If you live in, hang out in, or have even traveled along the shady, well-kept lanes of the 78209 —that's the "bubble" comprised of the prosperous incorporated cities Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, and Terrell Hills, largely settled and built in the tween-war period during which previously fancy enclaves like Kaiser (aka "King") Wilhelm (ie "William") suddenly seemed a bit too ... oh, let's go with "colorful" — you have likely noticed the tastefully-designed, white-font (looks to be Times New Roman)-on-black-background yard signs reading, simply, "no socialism."
Lila Walker sure has. An '09-er herself, and a retired teacher of history and social studies ("I called it 'world cultures'") at Alamo Heights Junior School, Walker was perturbed to come across such a sign on a neighbor's lawn during the apex of the high-temperature, Tea Party-intensive health care debate a few months ago.
She wasn't so crazy about the s-word, saying "if you have the longer perspective and knowledge that comes from studying history ... you know that Socialism isn't just a term, but a specific political system, one which has sometimes led to murderous tyrannical regimes. The opposite side, of course, is Fascism, which also can lead to brutal dictatorships which commit atrocities. But at any rate, [Socialism] isn't just an insult you throw out there when you disagree with the government."
Walker would never have allowed her 6th through 8th graders to get away with such reductive thinking and "intrusive, name-calling kind of discourse," she says.
To that end, Lila Walker and some other concerned '09-ers have taken yard signs into their own hands. Walker used the internet (her first such research foray online, she says), and found a printer in Austin to print a visually-similar counter-sign which reads, just as simply and in a sans-serif font, "no selfishness." She has ordered them in batches of hundreds, and helped to coordinate their dissemination deep into the heart of country club territory. Each sign costs just a few bucks, in order to defray printing costs. Lila Walker was initially nervous about investing hundreds of dollars into the counter-action, but was cheered by how many of her fellow denizens of the '09 took to the notion.
Most of these lawn and garden sign activists are women —"it's that nurturing thing," Walker chuckles. Some of them, including Walker, are docents at the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, though it's hard to say whether they think what they're participating in is public art, per se. Several have had their signs stolen in the night — "the same happened with my Obama signs during the elections," Walker sighs.
Walker and her compatriots were careful not to make their signs "too inflammatory — we didn't want to attack anybody, but just suggest another way of looking at the issue and respond to this "no socialism" statement." To appeal to the better angels of our nature, in other words, rather than bite back.
Meanwhile, many San Antonians have speculated about the origin of the "no socialism" sign. Walker gave us the name of a likely originator ("he says it's in response to the bank bailouts, but—" she says, and shrugs) we're checking out. Others have surmised that it was a group of private-practice physicians afraid of the increased competition encouraged by health care reform. In any case, the no socialismos have certainly engendered some fascinating public debate via art, of a sort, and for that we applaud them. And with July being Political Art Month, the (happily bloodless) Battle of the 09 sign-hoisters may get us all in the mood.
So, if you want a "no socialism" sign, you can head to this local website to purchase one. Oddly, there is no contact info for anybody on that website. Hard to say where the money goes. The legal disclaimer, though, situates the site in San Antonio. Cost of sign: $19.
Or, you could hook yourself up with this volunteer-run Facebook page and get in on the batch-ordering action. Cost of sign: $4.
Here's Lila Walker herself, modeling one rather beautifully, we think:
More to come on this fascinating local story as it develops. Stay tuned, no matter what your neighborhood.