I thought I'd post a little follow-up for people who didn't understand why I responded so overtly to the theft of a tiny, plastic sign. I apologize for the repetition for those who also read this on flickr.
This sign is more than just a squabble over political yard signs — it's about fighting back honorably. It's about reminding Obama supporters (and those who wish to silence us) that we should never be afraid. It's about the right NOT to remain silent.
In most parts of Mississippi, there are repercussions for being openly liberal. Many people here are very verbally supportive of Obama when in small groups but are afraid to show that same support to the rest of the world. They're afraid to put Obama signs in their yard or stickers on their bumpers. They're terrified of their windows getting broken or their cars getting keyed or their pets getting killed or their kids becoming outcasts at school or being confronted at church — because it happens. This sign is about giving courage to the sizable yet silent group of Obama supporters in this bright-red state.
The political climate in Mississippi is very inhospitable for "liberals". It is stifling. In state and local elections, the Democrats and Republicans candidates are *usually* identical — they both have right-wing, Christian Coalition agendas. Candidates usually differ only on the issue of how much to tax and how those taxes should be spent. There are no pro-choice candidates, no gun-control candidates, no separation-of-church-and-state candidates, no gay-rights candidates. For state-wide elections, both sides regularly break down into "He's more liberal" accusations (see!). For national elections, most Mississippians, and even liberals themselves, believe that a liberal candidate could never carry the state. It's easy to feel hopeless, to feel defeated before you even start. But now we really do have a chance, and of all times to remember that liberals are not alone, that our vote is worth something, that time is now!
So many of the freedoms that the rest of you take for granted are not fully exercised here. I am not equating our yard-sign-fiasco to the burned crosses and murders of our state's past, but these things are in living memory and still influence our lives today. Our parents attended segregated schools in the 60's. Despite federal integration laws, I attended "effectively" segregated grammar schools in the 80's because the city councils and school boards had drawn the districts along racial lines. It wasn't until federally-enforced, cross-neighborhood busing that I was able to attend a fully-integrated school. In college, I worked in the Ole Miss Library archives where we still keep the Mississippi flag that was partially-burned on campus on the day James Meredith matriculated. Even as Ole Miss was preparing to host the first 2008 presidential debate, a large portion of the coverage by the media was about whether or not we'd made enough social progress as a state to host this historic debate with the first major-party African-American presidential candidate.
In grammar school, my sixth-grade teacher lead us in daily prayer and we were unable to excuse ourselves. Many Mississippians genuinely believe that atheists are taking over America and that Obama is a terrorist. I even have a younger cousin who believes that Obama is the anti-Christ. Things have changed, but not nearly as much as Mississippi would like to portray to the world.
I love my country, I love Mississippi, and I love a lot of the people who call Mississippi home. I'm sure there are Republicans living in bright-blue states who probably feel the same way liberals do down here. I don't condone any sign-theft on either side. I just expect people of all groups not to be punks.
The political environment here also makes for some very interesting flavors of liberal people — gun-toting, NRA-card-holding liberals and states-rightist liberals and small-government liberals, but the candidates nearly all look the same because they have been told by their strategists (and perhaps rightly so) if they show any "liberal" leanings there's no chance they'll win.
In fact, I'm one of those weird-flavor of liberals. I'm really more of an independent with my issue-choices often landing on both sides of the liberal-conservative line. But here, in Mississippi, I'm a liberal.