While media and protesters raged against the military mannequin outside, a very different scene unfolded inside the house on Marty Way
Stephen Pearcy had little idea what kind of monster he was about to create when he stepped into a surplus store to buy materials for his latest political statement. In fact, all signs pointed to the contrary: Even the store manager, when he found out what Stephen and his wife, Virginia, were up to, showed his approval by telling the cashier to give Stephen a 50-percent discount. But that was in Berkeley, where the vast majority of residents believe regime change begins at home and where an American soldier uniform dangling from a rooftop—even one with a balled-up flag for a head, a noose around its neck and a sign saying “Your tax dollars at work”—barely would have caused a stir. Instead, the Pearcys chose to mount the protest art at their house in Sacramento’s Land Park.
And that’s where the trouble began. The first soldier figure lasted less than a week and set the pattern for conflicts to come: Newscasters show it on TV, talk-radio hosts stir up listeners, a small mob congregates in front of the house, and the display is illegally torn down just in time for the footage to make the nightly news broadcast.
On Saturday afternoon, the Pearcys set the cycle in motion a second time. In front of TV cameras, Veterans for Peace, talk-radio listeners and a white Thunderbird with “God Bless Bush” scrawled on its side and “War Makes Peace” on its hood, Stephen climbed a ladder and this time used nails instead of a noose to mount a new figure, this one bearing the sign “Bush Lied, I Died.”
After an hour of meeting the press on the front lawn, the Pearcys retreated to their living room for a scheduled SN&R interview, where they were eventually joined by Davina Weaver, whose son was seriously injured just last month in Iraq. Weaver had driven out on a Saturday afternoon to find out just what kind of people would hang a soldier figure from their rooftop, and she soon found herself in the middle of the media maelstrom. “I turned around, and they had all these microphones in my face,” said Weaver. “I’m like, ‘What in the world? I’m just trying to talk to these people.’”
Refusing to debate Weaver in front of a “frenzy of reporters,” Virginia instead invited her inside to talk things over peacefully. Weaver was willing, but talk-show host Mark Williams resisted the idea, insisting that if this was really about free speech, the dialogue should take place out on the lawn for all to hear.
Instead, Weaver later joined the Pearcys in the relative privacy of their living room, took a deep breath and sat down to talk to them about how all this was affecting her and her family.
“That image is just too close to home for me,” Weaver told them. “My son—he’ll be home in three weeks, and about three weeks ago he was wounded. He was shot through the leg and the hand. And my daughter told me that when she looks at that, she sees her brother. I mean, you can do what you want, but maybe you should …” Weaver’s voice trailed off. “I mean, when I look at that, I see my son.”
“I think that’s also part of the message,” explained Virginia, noting that although the Pearcys don’t have any relatives in Iraq right now, they’re hoping that people who do will see their display and think about who’s accountable.
As they spoke quietly across a coffee table stacked with books on First Amendment law and politics—the Pearcys are both lawyers whose primary residence is in the Bay Area—tensions from the fracas outside quickly dissolved, and the two parties grew to understand each other.
“I know what you [Pearcys] are trying to do. You’re trying to create a dialogue. You’re trying to get people to stop and think,” said Weaver. “And they are, but unfortunately, some people are getting hostile. And some of the Veterans for Peace guys who came here to protect you, they were getting very hostile toward me, saying I’m stupid and don’t know anything.”
“That’s OK,” joked Stephen. “A lot of the people on the right tell us that we’re stupid, too.”
After about 40 minutes, Weaver told the Pearcys she had a better understanding of what they were trying to do. “I just wanted to come here for my own peace of mind,” she said, before returning to the milieu outside.
“It’s interesting that none of our immediate neighbors who oppose us want to speak to us about this,” said Virginia. “So, we definitely appreciate when people are willing to talk to us. I think that’s the only way we can come together.”
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster unleashes the collective fears of a community, which rises up with torches in hand to destroy it. The Pearcys’ political statement appears to be stirring up its own set of repressed emotions, especially in an era when flag-draped coffins are banned from the TV screen and embedded reporters no longer are encouraged to show the realities of war.
As this newspaper goes to press, the second figure has been taken down—once again, the trespassers were caught on camera. Stephen says that when he called the police to see what was being done, he was told that the trespassing and theft weren’t the police’s only concerns and that hate-speech charges had been filed against the Pearcys. He said a lieutenant told him, off the record, that he personally hates what the Pearcys are doing.
Although he had yet to talk to the officer in question, Sacramento police spokesman Justin Risley assured SN&R that “regardless of whether or not [the lieutenant] expressed his personal opinion,” it would have “nothing to do with our position on illegal behavior” and commitment to responding to all complaints.
Meanwhile, Move America Forward—a group created to promote the recall of former Governor Gray Davis—was planning a candlelight vigil for Tuesday evening, during which the Pearcys planned to show up and possibly erect a third figure. Reached in Berkeley at noon on Tuesday, Stephen said he had yet to decide but was making a stop at the surplus store just in case.
“I called him yesterday and told him what happened, and he had already seen it on the news,” said Stephen of the store’s owner. “He said, ‘The next one’s on me.’”