Say No to War with Ohio

Paul Demko

Marie Braun was worried that she had the wrong sign posted in her front yard. Like thousands of similar protest placards across the Twin Cities, for weeks it bore the slogan "Say no to war with Iraq."

That particular peace message failed to take hold, however, so rather than store the placard in the garage in anticipation of Gulf War III, Marie and her husband, John, decided to undertake a little preemptive revision. They used their computer to print out an ad hoc addition and adapted their lawn sign to read: "Say no to war with Syria."

Roughly a month after that alteration, the Brauns feared that they were already lagging behind the scheming of the Bush Administration. In recent weeks the main focus of American animus seems to have shifted to Iran. If that country's Islamic regime does prove to be the target of the U.S.'s next overseas adventure, however, Braun's block already has it covered: The sign in her next door neighbor's yard has since been similarly altered to read "Say no to war with Iran."

And if--for variety's sake--the Bush Administration chooses to venture outside the Muslim world in its foreign dalliances, the Brauns' neighbors two doors down have prepared for that eventuality as well. Their sign reads, naturally, "Say no to war with North Korea."

"This is a perpetual war," sighs Marie, a grandmother, Women Against Military Madness member, and veteran peace protester. "This is a war against the world and a war against the poor at home."

The Brauns are the chief instigators of this bit of north Minneapolis political street theater. They've printed out dozens of signs on white paper bearing the names of various foreign countries and handed them out at antiwar gatherings. But they've found the most receptive audience for their political message on their own block. After they posted the makeshift Syria sign, a neighbor two houses to the south inquired about acquiring a similar placard. "He said, 'I'll take the North Korea one,'" she recalls. "These neighbors are very quiet people and we don't know them very well, so I was kind of surprised. I had no idea what their politics were."

The Brauns' neighbor to the north then added the "Say no to war with Iran" sign to complete a seemingly united North Upton Street front of opposition to war--no matter what the country. "It speaks volumes for there to be three signs in a row, and each with a different country," Marie says. "I think people get the message."

Exactly who might be getting the message is difficult to discern, however. Street traffic on the quiet residential block is pretty much nonexistent. "We do have a school across the street, and a lot of parents bring their kids," Marie notes optimistically. "Whether they drive right by here I don't know."

Not every resident of the block shares the Brauns' political viewpoint. Al Hoffman lives two doors down from the Brauns and has chosen to adorn his home with a large American flag. "They're entitled to their opinion," reasons Hoffman, smoking a cigarette in his front yard on a recent weekday afternoon. "We're used to having signs here because the Brauns have been active since the '60s. The original hippies."

Hoffman, who's lived on the block for 30 years, says he's been flying the U.S. flag continuously since the events of 9/11 and that he supported the recent war in Iraq. "Maybe because of the flag, nobody came to me and asked me to put up a sign," he shrugs. Despite the differing opinions, Hoffman expresses some admiration for his neighbors' political display. "It's kind of neat to be able to see that right next to an American flag."

Marie Braun says she's encountered no animosity from Hoffman or any other neighbors since the troika of signs went up. "We've been here since 1980," she says. "They know us well. They know our politics, and they're not going to attack us."

The response from passersby--however few there may be--has been generally positive. One gentleman, whom Marie ascertained to be foreign-born, stopped by to compliment them on the sign, but declined to take one for his own yard. "He said, 'I wouldn't dare put a sign up,'" she recalls. "He was worried about repercussions." A young couple that lives a few blocks away did stop by and pick up their own "Say no to war with Syria" sign.

If the Bush administration's imperialist whims continue to fluctuate, the Brauns are already prepared to equip their neighbors with updated placards. Marie pulls out a manila envelope and empties its contents on the dining room table. It contains dozens of posters bearing the names of various countries that have antagonized the U.S. Along with the usual suspects, there are several France posters. "He did it just for fun," Marie says of her husband. "Then he did Ohio. Someone took France, but no one's taken Ohio yet."

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