I have told you about my aunt Catherine – I call her Susie; we go visit her family for the Fourth of July each year. After World War II, my dad was working in St. Louis. One day, he got a phone call from my grandfather. “Well,” Grandpa said, “I have a surprise for you.”
Daddy thought Grandpa had bought a new car. But it wasn’t a new car. My 23-year-old father was going to have a new baby sister. Susie was seven when I was born, and we have been fast friends ever since.
Susie, who lives in Wisconsin, has never been the retiring type. She has always voiced her opinions, and led the way for women’s rights when the movement was just beginning. She champions progressive ideas and supports political candidates with fierce loyalty. This year, as in years past, she put bumper stickers on her car. Today, she told me about being followed, at least twice, by people who were apparently trying to intimidate her. She sped up, they sped up. She slowed down, they slowed down. She had no idea what was going on, until she realized that the drivers of the other cars were likely upset by her bumper stickers.
My cousin Sarah lives in Chicago and told about similar incidents. She, too, has bumper stickers on her car, and felt threatened by people who drove past her and didn’t care for those bumper stickers. Those people yelled obscenities at her when they were stopped at the same intersection traffic light, even though they could see that her children, ages 5 and 2, were in the car with her.
Even here in Sedalia, one of my friends who also sports bumper stickers tells about being harassed at a traffic light. She was stopped, waiting to turn left, when she noticed that a man in a pickup truck next to her was waving at her and apparently trying to tell her something. She thought something might be wrong with her car, and so she rolled down her window to hear what he was saying. He was shouting obscenities at her, berating her because of her bumper sticker. She did not know this man, had never seen him, and had never talked to him. And yet, he felt perfectly free to curse at her and call her names, yelling at her on a highway when she was merely making a turn to go home.
Several people have reported thefts of political signs from their yards. One friend told the story of having a sign placed in her yard, which was in violation of her neighborhood association rules.
And I read vitriol beyond imagination about Travis McMullin, who wrote an opinion piece – his opinion – which was published by this newspaper. Travis has been writing for the “Democrat” for years. He has his own perspective, his own opinion, about the world, and he writes to give us something to think about.
None of us has cornered the market about what is absolute in this world. Each of us is entitled to an opinion, and living in this country gives us the right to say what we think, even if others don’t like it. We may disagree with opinions we read, in newspapers or on bumpers, but hateful speech and intimidation are not ways to express that disagreement.
This past political campaign has seen an explosion of invective that I cannot remember in my lifetime. I do not blame one group over another; I merely note that “speaking one’s mind” has taken on a meaning I do not understand. I know I said this earlier in the year, but it holds true
today. Cursing at people, either literally or on social media, is no way to begin a conversation about ideas. Nothing is helpful when the message is hurtful from the start. Bambi’s friend Thumper’s mother was right. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. After all, nothing is wrong with being nice.
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.