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It has nothing to do with being persnickety about grammar. It all started as a joke, and to some extent, it’s still a game.
Three friends from Quito, Ecuador are making headlines across the world for a nightly ritual that, if caught, could send them to jail, or force them to pay a fine: they sneak out, spray-paint in hand, to copyedit graffiti sprawled on walls that are filled with misspellings and grammatical errors.
They do agree, however, some grammar snobbery is at play.
“I just couldn’t believe there were like 12 errors in one single graffiti, it was incredible,” one of the members of Accion Ortografica, an anonymous trio spends night cleaning up – in the syntax sense – graffiti in their neighborhood.
Thirty four-year-old AOQ, as one of the members wanted to be called, would not disclose his name or his profession, saying only that he works actively "in support of the environment and nature." He said the group has decided anonymity is necessary not only because graffiti is illegal in Ecuador, with a penalty ranging from a fine to five days in jail, but also because it’s not about them.
“If we reveal our identities the issue would be associated with us, not with what we do,” he said. “Identity can have a vain intention, and that’s not where we want this to go.”
AOQ said their initial goal was to “steal a smile out of people,” joke a bit, rebel another bit, all the while drawing attention to the fact that Quito graffiti were terribly misspelled.
So far, he said, the group has corrected between 20 and 30 graffiti – and much to their surprise they are being lauded everywhere. The lady who owns the first house where they “intervened” is keeping the graffiti as a lesson of civism, AOQ said.
The first target, in November 2014, was a graffiti written on a white wall protecting a residential middle-class home. It read: “Para que y Porque mi amor por ti por mi lo siento” — "For what and why my love for you for me I am sorry" [no period]. It had 12 spelling errors.
Accion Ortografica corrected every single mistake.
Although the group wants to keep their anonymity, they are still enjoying their widespread acclaim.
“I find it very ironic, because graffiti is in itself an anarchic form of expression, and [here we are] imposing an order to it,” he said with a chuckle.
AOQ said they felt compelled to create a Facebook page after persistently hearing people talking about them and their crusade — and especially when they found out that a bunch of guys in the city of Madrid, Spain, had followed their lead and launched Acción Ortográfica Madrid.
“People wanted to know who we were,” he said, adding that they have been featured in a dozen publications and websites locally and around the world.
He said he is urging the world to wake up and take action — grab a spray can and start correcting graffiti or expressing whatever it is they want to express.
“Graffiti is urban art,” he said.