miss taking out the garbage...at least not since I slapped a sticker
on my polycart that reads, "Dump Bush."
Each Wednesday evening, I gleefully roll the cart down the driveway
and park it curbside. The look has caught on; my neighbor applied
the same sticker to her cart.
And while the sanitation department arrives early the next morning,
I usually don't retrieve my empty cart until dusk.
I live in a progressive (as opposed to regressive) community, so perhaps
such an act is more smug than brave. But I immensely enjoy exercising
my right of free speech.
A couple of friends of mine who live south of 150th Street in Johnson
County don't feel as free. They find themselves in a compromising
situation: They are Overland Park Democrats. They also are new U.S.
citizens, originally from different parts of Asia.
Last spring, while we were sitting on a park bench watching her two
children play, my friend confided, in a near whisper that she's a
registered Democrat. "I can tell you," she added. I thought
she was joking; sadly, she wasn't.
She and her husband have an agreement not to discuss politics in the
company of their more politically conservative neighbors. But they
will sign and circulate online petitions for their political causes
of choice. And they proudly vote.
Another friend of mine, who hails from Down Under, has confessed a
similar predicament. She also resides in a largely Republican neighborhood.
She reports feeling uncomfortable when the neighborhood moms discuss
politics and assume, like them, she's a conservative.
But she's not one to mimic what she terms "Midwest nice,"
and regularly asserts her viewpoints...but not without occasional
Recently, one mom informed her that she has no business working for
any political candidate since she's not a U.S. citizen.
But my friend's three children are citizens, as is her husband. And
she's lived in the U.S. for nearly 15 years. So she certainly has
a vested interest in the political direction of this country.
But I like my Aussie friend's response even more. She told the mom,
"Would you tell someone she couldn't be involved in an international
effort to oppose apartheid in South Africa?"
Still, my friend and her husband sometimes wonder if they should
simply forgo political discussions with the "other side."
They're not alone. Silence has become the polite or politically
correct way to respond to party differences. This code of silence
intensifies in an election year, for new immigrants and Mayflower
In America, where we have the constitutional right to freedom of expression,
why do we so often choose to go mum? What are we afraid of?
Do we think if we express our political beliefs we'll offend our
neighbors and co-workers? Do we want to convert others to our doctrines
and failing that, retreat out of frustration? Or is our hesitation
more personal, such as anxiety over losing clients or professional
standing in one's community? Or perhaps even irrational; maybe we
won't be invited to the annual block party or someone will hijack
Certainly it's not out of fear of imprisonment or death, as was once
possible in many parts of the world and in still too many countries
Granted, it may be easier to associate with those who follow the same
news, read the same bestsellers, forward the same political email
jokes and petitions, and watch the same documentaries.
But what do we both as individuals and as a nation potentially
stand to lose with this arrangement?
A friend of mine from Bulgaria says that under Soviet rule, they were
forbidden to speak about differences. She says this silencing helped
to keep the peace.
Is that what we're doing? Keeping the peace?
But we have a choice.
We can speak out, come what may, or self-censor our opinions and dispose
of the essence of what it means to live in a democracy.
Rhiannon Ross lives in Kansas. She can be contacted at Rhiannross@aol.com