GAINESVILLE, Flor. — The mural was a vibrant, welcoming symbol for every social justice issue in the book.
“Seeds of resistance best planted together,” it read. The words were inscribed above a painting of colorful protest signs, promoting issues and movements including Black Lives Matter, stopping climate change, voting rights and the LGBTQ community.
Less than 24 hours after it was painted on Saturday, nearly every element of the 25-foot mural was covered with a message directly contradicting the spirit behind the original.
“Resistance” was scratched out, replaced with the word “autism” instead. “Black Lives Matter” became “Blue Lives Matter,” the LGBTQ flag was captioned with “mental disorder,” and over “Welcome Immigrants” was simply written, “No.”
The vandal also wrote “snowflakes,” a term commonly used to characterize liberal activists and their movements as weak. Several snowflakes were drawn over the signs.
Members of the Gainesville/Ocala chapter of Women’s March Florida spent their weekend creating the mural, which was spearheaded by Pamela Smith. Smith is the leader of Boots on the Ground, a subgroup of the Women’s March that highlights the relationships between different social issues. The group’s mission inspired the message behind the mural and the inclusion of several different topics.
“We strongly see those issues as each one affecting the other, that the same powers that oppress and keep the living wage down is the same power structure that wants to keep black people exactly where they’ve always been in America,” Smith told CNN. “We see all that as very related.”
‘It was shocking’
Smith said the group chose a local graffiti wall in Gainesville as the mural’s location because people can paint anything there. Sections being painted over isn’t out of the ordinary.
“When you’re finished, it’s brushed away, so that isn’t the really hard part,” Smith said. “It’s the hate speech that was so hard. Why did they choose that? Why in the world did they put ‘autism’? I can’t fathom that connection.”
Another member of the Gainesville chapter, Shirley Lasseter, drove to the mural to take photos after she heard about the vandalism.
“It was shocking because Gainesville is a very friendly, open, groovy, inclusive town,” Lasseter told CNN.
Both Smith and Lasseter noted the polarized nature of the vandalism. Almost every message is covered with something saying the exact opposite.
“It shows the two very, very different opinions on some of the things and where we’re so strongly separated on some of the things, and that’s not where we want to be,” Lasseter said. “We want to bring both sides together … Everybody is able to have their opinion. Freedom of speech is critical to all of us.”
Since Lasseter initially posted pictures of the wall, someone else came to paint over the hateful messages and restore some of the original ones. The organization does not yet know this person’s identity or that of the vandal.
The Gainesville chapter is scheduled to meet Monday night to discuss how it will respond. Smith said she and other members already have some ideas.
“I do think we’ll repaint it, but not the same thing,” Smith said.
Instead of restoring the original mural, Smith wants to whitewash the rest away. She wants to write “love” across the wall in big letters, surrounded by snowflakes.