A Neighborly Encounter from the Right

16 Oct 2004
October 16, 2004
Blocking Free Speech

My neighbor placed his car in front of our signs (inset: one of his bumper stickers).

Sporting a nice big Bush sign

With this sign, he tried to do exactly what he asked me not to do: place objectionable signage close to our property. We had moved our sign away as he asked.

The caustic nature of this year’s Presidential campaign hit closer to home today. Last week, you might remember my Kerry signs were vandalized the night we placed them in front of our house. As soon as I could I went to my local Democratic Party headquarters for two more.

I placed one in front of our house. I put the other on the side of the house (we live on a corner) by the street.

We live in a very Democratic suburb of Washington, DC and one of our neighbors is the exception to the rule –but quite the exception. People on our street have had to endure his gun-toting and anti-choice bumper stickers for years. But I respect a person’s right to free expression, even though it differs greatly from my own.

After placing our new signs we began to notice that someone was moving the one closest to this neighbor away from his property. This afternoon I walked over to his house to ask him about it.

As I suspected he had moved them. He immediately started screaming at me about how disgusting he thought Kerry was. He was yelling in front of his children. He told me how that sign had embarrassed he and his friends. I refused to take the bait and told him that this wasn’t about whether he likes or dislikes the candidate I support.

I said I respected his right to his views and I expected the same from him. He countered, saying my sign was on county property (the first so many feet from the curb is considered the county’s).

I suggested the adult way to deal with this would have been to come over to talk with me. Instead he took it upon himself to be the local überfurher for free speech.

I went home and sat down to write this blog entry when there was a knock on our door. It was a police officer, courtesy of Mr. Nextdoor Neighbor. He said that he didn’t know the law and all he was trying to do was mediate between the two of us. I told him that I had tried to keep the level of discourse at an adult level but obviously I was the only one. And, now as we look out the window he has parked his SUV (with bumper stickers) in front of our sign. The effect, of course, is to both obscure my opinion and force us to look at his.

I will call the county to see what the zoning laws are. If indeed I cannot place political signage on this strip of land, I will move it.

Across the county, the thousands of other citizens (of all parties) who are exercising their First Amendment rights in their yards will have to be notified.

The police will be very busy.

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12 replies
  1. Ray says:

    Ugh… I can’t stand people like that. Those are the same type of people that will argue over where their yard ends and the neighbor’s begins. And it doesn’t even matter what political affiliation they have. It’s about level of maturity. I hope you don’t try to argue with the guy about the SUV. It would only give him satisfaction. I wish I could remember exactly how this great saying I was told once went… “If you argue with a stupid person, you only bring yourself down to their level, and then they’ll beat you with experience.”
    And it’s a real shame that guy acted that way in front of his children. Now they’ll end up acting as immature as he does.

  2. tV says:

    Word, brother. Keep your cool. From the North — Canada — we wish Kerry and you the best, tV.

  3. Euan Semple says:

    Hi Jeff
    Since signing up with BlogExplosion I have surfing blogs outside my normal field of vision and, despite the fact that they are predominantly harmless, interesting and sometimes inspiring, there are a few right wing ones from the US that quite frankly scare the wits out of me.
    Whatever planet these people are living on it is a very frightening place.

  4. Jeff says:

    My neighbor is building a ten foot wall –not just between us but around him. He is creating a hostile environment with his neighborhood (other people on the street are concerned as well).
    If what we are working for is a quality life, this rancor works against it. He and his family are practicing Catholics. What he did and the way he acted wasn’t a very “Christian” thing to do. And it certainly didn’t suggest that George Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism” is at work here.
    The irony is that Bush’s march to spread freedom around the world has come to screeching halt in this country. This is the scariest part of this political campaign, the last four years, and my personal experience in the last week.
    Ray and tV, thanks for your support. Euan, it is scary. I have always subscribed to the philosophy that everyone is entitled to their anger (no matter how misplaced I think it may be). However, no one is entitled to spew that anger inappropriately.
    Interestingly, there is an article in today’s Washington Post called The Great Divide. We talk about red and blue states but the Washington, DC metro area is a patchwork of red and blue as well. People are stealing other people’s signs and the area is as polarized as the country.
    Right now, I feel like I’m living on the border of that divide.

  5. Donna says:

    It’s interesting that he felt he had to up the ante when you weren’t even betting. You had moved your sign even though you don’t know the law yet (I will tune in tomorrow), he got what he wanted. So let’s look at why he felt he had to hit back with something else (that infantile sign and parking his car near your property instead of his own) –
    He’s scared.
    Today, as a democrat, I have new hope. The NYTimes and many other papers endorsed Kerry. On electoral-vote.com Kerry for the first time is projected to have more state votes. Demos are working hard these last weekends to get the vote out. In spite of the dirty tricks (Sinclair not an ad? – please) and the Jeb Bush antics trying to throw out voters again this year (see Yahoo news stories), we are working hard and we have a chance of winning. It is close so everyone reading this, do what you can – go to johnkerry.com and sign up as a volunteer – use a anon name if you like – just to see what events are taking place in your area now. You’ll find election night parties!
    Your neighbor’s actions show to me that he is scared. Somehow the Republicans have promoted another lie – that if Bush doesn’t win you’ll lose your guns. Not true. Will send you a link showing Kerry holding a hunting rifle. Guns are not an issue, health care, the senseless war, diplomacy, making our country safer by not stirring up hatred abroad, the environment, decent judges, women’s rights –these things are the issue and he’s said so.

  6. Dona says:

    Gosh Jeff. I was chilled to the bone reading your post about the neighbor and the sign.
    I have seen signs around Bethesda that have been vandalized and was shocked. Now to read what happened between you and your neighbor makes me very angry. You are one of the most calm people I know, and to have someone screaming at you about your views is even more shocking.
    Thanks for directing me here.

  7. Greg says:

    If he’s all for gun rights then show him what one does to an SUV parked in front of your property.

  8. Beerzie Yoink says:

    I suggest a tall sign post.

  9. Jeff says:

    Given that I live right next to him and I have my family’s security to consider, we have moved our sign away and he has moved his car (and taken down his Bush sign for the time being).
    Yesterday I was contacted by a reporter for the Washington Post who is doing a story on how the police are getting involved in these political sign incidents. After talking with my wife I declined to be interviewed. My neighbor and I have established an equilibrium, albeit a tenuous one. And I don’t want to jeopardize it.
    BTW, you might be interested in this article on sign vandalizing in other parts of the country.

  10. Michael says:

    Usually (although I absolutely know nada about your own particular local law) the area from the curb inwards a few feet is still your property, but the government has an easement for certain purposes (primarily for infrastructure like utilities). An easement does not erase the basic premises of ownership — in this case, it merely prevents you from complaining about them digging up your boulevard area to put in a water main (etc). So, it’s awfully doubtful that any claim of ownership or other laws prevent you from putting up whatever sign you choose on your own property.

  11. Greg says:

    Jeff, I think you should dress up as a Kerry/Edwards sign for Halloween and walk around your neighborhood — just to spice things up.

  12. bruce says:

    Sometimes, late at night, when I’m feeling a bit reckless… I hope that Bush wins. It almost seems that fascists like this guy will learn nothing if he loses this time. But 4 more years of terrible government might make them really understand how bad things can be when you have a complete idiot for a president.
    But I couldn’t really wish 4 more years on anyone.

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