October 16, 2004

A Neighborly Encounter from the Right
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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