work which seeks to reconcile those clashing needs within the activism community.