Farmers' Market incident

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2008-08-21

For close to five years Highland Park, Illinois peace activists have held weekly anti-war vigils in the park next to the summer Farmers' Market in Ravinia, and for the 2nd year in a row have distributed the yard sign with its message: "Support the Troops - Stop the War." And the signs have appeared on many lawns in Highland Park and other towns. We have been commended and mostly encouraged in our unending efforts to bring the issues of the illegal war to the consciousness of the public, and our presence in the park and other public areas in town has only engendered interest and democratic discussion pro and con -- which is one of the purposes of our efforts.

In the park at last Wednesday's Farmers' Market, after distributing the signs for several hours, a spokeswoman who announced that she was "from the City Manager's office" announced to us that we would "have to leave immediately," and that "No political signs are allowed on park property."

We pointed out, in response, that there was no candidate, party or politics in the message on the yard signs, and we refused to leave, stating constitutional reasons, and we asked her for grounds for her peremptory order. She said there were "complaints from some residents," and that "several had threatened to sue the city for allowing it."

When we again refused to leave, the "spokeswoman" called for a police car to come. When the cop appeared and assessed the situation, we were told we had a perfect right to be there, but there was a technical infraction by the placing of the yard signs down into the grass turf. (This can easily be remedied when we next distribute our signs)

The larger issue, of course, is that while we are acting in good faith and passing out free anti-war lawn signs on open public property, that someone who disagrees with our signs would rather try to stifle the dissemination of its message and to intimidate rather than engage in public debate -- that is downright UnAmerican. If someone objects to a sign that says, "Support the Troops - End the War," they should come out with their own sign that says, "Ignore the Troops -- Keep the War Going" -- or some moral equivalent. That certainly should spur discussion.