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Freedom of speech demolished by new Caltrans ban on banners

Freedom of speech demolished by new Caltrans ban on banners

The Alarm!Newspaper Contributor

Last week, I hung an anti-war banner, “WAR IS TERRORISM,” on the freeway overpass at 41st Avenue. A man from San Jose helped me, each of us holding it tight in the wind, using plastic fasteners to secure it to the fence for all the world to see, or at least all the traffic going south on
Highway 1.
I felt particularly attached to this sign, among many others with equally provocative messages, because I painted this one myself. I spent a couple hours last Sunday in the parking
lot behind the Resource Center for Non-Violence turning this white, thrift-store sheet into my own personal message against war.
Before hanging the sign, I attended a press conference led by two local anti-war and free-speech activists, Amy Courtney and Cassandra Brown. With others’ help, I held the sign in front of this and that camera, and this and that reporter, hoping it would appear on TV or in a news story.
The press conference was well organized, spirited and fun, quintessentially Santa Cruz, but I have to confess: all I wanted to do the whole time was get my sign on the freeway.
I realized then how hungry I am for messages in the media that reflect my opinion about this ever-expanding so-called war on terrorism: that it’s patently unnecessary, unjust and immoral. That it’s a war based more on election-year politics, a stubbornly reticent economy and corporate profit
than it is on weapons of mass destruction, security in the Middle East or the exporting of democracy.
But opinions like mine, hardly revolutionary or radical, particularly when it comes to protesting a war, have been almost entirely absent in the media. In an era of flag-waving nationalism and
simplistic approaches to complex inter-national problems (“You’re either with us, or you’re with the
terrorists”), there is little room for serious discussions of peace.
If you’re against this war, you’re likely to be labeled out of touch with reality, just plain stupid or
This monolithic view paves the way to war without a vigorous and healthy debate, and leaves
millions of peace-loving Americans without a voice in our national policy.
In response, some of us have filled the streets in protest, in San Francisco, Washington
DC, and other cities. Others, as was the case last week, have taken to the freeways.
Yet there seemed little room even for my freeway sign. We had only be-gun to hang it when a man in a pickup truck drove by screaming, cursing and gesturing wildly. I wondered if we were going to be assaulted. Countless other people “saluted” us in a similarly obscene fashion, while others
honked their horns in approval, smiling, waving and flashing us the peace sign (it’s amazing what a difference one finger makes).
Eleven anti-war banners were hung that morning on freeways around Santa Cruz, but when I checked on some of them not an hour after hanging mine, three had already been taken down.
So threatening are these messages of peace, and so vehement are the war’s sup-porters,
that motorists stopped and ripped them down.
Now Caltrans has announced that, for safety reasons, it will prohibit all signs on freeways across the state.
Given the past year, in which thousands of pro-USA, pro-war signs and countless American flags have been posted on freeways without incident, Caltrans’ reasoning is dubious at best.
I can’t help but wonder what has been deemed unsafe: the signs themselves or their message of dissent?
Freedom of speech sounds great in theory, but when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, it takes nerve to express a less-than-popular view. I will continue to make freeway signs, if only
to remind people it’s not only okay to speak out for peace, it’s absolutely necessary. As necessary as any other freedom we enjoy in this country.

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I am a strong supporter of free speech and one hundred percent agansit the US invading Iraq, but I have to disagree with the premise of this article. First, it doesn't say why Caltrans has made the decision not to allow signs on the freeway. Ever since 9/11/01 Caltrans has been acused of selectively inforcing a law which says that, for safty reasons, no signs will be hung on overpasses. Specifically, in Scotts Valley, as has been well documented in Santa Cruz County, an anti-war sign was removed while an American flag was left up. This is deplorable in my opinion. Finally, and recently, a judge told Caltrans that the law had to be enforced fairly. First Caltrans said they would allow all signs, thus not enforcing the law at all. They then, went back on that to say they would follow the law and remove all signs, regardless of content. Now, yes, I would like to see all signs allowed, but for safty reasons (the drivers reading many signs while driving by) available space reasons (who is going to take down old signs? when? what happens when there is no more room for old signs? when it is half fallen down?) this is simply not practicle. I'm not going to support the Caltrans here, as they resisted change for a long time, and have not acted as they should, but I don't see how they have any other practical alternative.

Now, I'm not saying there should be no signs on the freeway. If you want to have a sign read there, if you want stand up for your rights to have your voice heard, then I say go to the overpass with a friend, or more if possible, and hold the sign yourselfs. Stand up to the Caltrans or the police if they show up. Let them fine you or arrest you and have your day in court to try to change the law rather than just hanging anonymous signs which will be removed. If you get arrested you can probably make the paper in the area, thus getting you sign read both by the people on the road and by the readership of the Metro, Goodtimes and the Sentinel.


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