Disclaimer: This series of photos did not take place on a Sunday and they were not part of any type of official religious institution or spiritual observance. And yet, this was the most spiritual experience I have had in years, so I figured it was worthy of a few pictures. [I ask forgiveness of my Facebook friends who have followed the drama fest that was my Facebook wall this week.]
Last Friday, the Nacogdoches County Democratic Party hung two big Obama/Biden signs on our back fence (on a busy intersection in town). Politics is a family event in the Olson Beal household, so we all went out to “help” hang them, posed for some pictures, and then went about our merry way.
It can be difficult to live in a place where you’re so out of step with what feels like everyone else. Our kids know they’re on the outs because of our political beliefs. They hear people—fellow students and teachers alike—make derisive remarks about them if they say anything positive about President Obama. The day after the last election, one of my kid’s teachers did a completely cliché “object lesson.” She administered a pop test, quickly graded it, and then announced the grades. She then announced that to teach them a lesson about what life would be like in an Obama presidency, she would redistribute the points on everyone’s tests—so that the people who had done well on the test (through their own hard work and effort alone) would have to share their points with the “lazy” students who had done poorly. Sigh.
The “fun” has continued this time around. My daughter watched the first debate and took notes religiously to earn extra credit (that she did not need). She highlighted which comments she liked, which ones she didn’t, and explained who she would vote for (if she could) and why. At school the next day, the teacher started ranting about how she couldn’t wait until we were rid of Obama. And then my beautiful little 12 year old got scared—that she would either get in trouble or that the teacher would actually take points away from her—and quickly changed some of her remarks before turning it in. I assured her that the teacher wouldn’t really have done that, but she said, “Mom, you didn’t hear the way she was talking.” And another sigh.
So when we put up our big signs, we knew there was a pretty good chance that they would be vandalized or taken down. But I decided to trust in the goodness of my community and encouraged my kids to do the same.
Well, sure enough. Four nights later, someone came and stole both signs. The kids were sad. And disappointed. Stuart was puzzled and then said, “Someone stole our signs? But, I mean, we would never steal someone’s Romney/Ryan signs . . .”
So rather than feel sad or angry, we decided to host a “sign party” and invite community members to come over and help us paint new signs. Brent fired off an email to the Nac Democratic Party headquarters. The next thing we knew, the local TV station put an article on-line on Thursday morning and did a video blurb on the 6:00 news. The newspaper ran a front page story on Friday.
I read some of the on-line comments on both pieces. They made me sad, despite their baseless claims (i.e., more than one person suggested that someone call CPS and report us for child abuse). But mostly, they were scary: one person (and these are not anonymous commenters; these are people with real names and faces—people who live in our town) said we were “sitting ducks”—and that me and the kids would make “good target practice” because Obama supporters surely wouldn’t have guns (and he was right; we don’t). None of these gun-toting private property fanatics were at all concerned that someone had trespassed our property, stolen our belongings, and was now threatening to shoot us. Nah—because they hate Barack Obama that much. I’m not gonna lie; I was scared. But in classic, Brent laughed it all off by calling them “douche canoes” (to me) and told me not to worry.
We scurried around on Friday—we bought more paper, more paint, a bunch of sodas and ice, and hot dogs. We had no idea if anyone would show up. We had decided we would be okay if we were the only ones putting signs back up.
At 5:00 on Friday we headed outside to lay out the paper and paint. Cars started showing up. People we’d never met walked up our driveway and introduced themselves. Some brought signs; some brought kids ready to paint. Some thanked us. One college student who had attended all four years of high school here said, “I cannot tell you how happy this whole event makes me. It is so hard to live here if you’re not a conservative Republican.” I told the kids there that we needed to write nice messages, because it doesn’t make any sense to fight hate with more hate.
And people kept coming. One woman brought five kids—one of whom was a 9th grader who happily painted multiple signs—we’re talking about a 14 year old boy, people. Brent guesses that 40-60 people came—only 5-6 of whom we’d ever met.
I felt awash with a sense of goodness and rightness that overrode party affiliation or support for a candidate. I was overwhelmed by the sense that, if there is a god, he/she was there—not because we were painting Obama signs (because surely god is way too busy to worry about U.S. presidential politics—at least I hope he/she is!)—but because we were coming together as a community and working on a common goal. And getting outside of our comfort zones and meeting people we would likely never meet otherwise. I felt like we were part of something bigger than us—and bigger than this election.
This experience reminded me—and hopefully, my kids—of the importance of the political process. This is about free speech, free elections, and the democratic process. We need to learn to talk through our ideological differences. And it’s also about not letting the terrorists (in this case, strident Obama haters) win. The issues surrounding this election are huge—health care, women’s reproductive rights, the economy, immigration, marriage equality, etc.—and if we can’t talk about big ideas like these without resorting to theft, name calling, intimidation, and threats of violence, we’ve lost a lot more than just a few campaign signs.
If any of the sign party guests happen to be seeing this, a huge thank you from the Olson Beal household for showing support—not just for Obama, but for free elections, the democratic process, and for our family. Yesterday was a profoundly spiritual experience for me. No joke.
Click below to see some of the awesome signs that were brought and made on our driveway: