April 8, 2008
Since I handed off my fast to local members of Code Pink, I have been in a nearly constant state of protest. Each morning from 8 to 9, I continue to stand in front of Conyers’ office although I respect his request that I no longer go up to talk to his people.
Each evening before teaching night school, I take my banner to a footbridge over I-696. Unlike residents of Livonia, people in Southfield can apparently read a single word while driving without having to slow down or run off the road, so police have yet to ticket me for this activity.
Added: February 21, 2008
When you’re fasting in support of impeachment, here’s what you do with your lunch hour.
And in between, I demonstrate at the intersection of 12 mile and Southfield roads during my lunch hour. I stand facing the traffic coming through the left turn lane. When the light changes, I quickly cross half way then turn to show my sign to people making a right turn. Once they have passed, I continue to walk backwards appealing to oncoming traffic. By the time I get to the other side, the lights have changed and I repeat the process. I figure at least 100 people see the sign every time I do a lap.
Police have been summoned 3 times so far because of reports that someone was dodging cars and running around in traffic. The last time they were called was almost comical. The crossroads lies on the border of Southfield and the upscale burrough of Lathrup. Officers from both jurisdictions came out simultaneously. The Southfield officer stopped his car in the right turn lane opposite the corner I was on while the Lathrup officer talked to him through the window. When I crossed the street to face cars turning left again, he shouted out to me “Stay there! I’ll come to you!”
“Why would I cross?” I thought. “The light hasn’t changed yet.” Just then, the Lathrup officer dashed through traffic to get to me. I could decide which was more unbelievable: What I just saw or what I was about to hear.
“We got calls that you were standing in front of cars as they were about to make a left turn.”
“How is that possible?” I asked. “Every time someone is making a left turn, I’m on the corner directly across from them so they can read my sign.”
“I just saw you standing in front of the left turn lane over there.” Said the Southfield officer who had come around and parked behind my car. “If that light changed, he would have run you over.”
“The light was red.” I politely reminded him. “If he ran me over, he would have driven into traffic.”
“Cross the street as quickly as you can.” The Lathrup cop joined back in. “This is the third time we’ve been called out here. If I get called again, I’ll have to write you a ticket.”
“Tell you what, officer. How about the next time you get called, you wait until you see me do something illegal. Then you can write me a ticket. For that matter, you’re welcome to stay and wait until I break the law.”
“Next time we come out, we’ll have to arrest you.” threatened the Southfield constable.
“Please, officer.” I tried to reason with him. “I am trying reach as many people as possible while very deliberately obeying the letter of the law. I don’t want you to have to come out here any more than you want to come back, but I’m not going to surrender my first amendment right because it inconveniences you.”
He got back into his cruiser and drove off while the other stayed behind to get info from me. I told him my name, address and phone number. “Do you have a drivers license?”
“No.” When police returned my personal effects they took from my car during a warrantless search, it slipped between the dashboard and the firewall.
“Where are you parked?” I looked at my car 10 feet away as I considered his question. “I asked you a question.” I decided not to help him give me a ticket.
Satisfied he’d done all he could or frustrated that he could do no more, the policeman left. I waited on the corner, showing my sign to cars making their left turn as he stood on the curb about to dart back out. “Whoa! Whoa! The light hasn’t changed, man.”
“It’s alright. We can do this when we’re on a call.”
I guess irony is just wasted on some.
When someone tells me what to do, first I do as they say, then I do what they say in an exaggerated, sarcastic fashion. Then, if they’re still not satisfied, I ignore them completely since I have demonstrated that I cannot complete this task to their satisfaction. I Friday, I moved on to phase two. A ridiculous adherence to direction.
I stood at the corner, facing the left turning cars as usual. But then, when the light changed, I ran as fast as I could across the street, much to fast for a man in a suit. My sign flapped along side me as I dashed with my arms out, racing the first car in line to the other side. I hit the cross walk button and stood at attention again on the other corner catching my breath. The fans seem to appreciate the hustle, people who might otherwise ignore me wonder what my hurry is. Best of all, whoever called the police before will have to find something else to complain about. I am clearly no longer impeding traffic. And of course they do.
“Do you have permission to have that sign up there?” asked a man who’d parked his car in a driveway up the road.
“I beg your pardon?”
“That sign. Did the church give you permission to put that on their fence?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to ask the church about that.
And he does. For a few minutes, I am left to my work. But soon enough, he comes back.
“I talked to the people inside and they said they didn’t give you permission to have that there.”
“So if you don’t take it down, they’re going to send someone out to take it down.”
“OK. Thanks. Buh bye.”
After another hour on the corner, no one came out of the church to complain about the sign. Funny. Do you think people who worships a man who was tortured and murdered by the military to quell religious dissent would favor impeaching the current administration?
God. I’d hope so.
I return Monday to follow the orders of police to the letter. On my first mad dash across Southfield road, I drop my wallet. The guy behind the wheel of the car in the left turn lane alerts me with a friendly toot on his horn. I turn quickly, pick up my billfold, give the driver a grateful wave and sprint back to the corner to take my position.
As if on cue, the Lathrup police officer appears at the spot I just left on a motorcycle. He gets on his bullhorn and announces “THIS IS NOT A GAME! STOP PLAYING IN THE STREET! PICK A CORNER AND STAY THERE!”
I wave my wallet and try to tell him why I ran back into the intersection, but he’s too far away and he’s not listening anyway. Still, he elects not to ticket me as he had threatened the week before and rides off. Other officers drive by in cruisers, but do not speak to me. I suspect this is the last contact I’ll have with the city, but I am mistaken.
This morning, I take the day off work and decide to spend a little extra time at the courthouse. I renewed the demonstration permit and requested the right to picket on any side of the building and to have up to 10 people join me if they wish (hint, hint, hint). A man walking by says “You really get around, don’t you?” I think he means that I’m on the other side of the building, but then he says, “The cops yellin’ at you on his bullhorn. Did you get your cellphone back?”
I laugh. “It was my wallet, but yeah. I got it. Thanks.”
When I returned to the intersection, the church’s maintenance man finally comes out. He tells me I’ll have to take the sign down. I ask if there is someone I can appeal to in the church and he tells me it’s not likely since they would want to maintain a separation of church and state and besides, the city has told them to keep signs off of their own fence.
As we cross the street back towards the church grounds, we notice a man in plain clothes and a badge on his hip. It is Southfield code enforcement. He’s calling the number on the bottom. I’m glad McCotter doesn’t get to hear about this from me for once.
We have a very pleasant and lengthy conversation about signage as my banner flaps in the breeze behind us. He doesn’t ticket me. He doesn’t put me in the back of a car. I ask him what the rules are, he calls someone at city hall and finds out. It was kind of like being back in civilization, not Livonia. He tells me there are three criteria I must meet:
The sign must be secured on private property.
I must get permission from the property owner.
The sign can be no more than 32 square feet.
Looks like I’ve got some more ground to cover.