National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 7, 2003

Poetry in signs

Saving the nation one bumper sticker at a time


I must love this country very much. Only a fool in love would order 500 bumper stickers with the words “No Tax Cuts For The Rich” and then give them away for free. Call me naive; call me co-dependent. I still think we can save the republic from ruin, vote by vote, protest by protest, bumper sticker by bumper sticker.

No Tax Cuts For The Rich was a breakthrough. I’m the type who wakes up at night abuzz with ideas for letters to the editor and clever messages for T-shirts, signs, buttons and bumper stickers. I have seldom followed through -- a disgrace, given what a fan I am of the First Amendment, which has been so good to me.

Fellow poets debated the wording of our mobile manifesto. No Bush Tax Breaks For The Wealthy. Tax Cuts Add Up To Deficits Forever. In the end, symmetry and economy of wording won out. Weighing in at six words, No Tax Cuts For the Rich could be broken in two lines and read in traffic without causing a wreck.

To say what you mean in as few words as possible -- both poet and citizen protester alike must rise to the occasion. Think back upon all the demonstrations you’ve been part of. What catches the eye of the passing driver or the news reporter is a message that cuts to the chase, a declaration both elegant and brief.

In this regard, the left did well during this latest go-around with Iraq. Signs I saw at marches in Santa Fe and Albuquerque included (besides No War On Iraq) Support the Troops, Bring Them Home; Who Would Jesus Bomb? Peace Is Patriotic; Regime Change Begins At Home and War Is So 20th Century.

People used fresh magic markers and sturdy materials -- no small feat, given the left’s long history of pale markings on thin poster board. This time around, many people had their signs professionally printed and mounted. Mercifully, the spirit didn’t move anyone to bring posters that proclaimed “Save the Whales” and the like. The imminent nature of the crisis focused minds. We stayed on message at a crucial time.

So, if you drive up behind me, here’s what you’ll read: No Tax Cuts for the Rich. And, Dissent is Patriotic. For good measure, I stuck an American flag inside the back window. When I save up a little money (no tax cut for me), I’m having another bumper sticker made. It will read: Lame Duct President.

Demetria Martinez is the author of three collections of poetry and a novel, Mother Tongue.

National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2003

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