When the late Bill Hall was editorial page editor of the Lewiston Tribune, he once called political yard signs “the flowers of democracy.” Someone had complained to Bill that yard signs were a nuisance and “cluttered up the landscape,” In response, Bill penned an opinion piece reminding folks that yard signs represent the right of every citizen to advocate for the candidate of their choice, and – like conventions, debates, rallies and parades – are a venerable part of our civic dialog.
As an impressionable high school student reading the “Trib,” Bill’s colorful phrase “the flowers of democracy,” stayed with me.
This year, in an incredibly tense political environment, many are asking if they dare show their support for Biden-Harris by displaying a yard sign. Some are fearful of vandalism or social ostracization, especially in some rural parts of my state. Several people are even anxious about displaying a bumper sticker on their car.
The fear is understandable. No one wants to have their property damaged, or be the object of road rage. No one wants their children shunned at school because their family does not conform to some perceived prevailing point of view.
The Washington Post recently ran an article about the heightened concerns over yard signs and noted that for many Biden-Harris supporters “ the easiest option . . . is to put the sign inside a window or bring it in at night – or order a flag or banner that can be mounted high off the ground.”
The Post observed, “Others have invested in a motion-activated camera or have placed signs within sight of doorbell cameras. One woman stapled her sign to a porch railing, and another positioned hers in a poison ivy patch.” While I’m not recommending the poison ivy, I admit to finding some wisdom – if not humor – in that approach.
But poison ivy aside, it is a travesty it has come to this; and we must find a way to address the insanity. We must find a way for people to safely exercise their right to political speech without fear of retribution.
There are many views on the wisdom of displaying yard signs and bumper stickers, and I respect each individual’s choice in this matter. People know their own communities, neighborhoods, and personal circumstances, and there are times when taking one’s political views to the ballot box will have to suffice.
But I believe there is strength in numbers. As a Biden-Harris supporter in a red state, I understand that many like-minded people are hesitant to step forward and display a yard sign to show their support for a ticket unlikely to win Idaho’s 4 electoral votes. But Trumpian bullies will be less likely to attack if they know we are not solitary souls, but many.
To its credit, the 2020 session of the Idaho State Legislature enacted a new law that forbids homeowner’s associations from prohibiting the display of political signs. While a homeowners’ association may adopt reasonable rules regarding the time, size, place, number, and manner of display of political signs, it may not forbid them altogether. See Idaho Code Section 55-115(5)(a)-(e).
I’m looking forward to planting my “flowers of democracy” this year. My precinct leans Republicans so some neighbors will no doubt disapprove. But others, who share my views, might see my signs and decide that they, too, will display a Biden-Harris sign. At a minimum, they will know they are not alone.
And the day after the election, I’ll take my signs down. As Bill Hall noted, once the election is over the “flowers of democracy” turn into crabgrass.