London’s Protest Stickers: Brexit

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Brexit has become a popular topic for people who make and distribute protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, North Bank of the Thames, 12/09/17).

In September 2016, I wrote a London’s Protest Stickers blog post about the EU Referendum. Little did I know that not only would we still be talking it about Brexit two and a half years later, but that we would be no closer to a resolution. The Brexit debate has rumbled on, getting more bitter and divisive as time goes on. As with any significant political issue, Brexit had become a popular topic for London’s protest stickers.

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Most of the protest stickers I come across are anti-Brexit, but I do find the occasional pro-Brexit sticker, like this one. Britannic Union is a right-wing, pro-Brexit Twitter account (Photo: Hannah Awcock, King’s Road, 08/04/19).

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This sticker is faded and torn, but it is still recognisable. It was produced by the Liberal Democrats, who campaigned to Remain in the run-up to the referendum (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Broad Sanctuary, 18/10/16).

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It is quite unusual to find a handmade sticker like this one. It isn’t going to win any art prizes, but I think that it is quite effective in getting the message across (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Guildford Street, 10/01/17).

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This sticker is also handmade, and is a little more artistic. It doesn’t directly refer to Brexit, but the message I take from it is that Britain can’t survive alone, and in the current political climate it’s hard not to link it to the EU. Sometimes, people respond to stickers by writing on or around them. In this case, someone has taken the message of the sticker a little too literally. I love the way that protest stickers sometimes spark debates on city streets (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/10/16).

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This sticker is about the cost of student housing, not Brexit. But it was placed on the inside of a toilet cubicle, and became the site of a quite heated Brexit debate. In this case, the tradition of writing on the walls of toilet cubicles has become political (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Senate House Library, 10/01/17)

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This sticker is simple, but effective (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/09/17, Exhibition Road).

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This Bollocks to Brexit sticker has become a common sight all over the country over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/10/17, Swiss Cottage).

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This is another simple design, which resembles the Run DMC logo (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 27/12/18, Southbank).

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The question of whether or not to have a second referendum is a very contentious one. Lots of people are campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 04/06/18, Victoria Station).

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What better way to finish than with a Rick Astley pun?(Photo: Hannah Awcock, 21/09/17, Tottenham Court Road).

Manchester’s Protest Stickers: Brexit

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The bee is strongly associated with Manchester. This stenciled design is a clear symbol of support for the EU in the city (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Sometimes it feels as though we might be stuck in Brexit limbo forever. It’s been over two years since the EU Referendum, and we’re no closer to any kind of resolution. Brexit has been a topic of protest stickers since before the referendum. Manchester is one of the best cities I’ve been to for protest stickers, and I’ve found loads of Brexit stickers there, including ones that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I haven’t seen any of the stickers featured in this post anywhere other than Manchester, although if you have I would be very interested to know where!

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I found this sticker almost as soon as I stepped out of Manchester Piccadilly train station. I like stickers that use word play, and this sticker can be read two ways, depending on whether or not the reader replaces the stars with letters. Word play like this is amusing, but it also allows you to convey more meaning in a small space. This is an important consideration when it comes to protest stickers, which are often not much bigger than a credit card (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker was produced by EU Flag Mafia, which was started after a photo of an EU flag hanging from a bridge on the M40 went viral. The website sells EU flags and other anti-Brexit merchandise. They are the producers of the florescent yellow “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers that can be found in most towns and cities around the UK (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Part of this sticker has been removed, but it is still possible to make out what it says: “We were conned. Only the rich can afford Brexit.” The hashtag is #StopBrexit. This sticker is using the famous red, white, and black design that was popularised as I heart NYC, but has since spread to cities around the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker also refers to the argument that the Leave Campaign made unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and even false claims in order to win the Brexit referendum. This is a key reason why many people feel that we need a second referendum (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Like the previous one, this sticker has a design that is simple, but quite effective. It plays on the uncertainty surrounding the economic impact of Brexit. No one really knows what effect leaving the EU will have on our economy. This uncertainty is in itself damaging (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker was perhaps designed to be worn by a person rather than a lamppost. A lot of British people, especially younger generations who grew up in the EU, identify as Europeans as well as British/English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is a variant of the ‘Smash Fascism’ motifs that are quite common on protest stickers. In this case, the EU is ‘smashing’ a swastika, a reference to the argument that the EU helps to maintain peace and democracy in Europe (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Most protest stickers I come across related to Brexit are pro-Remain. I have found some pro-Brexit stickers however, such as this one. It was produced by the Leave means Leave campaign, which does pretty much what it says on the tin. Some people believe that Britain is better off out of the EU, and that our fortunes will improve once we leave (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is more basic in its design compared to the others so far. It is referring to the argument that Remainers should just accept the result of the referendum and by extension, Brexit. I find it hard to believe that Leavers would have quietly accepted the referendum result if they only lost by 2% of the vote, but there we go (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Part of this sticker has been removed, but the top line probably said “Leave means Leave,” which has become quite a common motto over the last few years. It refers to the idea that we might end up with Brexit in name only; we will leave the EU, but very little will actually change. Most Leavers are opposed to this outcome (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker has also had the top line of text removed. I am less sure about what it said though, perhaps “Brexit means Exit”? It is again referring to the idea that because the Leave campaign won the referendum, that should be the end of any debate or discussion over how to proceed (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I thought it might be nice to end on a positive note. Whilst the design of the sticker implies that those who made it are pro-EU, the message is universal. There is no doubt that Brexit has been an incredibly divisive issue, and it may take a long time for UK politics to recover. However, an increasing number of people (including the Queen) are calling for the vitriol to be toned down, and for both sides to focus more on what we have in common than what divides us (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Politics and Street Art: Brexit in Brick Lane

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Street art is a format the frequently expresses political viewpoints (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

If you’ve spent any time in the UK over the last few years, then you won’t have been able to escape Brexit. Britain’s exit from the European Union may well be the most significant thing that’s happened in this country in decades, and it hasn’t even actually happened yet. Brexit has seeped into every aspect of life. Brick Lane in Shoreditch is one of the best places in London to see street art (and to get bagels!). The street and surrounding area has a fascinating social and cultural history, and in the last twenty years or so has become one of the most painfully cool parts of London. It is a hub of independent shops and cafes, art galleries, and gentrification. Brick Lane itself is an informal open air art gallery, covered in street art that is painted or covered over regularly. Street art is a format that often engages with politics, and the artists who produce it are not afraid of expressing subversive or critical views in their work. On a recent visit to Brick Lane in December 2018, I noticed a distinct anti-Brexit theme to much of the street art I found.

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This is an example of paste-up art, which has been produced elsewhere then attached with wheat paste or wallpaper paste. It looks hand drawn rather than printed. The artist, Honesy, has a bold, simplistic style that I quite like (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is also an example of paste-up art, although it was obviously printed rather than hand drawn. This means the artist can produce as many identical copies as they like, although I only saw this poster once on Brick Lane. It was produced by a pair of artists called Quiet British Accent, who make street art based around pre-decimal pennies, a red white and blue colour scheme, and the acronym QbA (in this case it has been expanded to Quiet Balanced Advice) (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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To be honest, this is the least artistically accomplished artwork that I came across in Brick Lane that day. It looks like permanent marker on a bathroom or kitchen tile, but I don’t know if the tile was installed by the artist, or if it was already there and the design was drawn on in situ. There is so much street art and grafitti in Brick Lane that it is often layered on top of each other, with new stuff partially or completed obscuring older artworks. My gut instinct is that this tile was already on the wall, and the artist made use of it rather opportunistically. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t time and thought put into the design, however. This might not be as high-quality as the other artworks featured here, but someone still put some effort in (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is another example of paste-up street art, this time produced by Uberfubs, also know as the Street Jeweller. This artist is known for images of skulls, often adorned with rhinestones or crochet. Their works also often contains a political message, such as this one. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I haven’t been able to find out who produced this poster, another example of paste-up art. Many of the key architects of Brexit have been accused of acting to serve themselves, rather than in the best interests of the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This poster was obviously produced by the same artist as the previous one. It features the inexplicably influential Jacob Rees-Mogg, comparing him to Voldemort, the evil villain from Harry Potter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This mural was produced by American street artist BK FOXX, who is known for her photorealist style. It was painted in September 2018. It doesn’t explicitly mention Brexit, but it is hard to interpret it any other way. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Protest Stickers: Plymouth

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Plymouth Hoe is a beautiful spot near the city centre, overlooking the sea (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Plymouth is a city of a quarter of a million people on the south coast of Devon, close to the border with Cornwall. There has been a settlement there for hundreds of years, and the city has had some brushes with radicalism during that time. For example, the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Plymouth for the New World (America), in 1620. They left because they were not allowed to practice their Puritan Calvinist beliefs in England. In  December 1913, Emmeline Pankhurst was due to be arrested as soon as she arrived back from the United States. The boat she was on was due to dock in Plymouth, and suffragettes descended on the city, determined to prevent this. Emmeline was arrested before the boat docked, and over the following months the city was targeted for revenge attacks of what were considered to be ‘cowardly’ arrest tactics. For the last century, the city has been an important site of naval shipbuilding. As such, it was targeted for aerial bombing during WW2, in what became known as the Plymouth Blitz. As a result significant parts of the town had to be rebuilt after the war, and there are few historic buildings in the town centre.

When I  visited the city recently, I found a wide variety of protest stickers, more than I would normally expect for a town of its size. Below are images of what I found.

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Charles Church is one of the few historic buildings that was left standing after the Plymouth Blitz. It is now a memorial to those who were killed during the bombing. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I found several stickers around Plymouth imploring people not to vote Conservative. This one is making reference to the party’s support for fox hunting (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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@sozfortheinconvenience is a Plymouth-based Instagram account that specialises in “fighting patriarchy and insulting people kindly one sticker at a time.” Personally, I am a big fan of polite sarcasm (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker isn’t obviously associated with any specific protest group or organisation. Its bold text and bright colours are quite effective (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Earthlings is a 2005 documentary about the treatment of animals in factory farms, research labs, and other similar situations. It is often referenced on pro-Vegetarian/Vegan protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker argues against borders. It was produced by CrimethInc., an anarchist collective that promotes alternative thoughts and actions.  (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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In contrast to the previous sticker, this one is promoting one of the most common pro-Brexit arguments, that it would give Britain the ability to ‘take back control’ of our government and our borders. Take Back Control organises pro-Brexit events in several locations around the country, including Plymouth (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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There is a quote in A Knight’s Tale about how love should always end with hope. I think blog posts should end with hope every once in a while too (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Sources and Further Reading

Rowbotham, Judith. “The Suffragettes and Plymouth.” Plymouth University. Last modified 5th November 2015, accessed 26th February 2018. Available at  https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/pr-opinion/the-suffragettes-and-plymouth

Protest Stickers: Manchester

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Manchester is a wonderful blend of old and new (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A few months ago, I spent a couple of days in Manchester. I’ve already blogged about the brilliant museums I visited whilst I was up there (the People’s History Museum, and the Imperial War Museum North), but I also found some great protest stickers whilst exploring the city. Paying attention to a city’s protest stickers helps me get to know a place, by giving me an insight into the issues that matter to the city. Manchester had a lot of protest stickers, many of which I hadn’t seen before, which is just one of the reasons I liked it so much. Manchester is a vibrant city with a fascinating history. Protest stickers in some cities are dominated by only one or two issues (Newcastle, for example, had a lot of stickers relating to animal rights), but this was not the case in Manchester. Its diversity is reflected in the wide range of issues that are represented in the city’s stickers. There were also a lot of stickers in Manchester that I haven’t seen before; I have not seen any of the stickers featured in the post anywhere else. I’m not saying they are all unique to Manchester, but it is an indication of the city’s healthy culture of dissent.

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This is the first sticker I found when I arrived in Manchester. Although the Bedroom Tax has been a contentious issue since it was introduced in 2013, this is the first sticker I have ever found about it (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Stickers relating to the EU, both pro- and anti-Brexit, were quite common in Manchester. Most of them were supportive of the EU, such as this one (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is probably more of a poster than a sticker, but I wanted to include it because it’s unsual to see hand-drawn protest stickers or posters, they are usually designed on a computer and printed. This poster is advertising an anti-Brexit protest in central Manchester, a few weeks after the referendum (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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Again, this is probably too big to be a protest sticker, but I think it sums up Manchester’s irreverent attitude nicely. I also don’t like Nigel Farage (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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You are much more likely to find stickers that criticise the Conservative Party than supporting them, and Manchester is no exception. This sticker is referring to the Conservative Party Annual Conference, which is frequently held in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Bun the Tories also started out as a call to protest the Conservative Party Conference in 2015. If you follow the link there’s an…interesting music video, and you can buy a Bun the Tories t-shirt, the proceeds of which go to homeless charities in Manchester (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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It is not just the Conservative Party that Mancunians object to, but also their policies whilst in government. Jeremy Hunt has been Health Secretary since 2012, and is blamed by many for the difficulties which the NHS now faces (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The conflict over Junior Doctor’s contracts in 2015 and 2016 is perhaps one of the most controversial episodes of Jeremy Hunt’s career. Hunt tried to impose new contracts on Junior Doctors, which they refused to accept. Neither side would back down, leading to strikes in which Junior Doctors only provided emergency care. A survey by Ipsos MORI found that 66% of the public supported the Junior Doctors (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The Scottish National Party also comes under fire in Manchester’s protest stickers. Most of the stickers I have seen in London relating to Scottish politics have been pro-Scottish Independence, so I was interested to find a sticker with a different perspective (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Anti-fascism is one of the most common topics of protest stickers that I find in London. I particularly like the design of this sticker, which was produced by a Mancunian anti-fascist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Animal welfare is another relatively common topic of protest stickers. Although it’s a common topic, I have never seen this particular sticker before (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Working class solidarity is also a topic I have seen before in protest stickers. They make the argument that the working classes should be uniting against the rich and powerful (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Football is a huge part of Mancunian life and culture. The sport, particularly the Premier League, is now a multi-million pound industry, and there is increasing opposition to it being commercialised to such an extent (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I have seen protest stickers relating to prisons before, but they are quite rare. I found several different ones in Manchester, which is very unusual. This sticker was produced by the Empty Cages Collective, which campaigns for the abolition of prisons (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The prevalence of CCTV cameras is not something I have seen before on protest stickers. The statistics on this sticker are pretty eye-opening, and I like the way that whoever made it included their source–perhaps they have had academic training at some point? (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

London’s Protest Stickers: EU Referendum

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The EU Referendum was a significant event in Britain’s political life (Photo: BBC News).

The recent EU Referendum was arguably one of the biggest political events to happen in my lifetime. I haven’t written about it before because I felt there were enough opinions being voiced and, quite frankly, I didn’t know what to say. In the weeks since, however, I have started to come to terms with the result, and on recent trips to London I have found something that I do know how to talk about- protest stickers. Like all big events and political topics (other recent ones include the 2015 General Election, the London housing crisis, and immigration), the EU Referendum left its mark on the streets of London in the form of protest stickers, which serve as constant reminders of the Brexit result.

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Some stickers were produced by the official remain campaign, like this one on the Euston Road (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 03/08/16).

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This sticker, in Malet Street, Bloomsbury, is also recognisable by the slogan and colour scheme of the official Remain campaign (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/07/16).

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This sticker, advocating a Leave vote, was also quite common, but it doesn’t share an obvious connection with the Leave campaign (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Russell Square, 13/04/16).

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This sticker is also urging a Leave vote. It refers to 1215, the year in which the Magna Carta was signed, declaring that the British have been a “free peoples” since then. It is a good example of how the Magna Carta is repeatedly brought into debates about freedom and liberty, having achieved symbolic status hundreds of years ago (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Great Portland Street, 03/06/16).

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Many individual groups and organisations took sides during the EU Referendum campaign. The Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, a socialist campaign group, declared themselves for Remain. This sticker alludes to the employment rights enforced by EU law (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 15/07/16).

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This sticker was also produced by the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty. It reads “Lower Borders, Don’t Raise Them.” One of the big issues of the referendum was immigration (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 15/07/16).

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The RMT, a transport union, supported the Leave campaign (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 03/06/16).

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The location of protest stickers can have a big influence on how it is interpreted (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 03/08/16).

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Protest stickers are ephemeral, and last for varying amounts of time. Sometimes, they are scratched away in a way that suggests there was a deliberate attempt to obscure the message of the sticker. This is what I think happened to this sticker on Borough High Street (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/07/16).

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There were lots of people who were not happy with the actions of Boris Johnson after the referendum. This blunt sticker expresses that disapproval in no uncertain terms (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Byng Place, 15/07/16).

You can see the locations of all of these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.