Thursday, September 29, 2011


There is a quiet residential neighborhood in Uptown New Orleans that exploded into an in-your-face demonstration on Thursday night, all because of a sign showing President Obama in a diaper. For months, Timothy Reily, a homeowner with a corner lot and a self-described Tea Party member, has expressed his dissatisfaction in big, bold signs that he displays on the main street side of his property.

The diaper sign is not Reily's first display, but the current sign (above) pretty much tells Reily’s story. The visuals are important because until this week, Reily has refused all interview requests and has remained verbally silent, allowing his periodically changing signs to speak for him. I began to notice Reily’s signs several months ago because I often park on his block when I go to work closeby. Although the signs are irritating to me, for reasons I will explain later, finally I began to ignore them. Not so with this week's demonstrators. Some of them claim the sign is racist, while others are just upset that this quiet neighborhood has been upended by all the media attention. By the morning after the demonstration, national media had picked up the story.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry believes the signs are disruptive and perhaps not even legal. She went public with her disdain for Reily’s “art” earlier this week, and what followed were small gatherings of protestors in the street surrounding Reily’s corner lot, which ultimately led to the more chaotic scene describe above. Local TV news stations picked up on the controversy and what follows is a report from WWL-TV, New Orleans:

Racism? On some level, probably. First amendment issue? Yes, without a doubt. Guidry, a Democrat, met with Reiley in his home. Reportedly, it did not go very well. Reily claims she got in his face and threatened to find zoning laws that will force him to take the sign down. But then, guess who else shows up? Ray Nagin. Oy. Nagin, who thankfully hasn't been heard from much since he put out his crazy memoir that sold about three copies, also met with Reily. He tried to persuade Reily to take the sign down, and by all accounts the meeting was gentlemanly. The sign did not come down.

But for my money, Reily’s stunt is more telling than that. I look at his signs the same way I look at vanity license plates – you know the ones that have little messages on them. To me, these are the acts of individuals who somehow cannot seem to be otherwise heard. Why doesn’t Reily simply write op-ed pieces, or call in to talk radio, or organize community political meetings or galvanize his neighbors to support his cause? My guess is that one who takes the time to create signs with sarcastic, derogatory messages does so because he simply does not know how to become part of a healthier public discourse on the state of the nation. Unfortunately, these acts usually bring out the absolute worst in our American citizenry. And let’s face it, politics brings out the worst in Americans anyway, so once we get into “word art” – well it gets rough.

I’m not here to debate the relative merits or lack thereof of the Obama presidency. I would, however, really like to see the public’s mix of ideas elevated to a higher level of discussion. I’d like to hear from some true thinkers, rather than masses of reactionaries. Do we really need to see people carrying signs at rallies depicting the president of the United States as an aborigine, or a monkey, or a Nazi? I think not. Does it add anything at all to advance anybody’s cause to carry a sign that says “If Obama is president, do we still call it the ‘WHITE’ House?” How, I wonder, does this message contribute anything – “American taxpayers are Jews for Obama’s ovens”?

Nothing gets Americans hotter under the collar than the months leading up to an election, especially when unemployment is at record highs, home foreclosures are off the map and the stock market is tanking. Understood. But taking to the streets – or in Reily’s case to the walls of his property – simply to vent one’s frustrations does not really affect change. It serves only to invite company into one’s misery, and to turn otherwise picturesque city streets into personal billboards. It also serves to further divide an already extremely divided electorate among racial, social and political lines. The morning after the above-mentioned street protest, local talk radio played a recording of a demonstrator telling a reporter that her aim was to find out what business Tim Reily is in and then organize a movement to put him out of business. I, for one, do not recognize that particular America. That's not what we're about.

I fully support Reily’s constitutional right to say what’s on his mind. If he wants to put it on a sign on his property, that’s his prerogative. I would, however, prefer he’d take the sign down. What if his neighbor decides to put up a sign that says “Tim Reily’s a racist pig”? What if somebody down the street erects her own sign that says “John Boehner’s a dickhead”? And then maybe her neighbor puts up a bigger sign that says, “Nancy Pelosi can kiss my ass”. Is this really how we Americans want to weigh in on our nation’s political structure? And what about the beauty of the neighborhoods? That matters, too.

To paraphrase one of my least favorite American presidents, I just want to say, “Tear down that sign, Mr. Reily.” Do it now. And then -- speak up. Every voice counts.


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Igor Kopmar said...

Its a funny news about obama and the video is also funny.

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