Forum: free speech or upsetting?

Nearly three-dozen people showed up at the Grand Haven Community Center on Thursday night to talk about what some say is a racist political display at a home across the street from Peach Plains Elementary School.
Becky Vargo
Oct 6, 2012


The planned community conversation, arranged by the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and the Grand Haven school district, began in earnest almost two hours after the start of the forum.

The main question addressed at the forum was how the issue impacts our community, said the alliance’s Andre Daley.

Ken and Judy David hung two lawn chairs in the trees of the frontyard of their home, 15896 Comstock St. in Grand Haven Township, on Sept. 24. They also have some political signs in the yard, including one that reads “Take back our country in November.”

Chair hanging displays have popped up around the country since Clint Eastwood spoke to an empty chair — that he said represented President Barack Obama — during the Republican National Convention in August.

David, who says he is on the board of the Ottawa County Republican Party, claims he is expressing his freedom of speech rights and denies that there is anything racist about the display.

On Thursday afternoon, David walked back and forth near the intersection of Washington Avenue and Beacon Boulevard in Grand Haven, holding a sign that read, “Liberty is not negotiable.”

He said the chairs are still hanging in his yard and he has added some new banners.

David did not attend Thursday’s forum. He said he had not been formally invited and he had already planned to attend a forum in Fremont that evening.

Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, said her organization became involved in the chair controversy after they received a call from Peach Plains Principal Kate Drake. Drake said she had fielded many questions from parents and school staff wondering what to say to the children when they asked about the chair display.

Drake was one of about 17 people who addressed Thursday’s forum before the comment time was shut down and a dozen people stayed to participate in the conversation.

While some people said they agreed with David’s right to create the display, others said they were offended by it. One mother said it scared her children.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding about an empty chair,” said Brett Tompkins. “Before this Clint Eastwood thing, nobody would have thought this was racial.”

Many people commenting on the story on the Tribune’s website have said the chair represents President Obama and hanging the chair represents lynching him.

David denied that it was an attack on Obama, who is African-American, or anyone else.

“It’s a decoration,” he said.

“We teach our children for years to have positive communications about different issues,” Grand Haven school board member Joanne Query said. “Here’s a couple who could teach a wonderful lesson. Instead, it’s upsetting.”

See more of this story in the print and e-edition of today's Tribune.




The "thought police" does not like freedom of speech and if they don't agree with you, you are considered wrong and they will pressure you to see things their way. You may not agree with this man, but he has a right to do it, so back off.

Tri-cities realist

So parents are asking the school principal what to say to their children about this. Another abdication of their responsibilities to the state. Wake up people. Teach your children about the genius of our Constitutional rights, which includes protecting things with which we may personally disagree.

Tri-cities realist

So what was the outcome of the forum's conversation? Is our community "healed" now, so that we can move on from this?


I doubt it, to many hypocrites that are just a bunch of wanna be posers who have nothing better to do in this community other than complain about anything and everything.


"it scared her children" now thats funny. Hope these kids don't trick or treat


Ya no kidding......


I bet her children also get scared of kittens and puppies...


Are you kidding? Move on people....


I find it passing strange that confronted with children's questions about chairs hanging in a yard, parents seek the assistance of the principal of their school to help them (kind of like sex education, No?). The principal and all of her staff do not know how to assist the parents, so, in her logic, the principal immediately decides this is a case for the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, which is a fully staffed and funded organization that rights the wrongs of society (kind of like Superman, No?). The principal does not consider asking the person who hung the chairs (her neighbor), her art teacher, local artists, or the American Chair Association – her logical conclusion is only a group promoting “diversity” can respond to the parent's questions. And do they simply respond to the principal or the individual parents, or talk to the neighbor? Oh no, this is now a full blown community problem requiring a very public campaign to have a “conversation” supported by the entire School Board at the local Community Center, just incidentally publicizing their organization, And what do we know about this organization of social workers, whose Executive Director happens to be on the Advisory Board of the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)? Do we know that they teach that “Racial justice is the creation and proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable access, treatment, opportunities, and OUTCOMES for all.”(emphasis mine) ? See their website. Equal Outcomes – seems like I've heard that before. In my view, this is like discovering that the tires on my car are low on air. Instead of putting air in them, I take them to a local shop. Instead of having their mechanics look at the tires, the shop foreman calls in the head of the United Auto Workers Union to have a community conversation, publicized in the local paper, about diversity and racism in America and the problems of right to work laws. I guess my tires will get air, but at what cost? Bye the bye, do we know how many parents sought chair help from the principal that justified this brouhaha? How this parental problem became front page news in the local paper? Just wonderin. . . .

Tri-cities realist

Vlad, I think you should ask the GH Tribune if you could be a community columnist. I might actually consider renewing my subscription. Your common sense intellect and humor are refreshing.


I think both you and I and others could fulfill that role and, as a bonus, bring much trumpeted diversity to our local news outlet. Having said that, it is probably as likely that we will be recruited to bring some diversity to the Chicago Gang (Axelrod and Plouffe are probably not looking for other gigs).

But Thanks! It's heartening to know there are others out there!

Tri-cities realist

Yep, funny how the "diversity" folks don't want to include a conservative point of view in their discussion.


Manufactured compassion is what this is! Scared children? How in the world would chairs hanging from a tree scare a child, during the Halloween season none the less. We have all kinds of "real spooky" things hanging on display that are not as ordinary as a chair. An adult explained the hanging chairs to a child in a bias way to scare them! So as someone else mentioned, what was the result of the meeting? What direction does the community need to go? Where is the reporting!


Ok, you've made your point, folks. You're getting your knickers in a bunch - again - over the alliances' Constitutional right to hold an open community forum on topics of racism and hate in the community. Nobody is forcing you or anyone to attend, everyone was welcome. If you didn't see a need, you had the freedom to chose to stay home. Verbally abusing the alliance, the people who chose to attend, and those who saw a need for the forum, will not change the subject from Ken David and his hanging of an effigy of our 1/2-black president from a tree (my opinion and you have no right to force me to think differently). I think by now it has been established Ken David has every right to express himself in the comfort of his own private property. The chairs are still hanging, right? Nobody has forced Ken to take them down, right? No one forced you to attend the forum, right? You have a right to your own opinion, just like the people who think differently than you, right? God Bless America. End of story.

Tri-cities realist

Lanivan, I'm glad to see that you are starting to see this more rationally. And it must not have been a big deal to the community, since "nearly three dozen" people attended. And yes, we are all entitled to our opinions. One question though, is "verbal abuse" of the alliance protected under the First Amendment? Just wondering.


I can't believe the amount of press this story has produced. Remember the old guy on Jackson street that had political statements written all over the sides of his house?. Did we have to have a community meeting for all the thin skinned people he may have offended?. This guy didn't burn a cross in his front yard. Leave him alone. Political correctness is so onesided in the country. If the principal of Peach Plains thinks this is a hard topic to explain to children, then maybe we should have a gay pride march down comstock st. After all, it's just freedom of expression.


If you think there is too much press about this story, simply don't add to it by reading the articles or making comments about it. You are completely free to keep your opinions to yourself and not add to the amount of press. Or is this not really your beef?

Tri-cities realist

Thank you for reminding me of the old guy on Jackson Street, HE was a First Amendment patriot, regardless whether anyone agreed with him or not. Boy did he tick off the "city fathers" who thought he was ruining the image of Grand Haven, so much so they even tried to force him to take them down, citing a sign ordinance, if my memory serves me. But he out-smarted them, since he hadn't erected any signs, rather he just wrote on his house. Brilliant.


If the hanging of a chair has no racial overtones then why not just leave it in your front yard on the ground. Clint did not hang it from a tree!! All of you can try and hide behind " It’s a decoration" but you all know what it represent. As always grand haven shows its ugly racist head.


What? Grand Haven "as always shows its ugly racist head" Where is a young women or man more in danger of ethnic intimidation and racism: white person walking home from a movie on a sidewalk in Muskegon Heights at 10pm, or a black person walking home from a movie on a sidewalk in Grand Haven at 10pm.? Is Mr David insensitive now that the public discussion has reach this level? Maybe. The outrage from conservatives on here is because of the double standards that apply on race. Our last President endured all kinds of hate speech comparing him to Hitler and the likes. We did not hear anyone claim we needed to meetings regarding these hateful attacks. There is going to be division in this country until we can EQUALLY treat all men on the content of their character, not the color of there skin!

Tri-cities realist

So sad that today's left can't walk the walk and live by Dr. King's words.


There you go again Tribune...more one sided divisiveness. You state, "Many people commenting on the story on the Tribune’s website have said the chair represents President Obama and hanging the chair represents lynching him." Just as many, if not more, people agreed that the guy is making a political statement and has the right to hang chairs in his yard!!!! You guys are pathetic!!!


This is the website for the diversity association. It includes contact information for all the staff members, board of directors, and ceo sponsors, in case you need to report more instances of racism or address any other concerns you might have with this group.


So when a child asks about a display along the road, should the parent then go seek advice from a school principal? While this whole situation is certainly odd, if in fact there were requests from parents to the school principal about how to respond, it certainly seems like there may be a need for some classes in parenting.

While I am not 100% confident in what this man wanted to accomplish by his display, it is hard for me to understand a chair hanging from a tree as frightening to a child. What about all the scary fish and wooden dogs in the downtown ... where a bunch of children scared of them? If so, where can the parents of these children go for help.

Do NOT get me wrong. I am not saying that there is no problem with the display. I am also NOT saying that we should in anyway ignore racial issues (and this issue ... if in fact it is racial), BUT it seems that it does not help the cause of greater understanding by advancing this cause with some type of statement about school children being in fear. What exactly where these children scared of?

Again, I am not condoning any type of racial insensitivity, but I am saying those who exaggerate are just as uncivil in their own arguments.


Well said.


Bret Tompkins: “I think there’s a misunderstanding about an empty chair. Before this Clint Eastwood thing, nobody would have thought this was racial.”
Well, DUH! The Davids clearly understand what they're doing. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots here.


Hahahahahahhaahahahahah Grand Haven. Wow people in our wonderful community have nothing else to do but bicker and raise issues about nothing. Bless you all.


so now does every empty chair represent the President???? I need to put my deck chair away for the winter, if I stack them in my unheated, dark shed, am I disrespecting anyone???? I'm so confused

Tri-cities realist

Yes that would be extremely disrespectful. Please do the right thing and leave them out all winter. That way in the spring you will need to replace them, thus helping the economy.


I choose to read your questions with a tone of ignorance instead of sarcasm. The simple answer to your first question is no. I think the answer is no to the latter question as well.

I have some questions too, maybe you can help me. Do you really think that any empty chair is the same as an empty chair hanged from a tree? I ask because to me they seem quite different. If I had to explain to someone in great and specific detail what a chair is I might state what it's purpose is, ya know like for sitting in. I might try to describe how many different styles of chairs there are. But at the end of it I would probably describe a chair as something that in most cases enables a person to sit elevated from the ground while still remaining on the ground. That in most cases the chair has a back to it which makes it way more comfortable. If someone were to ask me where I would use a chair I might say at a desk, porch, backyard, patio, around a table, or pretty much anywhere that when I feel like sitting down I can do so more comfortably than sitting on the ground itself. I have a strong feeling that a large number of folks think of a chair in a similar way. It is worth mentioning that some people/companies make chair-like things to be hanged from trees. Those items are called, at least in part, a swing or a chair-swing; these are not chairs. Now that we understand what a chair is and what it is used for we can clearly see that chairs are not something that people usually think of as being hanged from trees. Therefore, "any chair", like the ones around my dining room table, at my desk, around the fire pit are NOT the same as a chair hanged with rope from a tree. MOST people don't think of chairs in this way or for this use. This whole chair thing, as I'm sure you know, was a pretty strange yet creative way for Eastwood to express his ideas on Obama. He spoke to the chair as if it were The President. Since then a number of Republicans have used a chair to also represent the President in a negative light. Either way, the only people who seem to be doing this stuff are people who do NOT like The President. Therefore, every empty chair does not represent The President in general but Republicans have used them to only represent President Obama; thanks to Clint Eastwood. However, let's for a moment think of every chair being The President. If you had The President around your dinner table, or at your computer, maybe around the picnic table no one would probably notice; however, if you hang The President from a tree in your front yard your neighbors or local elementary school might wonder what's going on. Consequently when someone who has shown open disdain for The President hangs an effigy of The President from a tree it seems reasonable that some people would get offended. I mean what would you think of the hanging chair if it were to represent your parents, siblings, children, or other loved ones? In regards to where you should store your deck chairs that, I assume, don't represent The President without people wondering what's going on with you. Well I think you've made a wise choice by choosing your shed. Besides you probably bought the shed just for such things; and obviously, you care about your chairs and want to use them again and again and know that hanging them from a tree isn't the best way to maintain them.



Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on Create a new account today to get started.