Plunderground protest by changing the adverts on the tube. Inspired by a situationist process 'détournement', they copy conservative propaganda that targets benefit cheats and replace it with their own posters, targeting corrupt bankers and tax avoiders. We sent Charlotte Pawle to find out more...
When we meet at 9pm in King's Cross, Plunderground have a rucksack full of tube advertising boards with screen-printed adverts on them, similar to recent benefit fraud advertising campaigns, except these expose the faces of corporate tax dodgers. The crew slip on their high-vis jackets as we descend into the tube. Bewildered commuters do double takes, wondering if the collective are regular tube workers or not. Their suspicions are confirmed as soon as they spot the word ‘Plunderground’ printed on the back of the jackets.
It is tricky keeping up with the Plunderground crew – they soon decide to ignore the planned routes, fracturing off in different directions and ploughing through the tube putting up boards at high speed. People watch curiously as they work their way through the Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, District and Circle lines. Plunderground insists their work isn't against the law, but I'm not so sure. A week later, we're out on the tube again. I'm taking photographs, thinking, 'can they really get away with this?', when a voice behind me says ‘I need to take your camera.’
Before I know what's happening, the plain-clothes policeman has two Plunderground members by the arm, and explains that he is detaining them. I delete the photos as I follow them all off the tube, but the other guys, unphased, quickly decide to carry on and disappear. The organizer tells the undercover policeman that they are not breaking the law and he cannot arrest them. The police officer disagrees, the debate gets heated, and one of them gets arrested. As we're all getting on the escalator, the organizer gives us a signal to leave, and we slip away, back into the tube.
Later, the guy who was arrested tells me that one of the policemen who detained him is a Banksy fan. 'He said, 'When we’re bored, we go Banksy spotting, but I can’t see one of your boards selling for a million, can you?’ I said, ‘Mate, if you think that’s what his work is about then you really are missing the point.’
The head organiser tells me that their project poses several quesions: 'To what extent can the citizen participate in the economo-politico process created by state capitulation to private finance? Reclaiming public space and generating a dialogue when none exists is the perceived purpose of protest, but in what other ways can this be done? How do we generate a sufficient debate around issues that matter, and create the required perspective and social condition necessary for change when the ballot box or polling booth fail to do so?’
The original adverts by the Deparment of Work & Pensions
He later goes down to the police station to see if his friend has been released, but when he reveals that he was the organiser he is also arrested, despite protesting that his actions are exempt from the Criminal Damage Act since he had "lawful excuse". The police apparently disagree, and he finds himself in a holding cell. Explaining his actions to the sympathetic duty sergeant, the officer called him a "self-styled peoples hero, Wembley Park’s very own Julian Assange".
Since that night, we've spotted several Plunderground posters on the underground. Next time you’re on the tube, look out for them! The arrested members have been released on bail to appear in court in late February.
Edit 3 March: After reviewing the case the Crown Court decided not to continue with the prosecution as it would not be in the public interest.