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Freedom vs. Treedom

Some thoughts about yard signage in advance of Independence Day and the many looming and potentially life-threatening political contests.

In 2010, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Weingarten declared that the English language had died, albeit “after a long illness.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/13/AR2010091304476.html)  From my daily travels the past few months, it seems that English has been joined by the suburban front yard.  And on its grave stands a crowd of markers asking for your support, or animosity, on some terribly important issues.

I have tried to recall the last time I saw grasses, flowers, and even trees, unobstructed by only a few modest signs that I could pleasantly ignore – Yard Sale, Yard of the Month, Your yard is a DUMP - Please Mow!  Maybe I was searching for a memory that doesn’t exist, and there was no simpler, better time. 

Whether or not we are indeed headed down an aesthetic or moral toilet, many of us choose to treat the front yard as one.  It is apparently the ideal place to excrete our opinions, especially if political. 

Placards opining on the T-SPLOST and legislative races are common enough and, of course, the cursing of Wal-Mart is ubiquitous.  But the ones that really puzzle my puzzler are the signs that advertise for judges and court clerks, candidates about whom voters likely know almost nothing relevant to those jobs.  To me, residential signage in total, and these in particular, indicate a growing obsession for certain rights themselves - to the freedom of expression and to choose - and are not just about voters wanting greater involvement.   

But, at least in my house, nothing causes more trouble than freedom and choice. 

When, for example, I allow my son input about what to have between his two slices of bread, he gets stuck in a lunch menu brainstorm that he can’t escape,  even after he’s given his “final answer.”  By the time I present a PB&J as requested, his thoughts have taken him on a trip through the sandwich possibilities back to ancient empires and their servings of pizza and pasta, and still further back to mythologies featuring gyros and souvlaki, only to arrive in East Africa, the birthplace of humanity itself, and he’s digging up yam roots in the back yard and wrestling nuts from the horde of squirrels camped there.

And it’s worse than that even. 

Through the battle of wills between father and son (“It’s just a sandwich. How hard can it be?” I ask), there grows in him a feeling of empowerment, and also entitlement.  It is as if he imagines being denied or wronged and that it will happen again soon.  And before I know it, he has rallied his sister and the neighborhood kids under a “Don’t Tread On Me!” banner and they are off to invade Poland.

You may think this is a quirk of the adolescent mind, but I’ve found the process is not so different for adults.  Were I to recommend that folks take their signs down, regardless of whether or not I explained that choosing judges and new Wal-Marts are of practically no consequence to daily life, the staunchly patriotic and politically-minded would convulse. 

They’d spittle and froth about their rights to free speech as if I had just single-handedly repealed the First Amendment, and get visions of standing before the masses to deliver their own “I Have a Dream” speech, except that this dream is more like a Cormac McCarthy novel.  Then they’d run home to add more signs for judges and still others to bash Starbucks or Chick-fil-A for their respective positions on gay marriage.  And why stop there. 

There’s some room over by the hydrangea that’s perfect for arguing why Antarctica should have its own flag.  You didn’t know Antarctica has no official flag?  Oh my god, a continent without a strong identity, without conviction, is ripe for takeover!  And that means the Muslim Brotherhood and penguins waddling in strict accordance with sharia law.  You can say “ta ta” to the Sandwich Islands,
Queen Elizabeth.  Whoa-oh, domino (theory).  Well, as Mark Twain said, “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” 

I suppose my point is that, not unlike this blog post, spewing beliefs to visitors or passersby doesn’t amount to a tinker’s dam. 

By today’s standards, Thomas Jefferson was pretty extreme in his belief about freedom, writing that the tree of freedom must be “refreshed” with blood from time to time.  I am not suggesting good riddance to the freedom of speech or over a child’s choice of snack or an adult’s vote.  But perhaps an overzealous commitment to the rights to these things gets in the way of noticing the trees at all.  And so too the front yard. 

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Chris Callahan June 29, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Love the Twain quote...enjoyed your blog...
Scott Tewell June 29, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Glad you liked it.
Decaturette June 30, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I love the Twain quote too. But I'm not against yard signs. Given the low turnouts for elections, I'm glad to see any interest in the political process besides watching nasty-mouthed talk heads from the couch.
Scott Tewell June 30, 2012 at 06:00 PM
@Mom - Take action, by all means, but better to help directly than through the political process. Posting a sign is merely symbolic, not practical.
Decaturette June 30, 2012 at 07:34 PM
It must work because candidates sure do spend a lot of money on it. Now, when I already have lots of information about a candidate and a good idea of how I"m voting, a yard sign makes no difference to me. But I have to admit that I am ignorant about most of the sheriff/court/judge/whatever minor offices that don't get much written about them. So if I see a sign for Superior Court Something or Other on the lawn of someone I find intelligent and whose views and opinions I respect, it does influence me. And at least yard signs are less malicious than the drivel you see on some blogs. Of course, it would be nice if most citizens were keeping up with all the issues, reading or viewing objective or at least sane commentaries on the pros and cons of issues and candidates, and making such thoughtful, logical choices that they were not swayed by mere yard signs. But we are a long way from that and moving in the wrong direction. So if someone has a strong feeling about an issue or candidate and thinks that indicating support will make a difference, why not put out a yard sign? I can't say that I've run into too many yards that overdo it with a constant turnover of signs and issues.

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