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DailyKos 2004: Ohio Suburbs, One Town's Inspiring Story

Ohio Suburbs, One Town's Inspiring Story

Wed Oct 20, 2004 at 09:45:47 AM PST

Upper Arlington is an upper class suburb of Columbus, Ohio, well known locally as a city of "wide lawns and narrow minds". "Uppity Arlington" as it is sometimes called outside the city borders, would realistically be described as a traditional, mostly white, fully Republican town of 34,000 with great schools and better real estate values! Walter O'Dell, CEO of Diebold has a residence here.

The two local issues on the ballot are: the School Levy (every 2-4 years like clockwork) and issue 65 which comes down to whether a developer can build 15 $700K homes on the last available development lot in the city or whether he must build 11 $1,000,000+ homes on the same acreage.

In previous Presidential Election cycles to see a sign supporting a democratic candidate would have been an anomaly. This year it's been quite different. Here's what happened . . .

Thanks Local Republicans for the Free Publicity

Organized early and by taking advantage of the new local political signage rules "UA For Kerry" began placing a few yard signs way back in July. The group of about 10 at the time had a large sign at the traditional 4th of July parade causing quite a stir in the local suburban newspapers. When a member of the mostly Republican City Council called it "uncivilized to have any political forum at our beloved parade when we should all be supporting our troops" the battle of Letters to the Editor was off and running. The Republican side of the opinions ranged from outrage at violating the "spirit of our city's traditional values" by having a "left wing political group using our parade for advertising for a political candidate whom Upper Arlington would never support" to passionate discussions of how the name "UA For Kerry" implied that everyone in Upper Arlington was for Kerry and that the city should take legal action immediately to stop it. A complaint to the Ohio Elections Commission filed in August by a UA resident, who called the name "inflammatory campaign literature," was dismissed

Outrage was everywhere. Several residents argued before City Council that the placement of yard signs so early in a campaign was illegal and that Council should order the signs taken down. Having historically never been seriously challenged by any local organized activism with a dissenting point of view, at first the mostly Republican City Council stumbled, appearing unaware that it was they themselves who had in fact passed a new city ordinance just two years before allowing the early placement of yard signs with political messages. At this point, there were about 100 yard signs up in Upper Arlington. All of them UA For Kerry! The Republicans hadn't even ordered any yard signs as yet.

As you might guess under these circumstances, the stealing of yard signs began early here. When a local GOP official who is a prominent attorney was caught having his 13-year-old daughter steal a UA For Kerry yard sign, the story was featured on Air America Radio for over a month with a link to the UA For Kerry website! The Columbus Dispatch reported about it in two stories, and a Columbus alternative paper wrote a three-page story about UA For Kerry. Sparked by all the free publicity, growth in requests for UA For Kerry yard signs far exceeded expectations. The group ran out on two occasions in August and a waiting list was set up to fill the constant backlog. By the end of the month there were probably 500 yard signs on display in our city and still 0 Bush Cheney.

City Councilman Gets "Involved"

The attacks on the group continued in the Letters to the Editor section of our local weekly. For the first time in memory, many residents would excitedly anticipate the Wednesday delivery of the paper to open it up and see what ridiculous charges and claims were being made.

That UA For Kerry was using the auditorium within the city Municipal Building for its weekly Guest Speaker Series was decried as a misuse of city property which should be stopped by the City Council. That UA For Kerry held a rally in a city park on a Sunday was also claimed by residents in their writings to be inappropriate use of public facilities. Another citizen wrote that it created a traffic danger due to all the cars parked on the streets surrounding the park and criticized the police for not taking "appropriate action".

Sign theft was rampant and debated hotly. When a Republican City Councilman wrote that UA for Kerry was "undermining the safety of the city by reporting frivolous things such as theft of signs", he appeared to be backed up by the Chief of Police, who stated in a news story that very week that the police would no longer take telephone reports of such matters, but that residents would have to come into police headquarters to fill out a report in person because it was taking to much of the department's time to deal with what was just a "teenage prank". The very next week, a respected resident who teaches at the OSU School of Law wrote in reply a passionate rebuttal to both, clearly outlining how such thefts violated Federal Statutes relating to Freedom of Speech, Civil Rights, and Election Laws and that the city could lose Federal Grants and other money if the matter was not taken seriously.

The Councilman responded right back the next week in the paper, by announcing the newly formed UA Republican Club and stated that Bush Cheney yard signs were now available to any resident for free (relying totally upon donations, UA For Kerry had to "sell" their signs for display asking for a $10 donation) and that if they were stolen they would be replaced for free without the need for police involvement. In his published letter he said, now that the Bush Cheney signs were in and available "the front lawns around our city would be cleaned up and looking much better than they had in the last two months." How ironic that this "club" was later instructed to remove the city's logo from its' website by the city attorney after an organized protest by UA for Kerry advocates.

Where We are Today

Today, Upper Arlington has literally thousands of yard signs on display. Far more than I have ever seen in a Presidential race. Just by count while driving, I would estimate that they perhaps total close to 5,000 and run 4 BC to 3 UA For Kerry (update 10/28 Now 1 to 1). If my memory serves me well, in 2000 I would put this ratio at 50 Bush to 1 Gore with the total number of signs less than 1500 which says something about the interest level in this Presidential election here.

The local fighting back and forth has died down. One could say the for Kerry side has "won". I don't mean that the vote count coming out of Upper Arlington will necessarily total more for Kerry Edwards than Bush Cheney, but certainly this year it won't be a Republican landslide as in years past and it maybe very close. But while this is a story about yard signs and votes, it's even more a story about finding that there are others who think and believe like you, but have been reluctant to express that openly for fear of being ostracized. This ever growing group of friends and neighbors we discovered through UA For Kerry are very energized with numerous citizens working with the local ACT office and other groups to GOTV in UA and throughout the Central Ohio area.

It's been fun! It's been exciting! The UA For Kerry group sparked numerous similar groups in suburbs throughout Columbus. A subgroup called Students for Kerry was also formed along with a local Women for Kerry group. Participation in the protest of Sinclair Broadcasting and its advertisers (including picketing at one of the two local Sinclair stations) is still being carried out. This Friday evening there will be a free showing of Going Up River while Sinclair carries out its Swift Boat Liars extended commercial. People are excited, people are working, people are involved!

We KNOW we're going to bring Ohio home for John Kerry and John Edwards!

And to think it all started because one woman with no political experience stopped to talk to another woman with no political experience after she saw an X'ed out "W" sticker on a car last June!


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