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.



Tri-cities realist

Well Donna is the only one who knows for sure, but I'm willing to bet that her remarks were sarcastic, but thanks srq for the explanation of your thoughts on this matter.

Disgusted Yet N...

This story is not divisive, this man's actions were divisive. If he annually stores his lawn chairs in trees then the majority of the comments above make sense. However, this does not seem to be the case. If this man were simply "decorating" his yard with these hanging lawn chairs for the sake of lawn decor, he would have done it PRIOR to Clint Eastwood's sketch at the RNC. Anyone who saw Eastwood's speech CLEARLY could tell that the empty chair represented President Obama. Therefore, whom ever believes that this man's display was not significant of lynching the president either has an extreme case of denial or is as blatantly racist as he is. This man could have chosen to display his personal disdain for President Obama in ANY OTHER WAY. However, he decided to hang a chair (representing the president) from a tree. Unless I missed something in history class, African Americans remain the only group of people specifically targeted for lynching. Those of you touting "freedom of speech" cannot have your cake and eat it too. If he has the "freedom" to be this blatantly racist, vile and disrespectful, then people also have the "freedom" to respond. If the comments above represent how the majority of individuals in the community truly feel, it is clear that racism in this area is not only tolerated, but encouraged and defended. This being the case, the turn out for this forum was no surprise. Good to know that "all" are welcome in the Tri-Cities area.




Many have choose to shout them down instead of consider other points of view. Your choice, Your loss, Your life. It's no one's job here to attempt to open your closed mind. Willful ignorance is a disease.


Yes, willful ignorance is a diseases's called "LIBERALISM "!!!!!!!!

Michael Johnson

This really is pretty easy. Freedom of speech allows not only people to express themselves the way they want - it allows people to interpret those expressions the way they want. So, Ken David has the right to do what he is doing, and I have the right to inform my 6 year old son that racists believe it is ok/funny to use freedom of speech as a defense for their desire to lynch people of different races. I then explained that Clint Eastwood pretended that an empty chair was President Obama at the Republican Convention, and that hanging an empty chair from a tree was Ken David's way of saying that he wanted to hang President Obama from a tree. My son then asked if Ken David really wanted to hang black people from trees, and I told him that I didn't know, but that unfortunately when you do something like this that that is what some people might interpret it as. My 6 year old son then said that maybe he should be more careful about how he expresses himself in case people get the wrong idea. I told him I agreed, but that I was sure that Mr. David would defend our right to see his free expression as a racist statement endorsing murder and degradation. Luckily, we live in a country where we allow racists and attention-whores the same freedom to express themselves as kind and rational people - this also allows people to make up their own minds about people's true motivations, and to educate their children about how to grow up and fight for a more equitable and civil nation.


Well done sir, well done.


Although I appreciate your thoughts on freedom of speech and our rights, I would not have told my son that a neighbor is racist and wants to hang the president from a tree – that's a heck of a conclusion to reach and pass on to a six year old – especially when there are so many other possibilities that can explain the display. That said, the child is yours and your wife' s so how you choose to teach him is nobody's business but yours. Since you seem to be a fair, rational, and intelligent person, I assume that when your son hears Ed Schultz on MSNBC say on air “You’re d**n right, Dick Cheney's heart's a political football,” “We ought to rip it out and kick it around and stuff it back in him." You will explain that this media star wants to kill the former Vice President; that when he hears the same media star say "The Republicans lie! They want to see you dead! They'd rather make money off your dead corpse! They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don't have anything for her." you will explain that all Republicans, even your family and friends, want to see all sick people die. And when he hears President Obama say that “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” you'll tell your son that the only reason many of your neighbors believe in hunting and religion is because they are frustrated, bitter people. That would be the fair and reasonable thing to do as far as putting things into perspective.


Well said and 100% done with exact words from the left.


It is not the color of your skin that concerns me. It is the thickness.


Can you liberals comment on this mainstream acceptable rapper who has 10 million more ways to influence our children than some guy in a small town?

I would like to hear your opinions.


Lyrics full of hateful, racist hedonistic rants about abuse of women, the glory of gangsters and much worse. All while making hundreds of millions of dollars from immature minds.

I'd much rather explain free speech over a chair in a tree than from "songs" that use Madison Avenue Ad men with focus groups to invade the psyche of the susceptible.


This just shows how weak and desperate the Republican Party has gotten, your party has a member in grand rapids who was caught committing voter fraud and was still choose by the your people to represent the republican party . Desperate people do desperate things....good luck in November fools


This just shows how weak and desperate the Republican Party has gotten, your party has a member in grand rapids who was caught committing voter fraud and was still choose by the your people to represent the republican party . Desperate people do desperate things....good luck in November fools


That's simply impossible - the democrats have assured us there is no such thing as voter fraud every time a jurisdiction wants to require a photo ID to vote. Surely, you must have misspoken.


Check mate!


Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth last week issued a report indicating Bolger and Rep. Roy Schmidt (R-Grand Rapids) worked to rig an election in Schmidt’s favor by helping Schmidt, who had served in the House as a Democrat, switch to the Republican Party just before the May 15 filing deadline.

The party switch left a vacancy for a Democratic candidate on the November ballot. Bolger admitted his role in the act, and also admitted to recruiting Schmidt’s nephew, Matt Mojzak, to run on the Democratic side.


Although I do not support these type of shenanigans, by either party, I question whether the activity you cited is illegal (apparently it is not, since legislation has been proposed to make it so.) Voting more than once, voting by citizens who are not qualified, and voting by non-citizens (as well as making campaign contributions) is illegal. As a proponent of good government, may I count you as an ally in rooting out and stopping voter fraud, including, without limitation, prosecuting any campaign that solicits and accepts foreign donations without sufficient firewalls and checks in their donor scheme, and requiring a photo-ID to vote (such as is required in union elections, to enter the Department of Justice in Washington, D.,C., and to enter a venue where President Obama is speaking)? I hope so because voter fraud, in whatever form, is a serious threat to our nation and to our individual franchise. I will pledge to support making illegal the kind of activity you described in your comment. Together folks like us can make this a better country. Thank you in advance for your support!


Vlad - there is a major and serious differentiation between voter fraud and voter suppression. I doubt many people want voter fraud to go unchecked, but when it becomes deliberate suppression of vast numbers of people, then we aren't making this a better country.


Lanivan - Asking you the same question: As a proponent of good government, may I count you as an ally in rooting out and stopping voter fraud, including, without limitation, prosecuting any campaign that solicits and accepts foreign donations without sufficient firewalls and checks in their donor scheme, and requiring a photo-ID to vote (such as is required in union elections, to enter the Department of Justice in Washington, D.,C., and to enter a venue where President Obama is speaking)? I hope so because voter fraud, in whatever form, is a serious threat to our nation and to our individual franchise. I will pledge to support making illegal the kind of activity you described in your comment. Together folks like us can make this a better country. Thank you in advance for your support! And, do you believe that unions requiring photo id to vote in union elections a matter of "voter suppression?" Do you believe requiring photo id before boarding an airplane is a matter of "traveler suppression?" Is requiring production of a photo id before taking SAT and ACT exams a matter of "educational suppression?" Or:
Pick up your own kids from your public school - parent suppression
Rent tools from a hardware store - renter suppression
Buy over the counter allergy medicine - sick people suppression
Get married - bride and groom suppression
Apply for a passport - traveler suppression
Rent a hotel room - homeless suppression
Pick up tickets for events at a box office - entertainment suppression
Close a real estate sale - buyer suppression
Buy a beer at a restaurant - drinker suppression
Fill out and submit an I-9 tax form - taxpayer suppression
Let's get back to enabling illegal foreign campaign contributions and voter fraud, shall we, instead of Lie, Deny, Switch & Doublespeak.


I would get worried about voter fraud if there were documented cases of voter fraud, but there aren't, so as an issue of great national importance, this ranks way down on my totem pole of ways to make our country better. You see - a fundamental difference between you and me is that I don't view government, America or life with the same degree of paranoia that perhaps you and others do. Voter ID on the face of it seems reasonable enough, except when it's suddenly a BIG problem just months before an election where the publicly-stated intent of this severely conservative ALEC piece of legislature is geared to making it much harder for supposed Democratic voters (poor, elderly, students, etc) to vote. Now that could backfire. As I've written before in these comments, my 94 yr. old mother lives in another state, and has lived in the same house and voted every year for the past 50 years. She quit driving about 10 years ago, and her Driver's License - photo ID is not considered "valid and current". In order for her to vote, after 50 years of voting in the same precinct, mind you - she is required to take an original, registered birth certificate - not a copy - (which is filed away, but she can't find it - bad eyesight). She then must find someone willing to take the time and energy to drive her to the Sec of State office, wait in line with her walker or sit in uncomfortable chairs (arthritis in her hips), and get her voter ID to prove she is not committing voter fraud. She is upset and won't do it - and she's a lifelong Republican! Be careful what you wish for, Vlad - Big Brother Government of the Rich and Powerful is right around the corner and waiting for it's chance to watch YOU.


I'd also like to add that a concern I do have, for which there is a great deal of documentation unlike voter fraud, is election fraud. Now this is a very serious situation that has the potential to greatly undermine our Democracy. My inclination is to encourage more people to vote (after all, we never have an election where even most of the population votes). But how the votes are tallied and the many documented cases of election fraud is the cause for concern, IMO.


And something I forgot to mention when telling of my mother's plight to obtain a valid Voter ID - the main kicker (and being very frugal and living on Social security) is that the whole process will cost her $50.!!!!!


Since this has gotten long, let's synthesize. Sirhansalot says local Republicans guilty of voter fraud. I reply - can't be true - democrats say there is no voter fraud. He names names. I agree that acts were distasteful but not illegal, and ask him to join me to root out real voter fraud, like taking foreign money, and supporting photo id. You join conversation ignoring foreign donors and suggesting photo id is voter suppression. I ask you to join with me and Sirhansalot, and give plethora of examples of photo id being required - ask you if each is example of suppression of activity, and go back to foreign donations. You again ignore foreign donations, ignore all other instances of needing photo id, and claim, get ready - no documented case of voter fraud (see my original post) -throwing poor Sirhansalot under your bus - big surprise. Then you tell me about your mother. I'm sorry if she has a hard time getting around, and really wonder if getting a photo id would cost $50 (you can get a copy of your original birth certificate in most states cheap, as well as get a photo id,). Are you claiming photo id is now a poll tax? At any rate, tell me what state your mother lives in and I will research for you and her how she can get a photo id inexpensively and without great effort. Documented cases of voter fraud: In Florida, where the Madison County Supervisor of Elections, a school board member and six others were arrested in connection with allegations of voter fraud.
In New York, where a grand jury indicted a Democrat city council member and election commissioner who face 116 charges.
In Indiana, Mike Marshall, running a Get Out the Vote campaign to re-elect the Democrat mayor, was indicted on 65 counts of ballot fraud.
In Minnesota, where a review of the state’s database of registered voters revealed 2,812 dead people voted in the election that gave Al Franken a seat in the US Senate.
In Wisconsin where a conservative watchdog group raised questions about voters listed at a state senator’s properties; some votes were allegedly fraudulent.
In Texas, where of 25,000 registrations submitted by Houston Votes, only 1,793 were allegedly legal. The same week the voter fraud allegations surfaced, a fire occurred at the Harris County Elections Center.
See also, The Dark Side of Camelot, Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh, how voter fraud in Chicago (imagine that) gave John Kennedy the State of Illinois that handed the White House to Kennedy. How about getting back to those illegal foreign donations? And other instances that require photo id in our daily lives, no matter our age. And I'm serious about trying to help your mom get id easily.


If your thoughtfulness regarding my mother is sincere, thank you. If you are "testing" me with the implication that my story is made up, I assure you it's all true. I couldn't make this stuff up! Btw, the $50 is a fee she would need to pay upon application. The birth certificate requirement is for the original, registered, notarized certificate - no copies accepted. This is relayed to me by my siblings who live near her, are major care-givers, and are very up-to-date on this. NOW - As for your examples of fraud, of course there has been election fraud, corrupt politicians, county officials, and the like in both parties. When researching some of the stuff you bring up, all I get is Tea Party websites, which hold no credibility for me. My overriding concern is for the suppression of large numbers of voters, not isolated cases of political corruption and election fraud. As to the Al Franken election, sounds like sloppy bookkeeping and some lazy poll officials to me. That election took months and many counts to call, and he won. If they found a bunch of dead people still registered to vote, shame on them for not removing the names. Did these dead, registered people vote? And who did they vote for - Al or his opponent? Inquiring minds want to know!! Illegal foreign donations?? What makes them illegal? The conservatives of the Supreme Court gave us Citizens United, making corporations people who can give any amount to any Super Pac. Any corporation - and of course we're talking Big Boys here who deal globally and have lots of foreign investors - can give any amount of money to Super Pacs to be used to promote a candidate and the Super Pac does not have any accountability to the public. I'm quite sure there is all kinds of foreign money flowing into Super Pacs - all nice and legal. Isn't it awesome that Obama's campaign has broken all previous records - 10 million - for the number of small donations totaling $200 or less? Now don't go getting all "conspiracy" about this, too!


1. Give me a state, I will do the research; 2. Tea Party Sites - what does that have to do with documented cases, not to mention Seymour Hirsch? 3 Illegal donations to a campaign, not a super pac. Please, you are too intelligent to resort to these bumper sticker responses - Citizens United is, as you know, too complex to synthesize to a sentence, but I'll give it a shot - if corporations can't make contributions like "people" then the same should apply to labor unions. The ban on political contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals was first enacted in 1966 as part of the amendments to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), an "internal security" statute. The goal of the FARA was to minimize foreign intervention in U.S. elections by establishing a series of limitations on foreign nationals. These included registration requirements for the agents of foreign principals and a general prohibition on political contributions by foreign nationals. In 1974, the prohibition was incorporated into the Federal Election Campaign Act (the FECA), [HTML] [PDF] giving the Federal Election Commission (FEC) jurisdiction over its enforcement and interpretation.


" We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections." --John Adams, Inaugural Address, 1797

miss kitty

Gail Harrison called this website, "extremist and frightening". Hello????
If you go there you'll find this statement "Michiganders joining together, in the spirit of the founding fathers, to protect our LIBERTY! " and this "












May I ask which parts of this are extremist and frightening?? Personally I find her statement to be exactly that!!! It's EXTREMELY frightening to me that there are people who view our constitution as extremist.


I have posted a sign in my home to all that when sitting in any chair (including the toilets) to say "excuse me mr. president" before assuming the sitting position!! LIBERALS!!! GET A CLUE!!!


This is just a group of elite Democrats inflicting their opinions on others.



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.