Monday, June 11, 2007

From one conflict to another, with love

I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. E. B. White

Before sun-up Saturday morning I altered the Army recruiting sign at the eastbound Tri-Met bus shelter/stop at Capitol Highway and Sunset Boulevard.

Beneath the sign’s “Army Strong,” I duct-taped a home-made sign reading “War is Wrong.” My small sign covered up the phone number of the recruiting office.

My actions left me conflicted. In fact the whole Army sign gestalt was, and is, a bit crazy-making.

Where to begin?

I have no great love of “outdoor advertising,” as the billboard industry likes to call its handiwork. It diminishes the outdoors.

Nor am I fond of public agencies foisting advertising on a captive, transit-riding public. I’ve actually testified on the matter of “sponsored” streetcar stops. And, in a related lost cause, I told this spring the Portland City Council to abandon the idea of selling naming rights (a form of advertising) to parks facilities.

The recruiting sign raised yet another issue —the little matter of war and the sleazy way the Army goes about recruiting kids who are, well, weak, and vulnerable to pitches like “Army Strong.” Add to that the irony of the Army’s macho description of itself as it tries desperately to keep up its troop strength — and morale.

Of course the sign, which is back-lit and glows at night, is attached to a bus-stop shelter heavily used by Wilson High School students, notably ones who take the bus.

So that’s one side of my conflict. The one that led me impulsively to put “War is Wrong” over the recruiting phone number.

The other side is that I have been known to rip down signs that are placed illegally on utility poles and in the public right of way. My garage is full of signs for 1-800-GOTJUNK, College Painters, Avoid Foreclosure and Jobdango.

Some consider me a zealot in this matter. They are right. I am.

So there I was staring at my illegal alteration of the Army recruitment sign, liking my message but feeling vaguely hypocritical.

I went away to think things over for a while. After two cups of coffee, my misgivings hadn’t disappeared.

Journalists have this rule that if something you write doesn’t sit well, delete it. That’s what I did with my amendment to the sign. Three hours after I did the deed, I undid it.

But I’m not finished with the “Army Strong” sign just yet.

I’m now toying with “improving” it by memorializing it. I have in mind making a string of those origami peace cranes. One crane for each of the more than 80 Oregonians who have been killed in Iraq. My idea is to festoon, ever so gracefully, my string of cranes around the margins of the sign.

People can make of it what they will.

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