Courtney Carlson ran for ANC 3F06 and won, earning just shy of 50% of the vote against two opponents. Carlson’s signs and handouts proved her to be a creative and truly “green” campaigner, foregoing the types of promotional signs. One day in October, I passed her on the street, and she told me that she could not, in good conscience, add any more plastic to landfills. Early on, Carlson got some businesses along the Politics and Prose block of Connecticut Avenue to put up some signs that were printed on recycled paper. But then she got even more creative.
Forest Hills Connection: Courtney, you developed very creative ideas in your signage campaign: beach towels as signs and leaves as handouts. First, tell us about the towels, and how that evolved.
Courtney Carlson: Climate change is happening, and I try to be aware of my piece of that. I know my trash lives in landfills, but I was uncomfortable printing something that I knew had a short lifespan and where my printed name would literally be in a landfill. City-wide, I understand that signs are a tool to introduce yourself to voters, but I hoped, in this small SMD, I could run on both my previous record of work in the community, and figure out a way to introduce myself to neighbors without adding to the waste I already generate.
Like most things, it wasn’t just me, but a collaborative process with friends and neighbors. We started thinking about painting pumpkins, but that was hard and they are small. I started looking around for an old piece of fabric or sheet that might work to paint a sign, and found a skuzzy towel that came back from my son’s camp worse for the wear that was red and white striped—the DC flag! My friend Tanya took it from there and cut up some old jeans into letters, my friend Shelley let us hang it in a great spot at her house, right on the corner of Reno and Nebraska.
Now tell us about handing out leaves.
I realized I needed to hand something out to people I didn’t know so they would remember my name. Again, it was a friend who suggested recently fallen leaves. It took several iterations before we figured out that magnolia leaves were the most durable (and beautiful).
What was the hardest part of getting your signs up? And the most fun?
The hardest part was figuring out how to get the towels to stand up like a traditional lawn sign. We used gardening tools-tomato cages and plant stakes made from bamboo. We cut some bamboo – both plentiful, and a menace – in a neighbor’s garden. Lots of friends wanted to put them in their yards, but we focused on making a few for key trafficked areas. Even though they are upcycled and sustainable, no need to make more than we absolutely needed. We definitely had a lot of fun trying to get them to stand up and stay up, and watching people drive by and laugh. My neighbors Tanya and Kathryn are so amazing and resourceful. I couldn’t have done it without them.
What have you learned and what would you differently the next time around?
I got a lot of feedback on the decision not to make signs – good and bad. My friend Lori felt strongly that political communication is not wasteful, and I took that to message to heart. It’s important for voters to know their candidates. But, in our race one of the candidates had literally hundreds of traditional signs so there’s an argument to be made that the signs do become a visual clutter of white noise and not true political communication. I learned that using a different format was welcomed. Kids, in particular, understood immediately that not creating waste was the point. If only the under 18 set could have voted!