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Editorial: 'It's about civility': Another election, another sign slashed

Submitted photos The Sobieski's marriage amendment sign, before last week's vandalism.1 / 2
The Sobieski's marriage amendment sign, after last week's vandalism (they had posted the sign over a sign for their business).2 / 2

It never fails: As an election nears, police departments and media outlets start getting calls about stolen and defaced political signs.

This year, it started for us at the Focus with a call from David and Amy Sobieski. The Perham homeowners and their children awoke last Tuesday morning to discover that someone (or some people) had snuck onto their property overnight and cut up their sign.

The large canvas sign, which the Sobieskis made themselves, encouraged passersby to vote 'no' on the marriage amendment, and included the line, "Don't limit the freedom to marry." The vandals cut this line out, leaving only "Vote NO" at the top of the sign, and "Obama 2012" at the bottom - twisting the Sobieskis' original message into one of their own.

For those who don't already know, a question on the November 6 ballot will ask Minnesota voters to support or deny a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage is already unrecognized by the state; this amendment will either reinforce that, if it passes, or leave things as they are, if it fails.

Amy said she and David knew they were taking a risk in putting their sign up, as the marriage amendment evokes strong emotions on both sides of the issue. They figured their sign might be egged or shot up with a BB gun, standard vandalism fare - and that would have been bad enough. But they didn't expect that someone would sneak around their yard with a knife in the middle of the night.

"It's about civility," said David, noting that the whole thing has been an unfortunate life lesson for their kids. After having an initial conversation with their young daughters about the amendment and the family's right to express their views about it, the couple later had to explain to the girls how and why this sort of reaction occurs.

"It's incredibly sad that this is how people think discourse should happen," said Amy.

But thinking people know that vandalism of signs is not discourse. It's not an intelligent expression of political views. It's not a debate or even a simple conversation. It's a petty attempt to 'quiet' the opposition without ever having to identify or explain yourself.

What happened to the Sobieskis was surely not the first example of its kind this election season. And in all likelihood it won't be nearly the last.

In the past, this newspaper has gotten multiple reports of political signs being stolen or vandalized in some way. In fact, before the last Perham schools referendum, some people claimed whole groups were behind organized sign-stealing efforts. That was never confirmed.

Ironically, the vandalism at the Sobieski's did spur some real discourse. David said it sparked a thoughtful and respectful conversation about political etiquette amongst their friends on Facebook.

No matter their own opinions on the amendment itself, David said of their friends, "Everyone agreed that this shouldn't have happened."

We agree, too. And we hope what happened to the Sobieskis won't keep happening to others out there who are simply trying to express an opinion.

To all the would-be vandals out there this election season: Please, be kind to signs.