Free Speech and Our Elections

The following stories are ones I have waited to share for two years. Each of them happened during the campaign of 2004, when my wife originally ran for judge in Dallas County. I did not share them until now, because in no way did I want to affect (positively or negatively) her election campaign this year. But I now feel somewhat freer to share the following true stories.

Political signs get stolen. It happens. They get taken down. You have to put them back up. It happens a lot. You can’t attribute every time a sign goes missing to some malicious intent. But sometimes you can. Each of these stories come from the 2004 campaign:

Story Number One: The punctured tires
The first story come to me from a Democratic precinct chair in North Dallas, who shared with me his story of the 2004 primary election. He was a supporter of Howard Dean at the time, and he had two large Howard Dean signs in the back windows of his mini-van. One Sunday, he was a church and he and his family came out of the worship service to discover that all four of his tires had been slashed.

Story Number Two: The fearful neighbor
During 2004, one of the strategies I used was to approach houses that had “Martin Frost” signs up already, and inquire as to whether they would put a sign for Dennise too. At one home, not a quarter mile from our house, a woman turned me down saying that her signs had been taken three times already, and that she was was afraid to put anyone else’s signs up. I thought her story strange, until I heard the next two stories…

Story Number Three: The fearful neighbor, #2
Not ten minutes, I was on another doorstep, again inquiring about putting up a sign for Dennise. Here, another woman again demured, and told me a truly disturbing story. She said that a week before, two young, cheery volunteers for the Frost campaign had come by to put the yardsign she had requested by phone. They were walking door-to-door, and they were wearing clearly identifiable “Frost” t-shirts. She thanked them for putting up the sign, and then she watched as they walked away, down the street.

But to her horror, just a few paces past her property, she watched as one of her neighbors rode up to them on his bike, threw his bike down, and began to berate them:
“What are you doing in our neighborhood?!!”
“You don’t belong here!!”
“We don’t want you here!!”

They were clearly shaken, and so was she.
So, she also declined a sign for Dennise.

Story Number Four: Sign Disassembly
It’s a common thing for campaign signs to get stolen. But in one case, I discovered something even more creative and sinister. I was at a home on a major, east/west, Near-North-Dallas street. It was a home that had agreed to put up one of Dennise’s larger 4×4 signs, and I was personally delivering it.
I noticed that their 4×4 Martin Frost sign looked a little worse for the wear, and so I asked them about it. They told me that one day earlier that week, as they left the house for work, they discovered their Martin Frost sign had been completely disassembled. Not only that, but the screws and nails had been taken out of the wood frame and left in front of the wheels of their SUV, parked in their drive way. They noticed it in time to clean it up before accidentally driving over the booby trap.

Story Number Five: Of Eggs and Concrete
A neighbor of mine, two streets away, called me up to request a sign for Dennise. He already had a sign for “Kerry/Edwards”up, and and wanted to put one of her’s up too. So, I brought it over. A day later, he called back to report it had been taken, and to request another one. I brought it to him. The
next day, he called back to ask for a THIRD sign. I brought him several more, and as I drove up, found that he was using a post-hole digger to put his third “Kerry/Edwards” sign in place. He dug a hole, hand-mixed some concrete, and planted it deep in his yard! That sign was not coming out!!!

However, two days later, I drove by his house just out of curiosity, and found him on the front porch with a bucket of soap and a brush, cleaning off his front door.

They had been unable to steal the concrete sign, but they did egg his house.
——————————————

Truthfully?

I used to hear these kinds of stories from folks, and assumed they were either paranoid or exaggerating. However, I am here to tell you that I heard each of these stories, first hand, from the people they happened to. And I have become deeply concerned.

In fairness, I am sure that people on the other side of the political aisle could come up with stories like these of their own. I am not naive enough to believe that such negative behavior is only the purview of Republicans. However, at least in 2004, there sure seemed to be a lot of it in North Dallas that I was privy to see involving Democratic signs.

What concerns me in this is what these incidents do to our right to free speech.

How can we have an honest political debate about the important issues in our country, when some people are afraid to put out something as benign as political yardsigns?!!
What does that say about us?

Baron Von Humbold was a German-born contemporary of Thomas Jefferson. In a book by Margaret Smith, the story is told of one of his visits to the presidential residence where, much to his surprise, he found newspapers laying around, filled with views contrary to Jefferson’s. Here’s how Margaret Smith tells the tale:

“Another time he called of a morning and was taken into the Cabinet; as he sat by the table, among the newspapers that were scattered about, he perceived one that was always filled with the most virulent abuse of Mr. Jefferson, calumnies the most offensive, personal as well as political. “Why are these libels allowed?” asked the Baron taking up the paper, ‘why is not this libelous journal suppressed, or its Editor at least, fined and imprisoned?'”

Note President Jefferson’s reply:

“Mr. Jefferson smiled, saying, ‘Put that paper in your pocket Baron, and should you hear the reality of our liberty, the freedom of our press, questioned, show this paper, and tell where you found it.’ “

One of the finest freedoms of our country is the ability to celebrate the differences of our opinions. If we are afraid to do so, if we are badgered into silence, we lose more than just the right to speak.

We become truly un-American.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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