Free Speech On Wheels, Let Your Opinion Roll - Bettina Camilla Vestergaard, 2007

Free Speech On Wheels, Let Your Opinion Roll is a living and evolving archive of utterances that transcends the physical, ethnic and cultural boundaries of Southern California. Initiated in March 2006 and armed with permanent markers everyday Angelinos were invited to write their unadulterated opinion on a 1973 VW Bug.

Having been awarded a stipend from the Swedish government that enabled me to live and work in L.A. I arrived with high expectations of engaging the city’s complex cultural diversity. So it was quite frustrating that my first three months primarily consisted of passing time in quiet residential Hollywood. Like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day my life had begun to revolve around itself, slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events. I conceived Free Speech on Wheels as a means of short-circuiting this experience.

I began by parking my car where large groups of people wandered about and proceeded to put up a sign with the text: “Free Speech on Wheels, Let Your Opinion Roll – Write Here … ”.

One of the first pieces of writing to land on the car was done on the sly by two middle aged conservative clad women who wrote Fuck the Police across the driver side of the car. Garnished with flowers and anarchist insignia this particular piece of writing not only caught the attention and smiles of fellow commuters, it also inspired people to write uninhibitedly as nothing could possibly be as provocative as driving in LAPD turf with the title of NWA’s protest song painted on the side of ones car.

Another defining moment was the historic demonstrations on May 1st (2006) where the car became a vehicle for the voices of the more than 600.000 people who marched through the streets of Los Angeles. Circumventing police blockades Free Speech on Wheels rolled into MacArthur Park, home to Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and one of four gathering points for the demonstration. Here people flocked around the car and within an hour it was virtually covered with writing from young and old.

Since then the writing grew vividly and without intervention creating a dialogue that stretched across the social and ethnically segregated boundaries of the city. Traveling from Skid Row to BelAir, Sunset Blvd to Rodeo Drive, City Hall to Watts and beyond, Free Speech on Wheels quickly became an assemblage of voices that captured the diverse communities of the L.A. sprawl. Free Speech on Wheels thereby created an unregulated public space where people could express and exchange their opinions freely.

Because many of the voices on the car came from L.A.’s immigrant communities crossing the border to Tijuana seemed a logical way of ending the project. In March (2007) Free Speech on Wheels went to Tijuana to document how people from the other side of the border reacted to the car. While I initially thought that their response would provide a meaningful sense of closure it was not until later when the car was sold to a detective from the LAPD in April (2007) that I knew with unwavering certainty that what had been created was a space that embraced diversity rather than division.