If that’s not welcome news for some of you, I can understand. We’re already under lots of pressure to offer our sentiments on all kinds of things. There are those annoying, unsolicited, telephone surveys. The credit card companies that want an extra five minutes of your life to rate their customer service. The restaurants and hotels where multiple-choice questionnaires – “How did we do?” – beg for your attention.
You try relaxing at home, but then get caught up voting on who stays and goes on “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
We’re asked to vote by telephone, text, keypad and email. By paper ballot, punch card, touch screen, write-in and mail-in. We vote early and often – too often, it seems – which makes it even more remarkable that Tony Calise won me over with his new electoral twist: voting by tree.
Red cedar trees, that is – Juniperus virginiana. Seedlings that popped up unbidden in Calise’s yard, volunteers for the cause that he dug up, replanted in green plastic pots, and arranged on the shelves of a roadside stand in front of his house. (Through last week, you also could vote by flower, as one shelf held potted irises – but they were going fast.)
A sign at the stand explains that there are two ways to convey your affinities. For the first, you simply pick up a pot and take it home, free of charge – and by that action, according to the sign, you count yourself among the “99%ers,” the oppressed majority championed by the Occupy movement.
For the alternative, you also pick up a pot and take it home – but you must leave $2 behind, evidence that you are, as the sign says, one of the “ROMNEY supporters.” To Tony Calise, that also marks you among the unworthy 1 percent: the wealthy, self-absorbed oligarchs who currently rule, and ruin, America. Calise is happy to report that, so far, the majority of cedars and irises going to new homes appear to have been taken by his kind of people – the 99 percent – though the record is not without blemish.
“To my dismay, I found $4 out there the other day,” he says. “Apparently, two people from Romney’s side came by and took seedlings. It’s very disturbing to know that those kind of people are around here.”
His informal tally notwithstanding, the seedling project isn’t really a referendum on the political leanings of passersby. Instead, it is in keeping with other political theater Calise has previously staged in front of his house, where he has erected mocking effigies of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, while declaring his opposition to the war in Iraq, the torture of suspected terrorists, the suspension of habeas corpus by the Patriot Act, and other outrages.
“It’s a protest on my part,” says Calise. “It grows from my frustration about the way things are going in this country. The elevation of corporate interests over the traditional American interest in the betterment of its population has reached epidemic proportions. It’s the substitution of business and corporate values for human and personal ones.”
His theatrics, along with his occasional op-ed essays and letters to the editor, have earned him some congratulations, and at least one “nasty comment in the mail.” Fortunately, he adds, “No broken glass has come with any of my efforts, so I count my blessings.”
A retired college instructor in English lit, he identifies himself as a Democrat, though decidedly at the Progressive edge of the party, and not aligned with the “corporate lite Democratic leaders who have been in ascendancy since Bill Clinton was president.” Nor is he entirely happy with Barack Obama, whom he says he will vote for in November “as the lesser of two evils” over Mitt Romney.
“I’m disappointed in Obama for many things. For the drone attacks, for turning an apparent blind eye to surveillance of citizens, for the extra judicial execution of persons perceived to be our enemies.”
He also faults the president for not closing “the abomination that is Guantanamo,” and for continuing the Bush policies of operating “black sites around the world, where people are held indefinitely” without being formally charged.
“You would think in this society that’s not the kind of thing we should tolerate,” says Calise. “But apparently we’re too busy with the ‘Sopranos’ and other TV delusions to care.”
For all the time and effort he has invested in his public remonstrances, he concedes they “probably have had little impact on what happens in the country.” Still, he doesn’t intend to quit trying. “Somebody’s got to do it.” So, fellow travelers, here’s your chance. The roadside stand on North Main is directly across from Frigate Street. There you can snag a free seedling, take it home, and plant it in support of a man who’s on the right side of history and trying to make a difference.
As for anyone inclined toward a counterprotest, you can make the same trek and grab a pot of your own. Just be sure to leave two bucks behind. Tony’s pretty sure you can afford it.