A PAIR OF plastic, "bloody" hands and two posters might not sound like the makings of a major public demonstration, but they did the job masterfully Monday – Columbus Day – on Wilkes-Barre's Public Square.
Someone – or perhaps several individuals – surreptitiously placed the items on and near a Columbus statue, making it clear they don't consider the 15th century explorer a brave colonizer but rather a brutal invader. The signs, one of which used the term "genocide," urged people to stop celebrating the early October holiday.
Agree or disagree with the perspective, it sure seemed to us like classic free speech.
The objector(s) made a point powerfully, plainly and without tying up traffic or otherwise presenting a threat to public safety. No one took a sledgehammer to the stone monument. Nor, as happened to a Columbus statue this week in Hazleton, was it defaced with spray paint.
At worst, the Wilkes-Barre perpetrator(s) were guilty of littering.
Pathetically, the city issued a statement in response to the prank that read, in part, "Debating our common history and the role of certain individuals within that grand narrative should be discussed in classrooms, in community meetings or in households."
Whatever happened to debating public issues in, you know, public? Isn't a town square the perfect spot, under First Amendment protections, for people to have their voices heard and to raise matters they deem important?
Too often, it seems, the knee-jerk reaction among government officials today is to try to sanitize and compartmentalize any dissent – squeeze it into "proper" times and places – preferably out of view.
Americans historically have embraced, and should continue to embrace, the civic tools that allow for constructive change: public debate, demonstration, even civil disobedience. Particularly in Wilkes-Barre, where people attuned to current events have many reasons to be dissatisfied, no one should mistakenly believe they can't use a public space to speak up, spout off or otherwise make a statement – no matter how silly or how serious.
The Constitution, after all, takes no holiday.
debating public issues in, you know, public?