No water for you
Bottled water service stops delivery to Chico customer for flying the wrong flags
Wendy Oshima says the three flags flying outside her small, tidy home in a south Chico community symbolize her support for people of Cuba, Palestine and Iraq.
Apparently the folks at Mt. Shasta Spring Water see the flags as proof that Oshima doesn’t support American soldiers fighting overseas and for that does not deserve delivery of the company’s product.
This week Oshima sent the CN&R an e-mail explaining that the water company told her it was canceling her service after seven-and-a-half years. The delivery driver, she said, has a problem with the flags she put up on Sept. 11 of this year.
“They are the flags of Cuba, Palestine, and pre-occupation Iraq that are flown in solidarity with the peoples of these countries,” Oshima wrote in her e-mail.
She said she contacted the Redding office of the company and talked with general manager Bill Ellis, who told her “he does not wish to do business ‘with someone who doesn’t support our troops or our government.’
“I oppose the war on Iraq,” Oshima explained, “which has been an ongoing aggression for the last 14 years. I also stand behind anyone’s right to their own opinion about our government, without judging the worth of their patriotism.”
Local veteran, peace activist and Oshima’s neighbor Bob Trausch, says he thinks the decision by Mt. Shasta constitutes a civil rights violation and he is ready to support Oshima in that regard.
He said that Oshima, whose Japanese-American father was interned during World War II, is overwhelmed by the whole thing and that he is supporting her as best he can.
There is likely more behind the decision to stop service than just the three flags, Trausch said. A fourth flag, which was an elementary school art project created by Oshima’s 9-year-old daughter featuring an 11-inch by 8-and-one-half inch plastic American flag with a peace sign and smiling faces, was hung on Oshima’s front porch.
“The driver said something about the desecration of the flag,” Trausch explained, adding that he was prepared to take some legal action.
Trausch said he’d heard something to the effect that the delivery driver has a son in Iraq and that his father fought at Iwo Jima during World War II.
Ellis, the company’s general manger, confirmed that it was the alleged desecration of the American flag that angered driver Richard Orduno, whose son was slated to return from duty in Baghdad just this week. Orduno’s father, Ellis confirmed, fought in World War II and was at Iwo Jima.
He said the driver told him that the altered American flag was lying on the ground near the other flags and that he was overcome with emotion when he saw such a sight.
“Wendy called and she was having a hard time being calm on the phone,” Ellis said. “At first she ignored my question: ‘Do you support our country?’ She said, ‘No I do not.’ She has a right to desecrate the flag, but I will not do business with that person. It’s really not a big deal.”
Trausch doesn’t agree.
“Because a man has his son over there fighting and because his father was in the war is no reason to do this,” Trausch said. “I was in Vietnam and I know what these flags represent—the people. Not Castro, not the Hamas, not Hussein. Because she is making a statement they are denying her service.
“A lot of people in this county—even the county itself—uses the Mt. Shasta water,” Trausch said. “Wendy, for her part, doesn’t want to see the company punished. This is the climate we are living in today.”
In her e-mail to the CN&R, Oshima questioned the company’s policy toward her.
“Is it appropriate to cancel a customer’s water service because of their political views, or rather, what you perceive to be a customer’s political views?” she asked. “I believe this type of discrimination is illegal and feel an apology is due.”
She finished her letter: “We must maintain a constant vigilance against the erosion of our basic freedoms; the freedoms Mount Shasta Spring Water Company mistakenly believes our troops in Iraq are fighting and dying for.”
At a veterans’ support group on First Street in Chico called VECTORS Joe D’Amico said that upon hearing of Oshima’s story, the organization decided to terminate its water service and have asked Mt. Shasta to remove the water cooler in their office as a sign of solidarity with Oshima.