Protesters opposing aid to the Nicaraguan Contras unfurled banners on overpasses of busy freeways in Orange and Los Angeles counties Wednesday morning but were warned away by California Highway Patrol officers, who called the idea dangerous and illegal.
The banners, the work of a group called Pledge of Resistance, were displayed to peak-hour commuters for a time period ranging from a few minutes to about an hour, depending on how quickly officials became aware of them.
The protesting group was described by spokeswoman Linda Lillow of Los Angeles as part of Days of Decision, a coalition that opposes sending U.S. aid to the Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.
The banners, reading "No on Contra Aid. Call Congress" and "Support Central American Peace Process," were aimed at a compromise to provide non-military aid, reached by House Democrats earlier this week.
CHP spokesman Mike Maas said, "We have no problems with freedom of speech, but this is a very, very dangerous way to express yourself."
The first banner was reported at 7:47 a.m. on the 135th Street overpass of the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, slowing southbound traffic. Officers removed it and told protesters to leave.
About an hour later, another banner was tied to the railing of the 3rd Street bridge of the Harbor Freeway. The CHP confiscated the banner and ordered the demonstrators to leave.
At 8:45 a.m., officers again warned protesters displaying a banner away from the 135th Street overpass of the Harbor Freeway.
In Orange County, CHP spokesman Paul Caldwell said a motorcycle officer "shooed a group away" after they had unfurled a banner from the Lincoln Avenue bridge of the Santa Ana Freeway.
Protest spokeswoman Shirley Sareseto said banners had also been placed on another overpass on the Santa Ana Freeway, two on the Artesia Freeway and two on the San Diego Freeway, but Caldwell said that "we didn't get any calls" about those incidents.
In Los Angeles, the freeway traffic was "very significantly affected" on the Harbor Freeway, Maas said. He said an investigating officer reported that traffic "returned to normal" 15-20 minutes after one banner was removed.