Last week, some concerns were raised about an electronic billboard in the town of Worthington in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. The messaging is filled with uber-conservative, nasty messaging that is sowing fear in the residents who live in the community and those from neighboring communities who have to drive by on their daily routes.
There are some of the original images circulating on social media. Note that several facts are actually wrong. There are multiple typographical errors. The pink strips are due to the electronic nature of the messaging and not part of the billboard. A few were taken at night from a car so you may have to use zoom.
This billboard is facing west at the intersection of 422 and Bear Street, which is an intersection with a traffic light. It is on the property of the Worthington-West Franklin fire Dept. The man who pays for these ads is reportedly an affluent local businessman who among other investments, owns the franchise for the Sunoco and a pool-patio store in the Worthington business community.
After the first round of calls to folks in Armstrong, these additional images were added to the rotation
Some local folks have assessed the billboard and offered these suggestions for supporters who want to take action.
Important to know, the Worthington-West Franklin Fire Department likely has a contract for this structure. They probably can’t just remove content, but it seems worthwhile to have some conversations with them about the impact of the messaging (and the large brightly lit structure) on the community.
The connection to Sunoco is not relevant. Their corporate office keeps insisting they are being responsive, but they aren’t clarifying that they don’t own this property or control the billboard. Asking them to cancel the franchising agreement is an option, but do we want to set that precedent?
- Contact the Fire Department and share your thoughts. Obviously, this will have the most impact coming from individuals who are local or own local businesses or work in the region. Talk about the messaging and the overall impact of the structure which is apparently quite a bright sight and surely impacting public safety with regard to traffic. Phone: (724) 297-3473 Fax: (724) 297-5913
- The president of the VFD is a pastor with a local church named Fred Neal. It is easy to assume he’s in line with the messaging, but it probably would be useful for other Christians to talk with him about the impact on the community. People are really afraid, both by the content which makes them feel unsafe in their own community, and the power and influence of the man behind the message who makes them feel unsafe speaking up themselves because of the influence he has over their livelihoods. It is probably true that he agrees with some of the messages (like the anti-choice images) but does his faith community want to terrify people? Does the VFD? Does it support their ministries to disseminate inaccurate facts, claiming Steve Jobs is white or that Henry Ford invented cars? Spreading fear and misinformation to intimidate people who are not white men is certainly not Christian and does not reflect well on a community based organization that should be responding to fires regardless if the occupants are Black, women, queer, Jewish, Democrats, anti-Trump, etc. Raising funds from a billboard like this is a slippery slope.
- Contact Worthington Borough. Borough Phone: 724-297-3233 Borough Fax: 724-297-3022. They can’t compel him to remove his billboard, but having a clear understanding of how it reflects on their community and the need to ensure ‘more speech’ that counters this hate is absolutely their concern. This is also a good place to document concerns about traffic and public safety.
- PennDOT regulates these billboards. The State Legislators that govern Worthington and surely have dedicated PennDOT staffers are State Representative Jeffrey Pyle and State Senator Donald White.
- Letters to the Editor – confront hate speech with more speech. The papers that serve these communities is the Kittanning Leader Times 724-543-1303 firstname.lastname@example.org A. J. Panian Managing Editor, email@example.com
- Get involved in the resistance. Connect with the Armstrong County Democratic Committee on Facebook and find out how you can support their work.
- Find other allies and supporters in Armstrong County and discuss how to get alternative messaging out into the community.
- Go to the other faith communities in town and share with them how this messaging is impact your community.
- Get creative. Make a zine. Start a FB group. Take a video of the billboard to show its brightness and reach.
- Are you a veteran or part of a veteran family? This guy is proud of his service. What do other veterans think? Reach out to the regional VFWs and AFLs and share your thoughts.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, reach out to Armstrong County folx whom you know and check-in with them, especially PoC, queer folx, and others who are marginalized. Ask what you can do to be helpful.
What is most disturbing is that there really aren’t many resources for folks living in Armstrong County who are having to live under the terrorizing messages of this bulletin board. That’s something else we should be doing – bringing resources into our rural communities.
The goal here is two-fold: condemn this messaging AND create alternative messages using whatever tools you have at your disposal. Okay, threefold, because there’s a movement underway to have PennDOT reconsider the zoning of the billboard structure. As the person who lettered to the editor suggested, perhaps create some actual useful business advertising? This is exactly why is matters so much who is controlling zoning in all communities.
Please add other suggestions in the comments.
UPDATE: you may want to read the comments on this post, but also read about the rape threat I did not approve. Someone threatened to hire someone to rape me over this post you are reading. If you find that outrageous, I hope you will say something. Imagine how the folks in Worthington feel about this atmosphere?