War and free speech

The Forum piece this week (reprinted from The Bellingham Herald below) is about a couple who lived on Mercer Island for many years, Ron Queisser and Cindi Williamson, who now live in Bellingham. When they lived here, the couple, despite the pressures of family, jobs and household made a decision to stick their necks out on the war in Iraq. Not long after Shock and Awe, they began tallying the loss of life in Iraq by posting the number of dead on a sign in their backyard. Posted at the corner of 78th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 37th Street, the sign was very visible to the hundreds of motorists driving past each day.

Both Queisser and Williamson had been activists as college students. They were convinced that they needed to speak out again. The couple subjected themselves to a great deal of attention — both good and bad. They knew what they were in for, Williamson said when I interviewed them here a couple of years ago. People honked their approval or shouted their distaste as they drove by. More than a few came to the door. Many were gracious whether or not they agreed with the message of the sign. Others offered ugly warnings and resorted to name-calling. The sign was sometimes damaged.

After their last child graduated from Mercer Island High School, the couple downsized from their big house here and now live in Bellingham. There they continue their count with the same mixed response.

While the new sign on the backyard fence of this former Island family is first and foremost a statement against the war, it is also about loss. But it is also about free speech. As we hope to establish democracy in Iraq, we must strive to set an example by respecting the right of free expression — whether the message is repugnant to us or not.

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