By Lucie Amundsen
Lucie Amundsen, a Duluth writer and graduate student, is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.
I pulled the lawn sign out of the oversized planter in my front yard today. The dangling potato vine and colorful mums that looked so lively back in September have withered, crunching a bit as I jostled free the metal posts. It would be easy to infer that the sign itself, channeling the rancor of the electorate, poisoned the life in the soil. But I know it's only my inattention to regular watering and Duluth's frosty nights.
As much as I've believed in my candidates and causes, I'm relieved to detangle my politics from my curb appeal. It's been important to show my support, but I've felt the discord in my community and know that every sign added to the argument's volume.
My children, 9 and 11, were attuned in a way they haven't been in previous years. From the backseat, they counted every "Vote No" sign on the route to school, the grocery store and library. They were collecting their own polling data and, I can't help think, quietly assessing which houses would be safe to approach if lost.
I tell them that different signs do not make those people our enemies, pointing out how great it is to live where we can voice beliefs. They're quiet in the backseat while I ramble on about our luxury of free speech. Maybe they're taking it all in, or simply tuning it out. Parenting often feels like talking to the cat.
I understand their distrust. Back in 2004, my presidential sign was regularly vandalized. The perpetrator would run it over with a bicycle, leaving tire tracks in my yard right up to the corrugated placard splayed out like a crime victim. I'd try to smooth out the metal stakes and re-plant my political statement, but with its kittywampus appearance it looked like it had just staggered home from a bender at the local pub. It wasn't helping the cause.
During this time my husband was away on military duty, and I was left to single-parent a baby and a preschooler while trying to work from home.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, adult conversation, or outrage that a military family would be deprived of this basic freedom, but I became fixated. My progressive voice was going to be part of the otherwise conservative boulevard dialogue. I bought a bigger sign.
While the baby nursed I sketched plans to reinforce my sign with two-by-fours and Googled terms like, "how to make a tire spike strip." The game ratcheted up and went on like this for weeks. He (I always imagined my rival was a he) would defeat my latest innovation and I'd go one higher, installing rebar and guy wire in the middle of the night while the children slept.
Until one morning I went to get my newspaper and saw... nothing. My sign was simply gone. My opponent wasn't interested in playing anymore; he just wanted me to shut up. I didn't have the wherewithal to tote my young children back to campaign headquarters for a new sign.
These days I've been telling my children that with the election over, the signs will come down and we'll just go back to being neighbors again. They nod, but they don't buy it. Especially the little one, who is cursed with his mother's haunting memory for detail.
Already he calls out from the back of the minivan which houses had what signs and what churches were "Vote Yes" ones. I only nod and offer a noncommittal "hmmm," though I see the ghostly rectangular outlines of lawn signs past, too.
If I do nothing to encourage this game, perhaps it will fade and not taint how he sees his community. Perhaps, if I make an effort, this will work for me, too.