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February 21, 2008

Political Hackie

About five years ago, Damon Brink and a couple of partners bought out the venerable Nectar Rorris and became the new owners of Nectar's Lounge and Restaurant. The town held its collective breath.Img_0296

Nectars, with its inimitable rotating orange neon sign, is the heart and soul of downtown Burlington. True, it had grown a little shabby over the last few year's of Rorris' stewardship, but I don't think anyone desired a radical change; the place was just too perfect, from the memories of early Phish to the velvet brown gravy - vats and vats over the years.

Well, Damon and his mates did great. The place has been sensitively refurbished and refreshed; the character kept intact in all the important ways. Best of all, Nectars has reestablished its place at the heart of the downtown music scene.

A couple of weeks ago, a huge political campaign sign appeared in the front window. It read, "Ron Paul 2008." Img_0295

I don't support Ron Paul, although I do appreciate his convictions and forthrightness. I find his libertarian viewpoint - trim government, leave us alone - to be unsuited for the modern, global world. For better or worse, I believe, we (all the people of the world) are on this boat together, and it is only through collective action can the pressing problems of the age be effectively addressed.

But never mind that. My problem with the Ron Paul sign is not my feelings about Ron Paul. I just don't think it's appropriate for a retail store, particularly a public gathering space like Nectars. I think that the owners are forcing, in a way, their personal politics on their customers, making them feel like, by patronizing the establishment, they are endorsing the views of the owners.

Well, I emailed to Damon and he wrote back. He made some really good points, particularly about his not wanting to separate his public and private selves, and about the Ron Paul sign being a spur to further conversation and debate. Though I still disagree with him about the propriety of the sign, I came away impressed with his thoughtfulness and honesty.

What do you think about political signage in store windows? Maybe my thinking needs to evolve on this one . . .

February 21, 2008 at 06:48 PM in Just Shoot Me | Permalink


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I think politics are in your face no matter where you go. They're holding signs on the street, they're on t.v, in your mailbox, and everywhere else. So I suppose seeing one more sign isn't a big deal. When it all comes down to it, its just someone showing their support for another human being - which is always amazing in itself. I think all too often we are offended or taken back by things, but a closer look could always reveal beauty. I think showing support for another human being is one of those beautiful things.

Posted by: Erin | Feb 21, 2008 8:49:22 PM

This particular sign doesn't bother me, because I'm a Ron Paul guy. I think I'd have a far different reaction if it were an Obama or Clinton sign...

Posted by: Chip | Feb 22, 2008 10:48:35 AM

First, let me nitpick. The last sentence of paragraph six should read, "...the owners are forcing, in a way, their personal politics," not "there."

Now that my internal editor has been self-satisfied, I'm not a Ron Paul guy but I'm not too disturbed by the sign. Honestly, the cynic in me thinks that it might influence people who might not otherwise be influenced. But it is private property, and anyone who is truly offended has the right to not support Nectar's anymore.

I was, however, confused, having seen the sign from way down the road and thinking that Ron Paul had - for some reason - opened a campaign office next to Nectar's.

Posted by: David | Feb 22, 2008 1:27:33 PM

Thanks, Chip and David, for those comments.

Jeez - maybe I'm off base. It wouldn't be the first time. I was not, I hope it was clear, questioning the owner's right to put up the sign, which he certainly has, but, rather, the propriety of it. I believe public establishments should be political neutral spaces.

Hey - I could be wrong about this. Really.

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Feb 22, 2008 3:05:55 PM

Hi Jernigan! I've been thinking about this a bunch since you posted it...

The first thing that came to mind was the story about a Middlebury Trustee excoriating a local bookstore for carrying a product called "Impeachmints." He also suggested that businesses should be neutral.

Perhaps because I'm a liberal, but when I read about it, I thought the dude was out of line. So I think it's only fair for me to be cool with the display of political messages I disagree with. (Although there's a hate-crimes line that I don't think should be crossed -- of course I can't say exactly where that is).

My main question is: Are any businesses really politically neutral? The Peace & Justice store certainly isn't. And I'd argue that fancy restaurants, sex shops and stores that sell blown glass for "tobacco" are chock-full of various ideologies -- they just may not be printing them on signs. Store owners display their politics with every product they sell, how they choose to treat their employees, etc.

I certainly feel like I'm making a statement by avoiding Starbucks and buying coffee at Uncommon Grounds and by shopping at Healthy Living rather than Hannafords.

I see a candidate's sign as just a small extension of the political environment that already exists at a given business. I like having a sense of what I may be supporting by forking over my money. What scares me most is when I don't know which causes my dollars might be helping to fund.

Posted by: suzanne | Feb 23, 2008 11:43:50 AM

Wow, those are all good points, Suzanne. Like you said, a business cannot be divorced from politics because every business product and/or service incorporates political content and gives rise to a political impact - environmental, labor issues, etc.

I'm all for businesses, as businesses, getting involved in political issues when the participation is truly for a public good and not merely or mostly to advance the corporate bottom line. And we all can think of companies that display such social consciousness, especially in Vermont. And there are a variey of ways for a business to advance a political position, from donating profits to sponsoring educational forums.

But at the risk of beating a very dead horse, I come back to the single point of my original posting. In the mini-business that is my taxicab, I never voice my political beliefs or stick a campaign button on the dash or a sticker on the bumper. If engaged by a customer on a political matter, well, I'll go great guns. But, I never foist such beliefs on my customers unsolicited. That would just feel wrong to me, and I feel the same way about political signs in stores.

Nectars follow-up: Driving by yesterday, I saw them affixing an additional sign in the window. This new sign read, "Obama for President 2008." Now all they need is one for McCain and everyone will be equally happy and/or offended!

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Feb 23, 2008 3:47:41 PM

Free speech always

Posted by: montpelier28 | Feb 25, 2008 11:59:02 PM

Well, Montpelier28, maybe that is the bottom-line and I'm just complicating the matter

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Feb 26, 2008 10:06:09 AM

I'm not bothered by it. I don't support Ron Paul, but I've asked business owners to put up fliers for climate campaign events; not partisan but certainly not politically neutral.

Then there was the barber (turned out to be a Ron Paul guy) who asked me what I thought of the primary while he was cutting my hair. That made me a little nervous.

Posted by: Eric | Feb 26, 2008 8:08:51 PM

Ooh, Eric - sounds Sweeney Toddish . . .

Posted by: Jernigan Pontiac | Feb 26, 2008 9:53:10 PM

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