SOUNDOFF: Demos abuse speech at fair

Aug. 17, Island County Fair ended on varying emotional notes. Most regretably, it was marked by tragedy; an apparently unforeseeable accident took the life of a well-loved and respected amusement ride provider. There was a knifing incident between two teens in which one received a minor stab wound. The victim was treated and released; the perpetrator was arrested.

If you believe the principle that things happen in threes, in cause and effect, that every action has a reaction, etc., you might include the Island County Democrats’ claim that they were denied the right to free speech by being asked to remove signs in an area reserved exclusively for selling food.

The disagreement here is about an unauthorized, precedent-setting, political demonstration and acts of civil disobedience. In fact, the Democrats may have deliberately misrepresented their intentions to the fair board when applying for the permit for additional space, an extension of their food booth.

When I walked through the gates of the fair opening day, about 2 p.m. Aug. 14, I saw a group of young people walking together, holding up signs that read, “Bush Lies,” and “Beat Back Bush.” I don’t recall ever seeing a band of youngsters like this at a county fair before, especially with such strong political statements. Their demonstration seemed to put a damper on the enthusiasm of some other folks, including myself.

I was a volunteer at the Republican ice cream stand and wasn’t surprised to see some of the demonstrators present themselves at our booth a little later, four abreast. What did surprise me was that they were asking for free ice cream and candy sprinkles. It was disruptive and could even be construed as extortive (i.e. give us free food and we’ll go away).

While they were there, a woman outside the booth asked me to step out with her. I saw that while a couple of the kids were diverting attention asking for free food, others were at work vandalizing, sticking Democrat bumper stickers on the outside of our stand.

Then they migrated to the set of benches 15 or 20 feet away and sat there holding their anti-Bush signs in our direction. We began getting complaints from patrons and non-customers alike, asking if we couldn’t do something about it. We declined, however, anticipating that if we created a stink, it would only make matters worse.

At one point during their demonstration, the group swelled to maybe a dozen kids and they stayed there for at least an hour before drifting off. I did not see anyone from the Democrat booth make any effort to discourage the kids. As a matter of fact, IC Democrat Chair Col. Grethe Cammermeyer joined them briefly. I hoped she was going to encourage them to move on, but apparently not. Two kids left with her but returned to demonstrate within a few minutes.

What we didn’t know was that the fair-goers were, of their own volition, complaining to management about the unpatriotic tone of the Democrats’ signs. (Many of the folks were from Oak Harbor with family and friends who are still embroiled in the unstable atmosphere that currently exists in Iraq and other foreign countries.) The fair staff investigated and found the offensive signs to be violation of fair policy, and demanded the political material be removed. That set the Democrats howling and whining they were being deprived of their freedom of speech.

When queried, the staff disclosed the Democrats had stated they needed extra space to expand their kitchen and food concession. But that’s not what the D’s were doing. They were providing political materials and asking for donations. That type of operation is strictly not allowed in the food area. Had they been honest about their intent, they could have had their information booth with the commercial vendors and probably would have gotten away with creating the stir.

This was not about free speech. This was about duplicity, pig-headed stubbornness, exploiting children and creating a disturbance in a family-oriented, community event. It’s also about being sore losers and a desperate attempt by the Democrats to gain support for themselves by denigrating President Bush and condoning an act of “civil disobedience.”

If I were editor for a day, I would first suggest that demonstrations of this caliber belong in the streets of Seattle, not at Island County Fair.

Second, the fair is NOT a no-holds-barred forum for political debate and demonstrations. Island County Fair is a time when political differences should be set aside so that the parties may coexist peacefully and, indeed, with a certain camaraderie, each enjoying a measure of “free speech.”

And, third, the intent, the very essence of a county fair is to foster and nurture an interest in creating a better, more peaceful world. That’s always best accomplished at the grass roots level by learning to work together, share together, laugh and love together, and to encourage each other to go for the blue ribbon (if not this time, then next).

This was not about free speech. It’s about community pride, teaching kids to live by the rules, keeping your word and living in harmony with respect with your neighbors.

I am personally aggrieved by Island County Democrats for a couple of reasons: (1) they are allowing Island County Fair staff to wrongly take the ire of the community, and (2) they have not apologized to the community for provoking this debate.

Finally, I challenge Island County Democrat Chairman Col. Grethe Cammermeyer to accept the responsibility for this whole darn mess.

Clinton resident Mary Jane Aurdal is active in the Island County Republican Party.

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