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Neighbors Debate with Signs

In McLean and Great Falls residents are voicing their choices by putting up signs in their yards and their neighborhoods.

It does not take a political analyst to realize that the upcoming presidential election is a hotly contested one. It is enough to drive down Route 123 in McLean and notice the nature of the competition. The corners of 123 with Lewinsville Road/Great Falls Street, and Old Dominion Road, are stacked with signs supporting both the Bush/Cheney and the Kerry/Edwards campaigns; often strategically placed right next to each other.

A group of mothers from Great Falls ordered 5,000 signs supporting the Kerry campaign and over the weekend placed them on roads throughout McLean and Great Falls, as well as other parts of the county. The group found out that a sign is priced at about a dollar each and raised the money through donations. Then they embarked on a project with their children, most of them high-school age and not voters yet. The project took seven hours on Saturday, and the same amount of time on Sunday. "It was raining, but it didn't matter," said Diane Wiltshire, one of the volunteer mothers. A lot of the signs that had been put up were taken down by next morning, according to Wiltshire. However, that did not matter to the volunteers, as they hoped that people had at least seen them. "It is a very positive, high-spirited group," she said.

The person behind the idea for the project is Linda Wilcox, a resident of Great Falls. After attending the Women's Democratic Leadership Conference, she decided that she needed to do more to protect her constitutional rights, in particular the right to free speech.

"Freedom of speech is what makes us the greatest democracy in the world," said Wilcox. She is disappointed that hundreds of signs were knocked down less than a day after they were put up along the public roads. "It is wonderful to have a difference of opinion," she said but condemned those who tried to stifle her group members' right to freedom of speech. A part of the group will be handing out "Mothers for Kerry" signs and bumper stickers at the Safeway on the corner of Georgetown Pike and Walker Road on Saturday morning, starting at 10 a.m.

BUT IT IS NOT only public spaces that are stacked with signs supporting the presidential candidates. Many homeowners in McLean and Great Falls have decided to put a sign in their front yard to show their support. Most neighborhoods show strong support for one or the other candidate, but not the 6200s and 6300s of Kellogg Drive, McLean. This stretch of the road shows signs on private lawns that support both candidates.

"I think it is going to be a close election," said Susan Clemente of 6233 Kellogg Drive. "That is why a lot of people have gotten involved with putting up signs." Her front yard shows a sign supporting President Bush in the heated race. She said that the reason for displaying the sign is because she feels so strongly that Bush should remain in the office. This is the first time she has had signs in her yard.

Just across the street from Clemente lives Elizabeth Varela, at 6236 Kellogg Drive. Her front yard is a home to a sign supporting Sen. Kerry. This is not the first time Varela has placed a sign in her front yard during the presidential elections. Four years ago, she put up one showing support for Gore, but as soon as she did, her neighbors responded with a number of Bush signs. "I am trying to show support for Kerry in a sea of Bush supporters," said Varela, noting that McLean tends to be a Republican enclave. The most important issues of this election for her are the war in Iraq and the economy. She feels that George Bush is the wrong candidate when it comes to those issues, "I am hopeful that John Kerry will improve the situation."

DOWN THE ROAD from Varela lives William Trapp, at 6226 Kellogg Drive. He is a strong believer that President Bush should be re-elected. Trapp said that the issues of national security are the major reason he supports the president. "If you're not safe from [terrorism]," said Trapp, "then the rest of it does not matter." Trapp believes in a strong commander-in-chief, and to him Bush is the right candidate. He has had some signs put up before in his yard, but those were during the local elections. This is the first time Trapp has put a sign up during a presidential race. "I wanted to show support for the president," said Trapp, "And I hope he keeps providing the good leadership." While he does not agree with all of the decisions the president has made, he said that those decisions have to be made quickly. According to Trapp, it is easy to have 20/20 vision after the fact. "You have to find out what you can do and make a decision," said Trapp.

Debbie Lieken, 6307 Kellogg Drive, is a supporter of John Kerry. The front yard next to hers sports a Bush sign. She says she put her Kerry sign up as a response to all of the Bush signs she saw. "I wanted to support my candidate," said Lieken, citing economy and national security as the main issues in the election. She concedes that Bush is likely to win in Virginia, but she wants to show that not all of Virginia is for Bush. "That is just not true," she said. This is the first time Lieken has had a sign up in her front yard, and she said it is likely that she would not have put one up if the race was not so close.

"WE DON'T EVEN talk politics in our neighborhood," said Varela. "We get along very well and are exercising our right to free speech in America."

Clemente mirrors Varela's opinion on the signs, despite supporting a different candidate. "It's wonderful in a lot of ways to have so many people who are getting involved," said Clemente.

No matter what the outcome of the election is, two things will remain unchanged. One, many Americans feel that by putting up signs they are exercising their right to free speech. Two, somebody on Kellogg Drive will be celebrating.