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An Artist Turned NYC’s ‘See Something, Say Something’ Ads Into a Powerful Commentary on Fear

Vigilance is different than fear.

It's easy to be paranoid in 2017. We've got Wikileaks telling us just how much power the CIA has over our devices. We have a government pretending Russia did not, and is not, hacking our political system. And on the ground, racism and implicit bias have fueled a spike in hate crimes—resulting in the deaths of brown and black people across the country.

But there's a difference between fear and vigilance, and only one works in our favor as a democratic country. Fear drives people to react—pull the trigger, scapegoat entire communities, describe the wrong suspect. Vigilance, on the other hand, assumes that power belongs to the people, and places a magnifying glass on any loopholes in that process.


A New York City's artist drove that message home in a two-car installation. The artist, The Gothamist reported, altered the usual "If You See Something, Say Something" message with some fine print: "Stay awake, not afraid. Scared people are easy to manipulate. #Resist." Another one says, "Call your representatives. Tell them you're watching."

"Yes, terrorism is a real issue," the artist told The Gothamist. "But aren't the behaviors of our government…and these ideas of how the media is straying into fake news, aren't all of these things contributing to an atmosphere that makes us more unsafe, that gives rise to terrorism, that makes us panic?"

New York, a city that has endured the Sept. 11 attacks, could easily succumb to the surveillance state—allowing authorities to track our every move in the name of safety. And to make that a habit is easy— this is a city that has implemented policies like the now-defunct Stop and Frisk and broken windows in the past—both of which placed undue burden on innocent people in the minority communities before they were overturned.

But this is also a city of epic resistance and diversity. It's home to James Baldwin and Sonia Sotomayor, and those Hare Krishnas at the Roosevelt station. And the sentiment of this particular artist—the idea that we can be hyperaware of the world and systems around us, and not be suspicious of our neighbors every day—is the key to coexistence.

So thank you, mysterious artist, for reminding us on our morning commutes that to truly resist, we have to be both vigilant and fearless.