FREE JEFF OLSON, Free Yourself
The law seems to have changed since I got in trouble for using sidewalk chalk to make a political statement during a strike in the 1990’s. Notice that the will to squish speech that challenges authority figures remains the same.
from Jimmy Jazz’s novel Where Life is Inappropriate
Day 9. It’s family day on the strike line. Mr. M brings his two girls and I bring Alaska and Caledonia. –Take this sidewalk chalk and sketch out a hopscotch. The bossy sister takes the chalk and draws a series of lopsided squares. The striking teachers hop with picket signs on their shoulders. The older sister draws a funny caricature of her dad, depicting Mr. M with a huge pumpkin-like head.
–That’s great! I say. Inspired, I chalk a portrait of every single teacher on the line, surrounding the school sidewalk. 42 separate pictures. I draw Mr. Stone with his stern face; I draw Ms. Fox with a bushy foxtail. I sketch Mrs. W with her bald chemotherapy head.
This high is as temporary as it was necessary, and for a while we feel as fresh and ready to confront the administration as we did on the first day of the strike. Like drug addicts we need more to catch the same thrill. School lets out and the children mill around the portraits.
–There’s Mr. I.
–There’s Mrs. W.
–Mr. M looks like a fat guy, one of the kids says. The simple chalk drawings seem to make everyone happy. The principal walks along our line in a 3-piece suit using a walkie-talkie to direct the school busses.
–Who’s responsible for this? he asks Mr. Stone. The principal’s a squat, stocky man with a head like a potato. He likes to talk about the fistfights he got into growing up in the Bronx. He likes to think of himself as a tough guy. He looks at the drawings, fists resting on furtive hips. He flicks his nose with his thumb. Fingers point at me. –This is vandalism, he says. –We need to call the police. He turns and marches back into the school.
The next morning Mr. Stone, the strike commander calls me aside. –An official complaint has been sent to your file.
–It says you hit somebody’s car with your sign, he informs me.
–I did? I say sort of dumbfounded and unaware. The strike has been on for near 2 weeks; we all expect it to settle over the weekend and now this.
–And please no more stunts like the chalk drawings, he says. –Did you write the word SCABS on the entrance to the teacher’s parking lot? The impulse to cry fades into what it must feel like to be a scapegoat.
–This is bullshit. I talked to a cop about the sidewalk chalk, it’s legal, a free speech issue. You can’t spit on the sidewalk, but drawing on it with chalk is okay. It’s sidewalk chalk.
It rained overnight. The portraits, like our resolution, faded but remained intact.