It was one of those conversations that begins at one location and then continues forever as you stand next to your car. The strike, the Super Bowl, the election… I was pretty sure we had covered it all. Then my friend happened to notice that I still had a John Kerry campaign bumper sticker on the back of my station wagon.
He grinned and put a consoling hand on my shoulder. “I think it’s time.”
Of course it was time. Those of us who still have Kerry stickers on our cars know why we left them there: To enunciate that we didn’t vote for Bush. To remind everyone that there was something that made us uneasy about the vote-counting process in the last two elections. To flaunt our alienation from the gang in the White House.
There might have been a period when a Kerry sticker did make an effective statement. But now that statement had changed, or at least softened. Now, rather than positioning me on the edge of anger or protest, my Kerry sticker was dangerously close to pushing me into fuddy-duddy territory. It had become “political” in the same way that a “Don’t Come Knockin’ If the Trailer Is Rockin’ ” sticker was “sexy.” And yet… I could not bring myself to remove it.
When I would begin picking around the edges of my Kerry sticker, peeling off little bits like so many small blue states in the Northeast, it felt like I was somehow throwing in the towel. As the war continued it felt like my Kerry sticker defined my position retroactively, although to many it may only have highlighted that I don’t wash my car that often.
Obviously, there are people who believe that bumper stickers are effective at some level or you wouldn’t see aged Volvos festooned with them. Often, by reading the back of a car from left to right, you can follow a person’s cultural and spiritual journey over the course of many years. At hard left, the default Grateful Dead sticker featuring a rose and a human skull. Midway over, “Radiohead.” And then at hard right, looking fresh and fit, “Yoga For Life.”
I resisted what we might call “bumper sticker definition” for years and kept my car’s outer surfaces pristine and free of commentary. My guitar cases are quite another story, although far from telling any tale about my travels with music, they merely provide a record of which businesses were giving out free stickers during the last 10 years.
There might be term paper material in the observation that while Americans continually wring their hands over issues of privacy, they are delighted to announce where they land politically or prove where they’ve been on vacation or what their idea of a joke is… on the front of their t-shirts and the backs of their cars. For reasons not quite clear to me, we think that a person with a huge “Lose Weight Now, Ask Me How!” button on their jacket looks a bit silly but a grown man with a concert-fresh Bob Dylan t-shirt is reaching for cool… even though that new shirt says, in effect, “Want to Talk about Dylan, Ask Me Now!”
I confess that I kept my Kerry sticker on my car because I wanted to say “Still Pissed, Ask Me Now!” But as in the song based on the Biblical verses, to everything there is a season, and we turn, turn, turn. There is a time to gather stones, and a time to peel the fading decals from the last election off your heap and accept that change is coming. And, inevitably, put on new campaign stickers.
That simple act won’t in any way bring an era to a close. The war may feel more like a part of our lives, but it continues to criminally incinerate American lives and resources. How we meet our obligations to those injured in Iraq will be a measure of our human decency for the rest of our lives and theirs. And then there’s the hopefully long-lasting lesson of eight years of Bush/Cheney.
After I removed my Kerry sticker, a person close to me commented that I was finally accepting that we did suffer with Bush for eight years. There was never any secret underground movement made up of those still bearing Kerry campaign stickers on their cars. And yet we knew who we were. We were the ones waiting for the other half of America to come back to a more reasoned and less fearful place. Now, like me, you’re probably eager to see what new stickers appear on the back of their cars.