Freedom of honk

Anne Durston is a Sacramento resident, Harvard grad and recent recipient of a Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship

On Tuesday evenings, a group of concerned citizens convenes on the corner of 16th and J streets to protest the pending war on Iraq by encouraging drivers to honk for peace. Occasionally, I take my own cardboard sign and join them. It’s always interesting to observe the reactions of the commuter traffic. Some folks grin, hold up two fingers and let out a bold honk. Others hold up just one finger, usually accompanied by a colorful obscenity. My favorites are the pedestrians who yell, “Honk!” as they walk by.

I’ve noticed a peculiar phenomenon. There are stretches of time in which we get just a few meek honks or peace signs with no accompanying toot. Then, some die-hard peace supporter will see our signs from a few blocks away and start in, “Honnnk honnnk!!!!” Suddenly, all within range have become enthusiastic peace supporters, chiming in with their own, “Beep beep … whah whah … gazooooooguh!!!!” We on the corner hoot and holler, basking in our ephemeral moment of love and harmony. Then the cars pass, the honks trail off, and we are left waiting for the next honking chorus.

I’ve tried to come up with an explanation for the group-honking phenomenon. Perhaps peace supporters travel in herds, leaving the office together so as to arrive at 16th and J at the exact same time.

More likely, many drivers oppose attacking Iraq but lack the courage to honk—as if they were afraid of being labeled unpatriotic. But wouldn’t that be a silly concern, when one of America’s basic founding principles is the right to freedom of speech? Surely, in the United States, no one would feel too intimidated to openly express what he or she believes to be the best means of protecting national and international security. Everyone knows that in a healthy democracy, the citizen body does not speak with one voice. Right?

The next time you pass 16th and J on Tuesday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., look around (but be careful not to rear-end the car in front of you). Even if you don’t agree with us, be glad you live in a democracy in which citizens can express their opinions without fear of prejudice or persecution. And finally, if you’re opposed to attacking Iraq, pluck up your courage, stick out your chin and give us a nice, long, unabashedly assertive honk just to see how free you’ll feel.