FOOLS DON’T VOTE : Political Graffiti in Third Ward

There’s new graffiti/”social practice work” in Third Ward along Dowling Street at several corners between Blodgett and Wheeler. Third Ward is a complex area of both wealth and poverty, but graffiti of any kind is not a common sight even in the slummiest parts. (And I know because I have inhabited some of those parts.)

This new graffiti installation exists in 4 parts each with a different message that I’ve seen so far. Its not a personal tag or a gang-related shout out.  Its understated, subtle, yet powerful.The medium is soft white spray paint. What you’ll see is no Banksy,  but quickly scrawled messages about a very timely issue: voting.

The graffiti is not exceptional but slightly noteworthy in that much of the publicly accessible audio/visual politically driven information in Third Ward is also located on Dowling (@ Elgin) courtesy of Kenya Shabazz. His visual/audio activism reminds us residents and travellers of past, present, future local and national politics where Black folks are concerned. The dated phrases/slogans contrast with the more current (yet not completely contemporary) medium of expression . Regardless, the messages are timeless, the tags are new.

What do they say?
Whether this plea to vote derives from Civil Rights era ideology, nostalgia from triumphant 2008 voter turnout or 2012 frustration, the tags emphatically say “Vote, dumb ass.” “Vote, Stupid” is jolting, provocative and also reminiscent of the often patronizing tone that accompanies post-Civil Rights communication. The tone says  “Glad you didn’t have to endure this struggle, but since you didn’t-you’ll never fully understand.”


One of the tags asserts “NO VOTE, NO VOICE.” The irony is that there are barely any voices to be heard on Dowling – an abandoned boulevard that once was a vibrant political and cultural thoroughfare.  “Voice” becomes a contrary term used to describe a thing that now resides within the lining of the internet waiting to be born. Actual Voice is absent from this very public space where one has the most freedom to express opinions, philosophies, and verbally challenge the community. This piece unintentionally begs the question of whether we still need ballots or bullets or maybe perhaps bank accounts to be heard.

Oblige your CIVIC DUTY- not to, would be foolish. This graffiti in this particular community may seem trite, but it also serves as a gentle reminder that this demographic has a sordid relationship with past and current voter suppression in these United States. Why the reminder? The truth is, there isn’t much art or signage in this area signaling that its election time again or that voting in this election is singularly pertinent.

Upon seeing this graffiti, I am reminded of the ways that public art, social practice artwork guerilla art can communicate the urgency of an idea or need for action. At the least, this crudely drawn election-time graffit has the potential to revisit a decades-long public discourse within Black America’s Houston inhabitants.