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Our First Amendment Rights

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During the 2008 Presidential campaign, many signs for Democratic candidate Barack Obama were stolen, defaced and/or destroyed. Offices were vandalized with spray-painted epitaphs and rocks thrown through windows. This year we seem to be facing the same insolent behavior by those who oppose President Obama’s re-election.  

Our Dem office has been working for the three Dem candidates in the 5th District since July. We’ve been holding fundraisers, knocking doors, and making phone calls as we do for every election.  At doors, in addition to meeting wonderful supporters, we’ve been politely asked to leave, told to “Get the he** off my property,” and have felt threatened enough to believe we would be physically attacked on an occasion or two.  Some folks have used the bad language about both candidates.  

We train our canvassers and make sure to tell them if there are no trespassing signs that they should not knock the door.  We also tell them to politely say “Thank you for your time” and leave if the resident doesn’t want to talk no matter the reason.  It’s not all that unusual to be asked to leave someone’s property or be told by a resident that they aren’t interested in talking to us, but having the local police called is a new experience.

We’ve had the police called on our canvassers twice now.  This never happened in 2008.  Once supposedly for safety because our canvasser was driving around and around a neighborhood unable to find a particular house, and another for an alleged violation of a subdivision’s “soliciting” policy where the police actually asked us to leave the subdivision.   In a nearby county, one homeowner after telling a canvasser to leave, got in their car and followed the canvasser as he walked down the street of the neighborhood.

During persuasion calls at our phone banks, we have been hung up on, and even told, “If you’re a Democrat, I hope you get cancer and die.”  

Last night, I received an email message from our sign guy.  He puts up and maintains all the large signs in the county.  He said one of our Obama/Kaine/Douglass signs had been stolen…he had replaced it.  But the replacement and another on the same state highway had been vandalized.  Someone had taken a knife and with some precision had removed the “O” and the last “A” from President Obama’s name…leaving the word, “BAM”…a veiled threat of sorts perhaps.  Within sight distance of one of our vandalized signs is an Allen sign…no damage done to it at all.

The local Republicans have had their signs up since April when the 5th District Democratic Convention was held here.  I’ve noticed no vandalism to any of their signs.  We didn’t put our signs up until Labor Day, so in two short weeks, one has been stolen, two others vandalized.  We’ll just keep repairing and replacing signs.  If we run out of the nice printed ones the 5th District Dem Committee purchased for our use across the District, we’ll revert to our old tried and true “make our own” signs for which we’ve become somewhat famous or should I say “infamous.”

There has been another twist this year, as well.  We’re having Obama bumper stickers removed from our cars while we are grocery shopping or playing a round of golf.  Doesn’t matter, we just apply another.  The Obama campaign is getting lots more dollars because our volunteers just keep purchasing more bumper stickers to replace the ones being stolen.  I recently started suggesting to folks to tape them to the inside of their back windshield…that way if someone wants to take the sticker, they’ll have to “break and enter” instead of just ripping the sticker off the bumper.

The police have explained to all their officers that we are not soliciting…that political canvassing is protected under our rights of free speech and has been affirmed by the Supreme Court as such.  And they are helping us keep an eye out for our signs.

We Democrats continue to happily engage because we believe in free speech for all, not just those with whom we agree.   The way we win is to continue our fight…even when some would try to stop us.  I hope this post will motivate those who haven’t volunteered yet to hit the streets, and those who have, to keep up the hard work!  On to victory in November!