Ordinarily, I think of the act of thievery as a desperate response in the face of dire need. The mother who steals a loaf of bread to feed her hungry family. Or even the addict who strips an abandoned house of its copper wiring and plumbing to feed his meth addiction. But you, dear thief, stole two political signs, and I can think of no necessary excuse for your actions, which makes the crime all the more frustrating and frankly, stupid. Maybe you think the expression of my political leanings was a taunt, or an invitation for your crime. But placing those signs was not something I did lightly or without thought.
About a week ago, I picked up the signs and after driving home, I walked them to the forlorn corner of my property. I was nervous doing so. I hoped that my neighbors (you?) would see the signs not as a gesture of hostility or political demarcation, but as show of enthusiasm for the candidates I support and a reminder to vote. Thief, if you think I am religiously committed to the candidates whose signs you stole, you couldn’t be more wrong. When it comes to politics, I often think of voting like this: I could cut my entire arm off, or I could sever a few fingers; which is less onerous? Earlier I employed the term “enthusiasm,” but generally, I’m as enthusiastic about politicians as I am about cold, day-old coffee — blah.
But the irony of you stealing those signs is that the least of your crime is theft.
You stifled another citizen’s freedom of speech. You felt so indignant that a fellow American expressed their political leanings (quietly!) that you snatched that expression away. Maybe you felt threatened. Or maybe you were feeling destructive and mean. Maybe it was a spur-of-the-moment kind of misdemeanor, a mostly harmless prank. But for me, the victim, I’m left wondering if you’re one of my neighbors. Or if you are the same person who scattered several handfuls of nails just outside my driveway. And if you’re willing to step onto my property to steal a possession of mine, what else are you capable of? And what if your candidate loses? How will you react to that political disappointment? Will you blame me? My vote?
You also stole a sign that was paid for not by a national political party, or some multi-millionaire candidate, but an honest, working, tax-paying citizen, who in no way can afford to replace vandalized signs. When I think about the candidates running for state and local offices, who are taking time away from their families and jobs to do what they think is right, and then I consider your idiotic act, it is easy to imagine that you represent the worst aspect in any culture, a person who damages rather than builds. A person who loots rather than supports. A coward in the night.
In my mind, it is somehow easier to forgive you if you are younger and your brain not yet fully developed. Maybe your actions were just some kind of summer whim. The trouble is, there aren’t many young people out where I live, so I’m left to imagine the alternative, which is someone I might well know. Someone who should know better.
I wonder if you think I see the world strictly through a single political prism, that I am indoctrinated, brainwashed. You might be surprised to learn that every year, I look forward to a single night of the year, when I sit down at a dining room table with a friend of mine, a Marine combat helicopter pilot who does not share many of my political values, but who does share a few. For many hours, stretching into the early morning, we talk endlessly about American politics and culture. We share our hopes and fears. We happily concede points. We drink a lot of red wine. We laugh, and sometimes it is true that we cry. We do not see the world from the same perspective, but we try to, like pointing at a constellation in the sky and trying to help a friend gain its organization, until the alignment of stars solidifies, and shines true.
You stole two signs. Which, if we’re being adults, we can all agree is frankly juvenile and dumb. It was also criminal. If you want to make change in the world, I suggest voting, or using what financial power you have. I suggest talking to your adversaries. Imagine what ground we might have found if you’d come down my driveway bearing a six-pack and an open mind. You might be surprised to learn that while we’re not one hundred percent simpatico, we’re not enemies either.
While I was stewing about your theft today, I had a solution. What if, for every Republican sign stolen, the Democratic office had to deliver a replacement? And vice versa. Naïve? Maybe. And not likely. But I bet it would go a little way to minimizing this sort of vandalism. It would be a civil way to engender conversation, and act as a reconciliation.
Anyway, I had a few old political signs in my garage that I walked out to the empty corner today. I felt that same nervous energy as I pushed the signs into the gravely soil, careful not to obstruct anyone’s views of northbound traffic. The thing is, instead of feeling tentative, I felt defiant. It was the most affection I’d felt for those candidates you tried to stymie. You did that for me. I won’t thank you, but I will say this:
Smile, you might just be on a candid (game) camera.
There is no need for me to identify which politicians’ signs you stole. I’ve heard tell that this has already been a terrible season for such cowardly crimes; both sides of the political aisle have seen their signs and placards stolen.