Friday, June 21, 2013

Freedom of Speech is Dead

When my girls were in elementary school, I attended PTA meetings.  At one meeting, a member suggested that we spend PTA money to buy a Christmas tree for the school.  I objected because there are plenty of other religions and if we honor one, we should honor others, too.

The woman who wanted to buy the tree insisted that the PTA had to buy the tree because otherwise poor children might never see one. I said if the parents want their children to see a Christmas tree, they can take them to a department store or a church. It is not the job of the PTA to push one religion.  You’d think I’d declared war on religion.

I was expelled from the PTA.  I haven’t attended a PTA meeting since, and now my grandchildren are about the age my children were then.

So much for freedom of speech.

Yesterday I tried to exercise my rights again.  A few days ago, I received a flyer about a neighborhood meeting to put a mural on the wall beside the veteran’s park, which is mainly a few chairs and benches on a vacant lot, and a couple of flag poles, and a memorial stone for a neighborhood man who died while in the service.  On national holidays, the veterans run a huge flag up the wall on the adjoining row house.  Now, they wanted a flag painted on that wall.

Philadelphia is a city of murals.  Over 3000 walls have murals.  As the story goes, neighborhoods meet and decide what they want on their walls.  I thought about it.  People don’t go to war for a flag.  They go to war for their communities, their families, their friends.  These are WWII veterans.  I thought they knew that.

I thought about what might say Veteran on a mural.  A 4th of July barbeque with portraits of the veterans, both alive and dead (from photos), and some of their loved ones seemed appropriate.  And I wanted to paint in the two trees with huge stuffed animals perched in the branches that used to be on the lot. The painting could show the flag poles, and people at the barbeque could hold flags on sticks. I’m not being anti-flag.  I’m just saying there could be a much better mural than a painting of a big flag like they already hang there.  Yes, the wall needs painting. Yes, it’s work to pull the ropes to display the flag. That’s no reason to have a boring mural.

Almost nobody attended the “meeting.”  It was during working hours.  The notice was short, and most of the surrounding blocks of residents were not notified.  A few of the veterans, a few neighbors, and a former neighbor who is a veteran, but who never sits in the park. And a city councilman.  Not even a dozen people.  When I stated what I wanted, you’d have thought I declared war on the United States.  The veterans thought I wanted to really host barbeques in their park all year long. They were angry that people have picnics on Memorial Day, and thought my mural idea had something to do with that.  They want a painted flag and they want it before they die.  They are in their 90's.  They did not want a discussion. They had obtained 5 signatures from nearby neighbors okaying the flag painting and they want it painted this week. No delays.

A woman from Mural Arts said that any delays would cost money and put the project over budget.  She wanted the flag.  The city councilman said he thought a flag at a veterans’ park was a no-brainer and he didn’t even see why a discussion was necessary.  The machinery for lifting the painter up the wall was already on the site.

Freedom of Speech is dead.

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