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"Make America Great Again" - in Russian.

“Make America Great Again” – in Russian.

For the past few weeks, generally on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays from noon to 1:00 p.m., I’ve been standing on the quad on campus at the flag pole with the First Amendment plaque holding my (in Russian) “Make America Great Again” sign. I stand in silence and only speak if spoken to by passersby.

It’s an interesting experiment. There’s not a lot of traffic and it’s generally quiet. But people do invariably notice a lone individual holding a sign in a language they can’t read (well, most of the time). There are a lot of double takes and sometimes people approach and ask what it means and what it’s all about.

From past and long experience I carry a camera, wear a small digital recorder, and place another digital recorder behind me on the flag pole base. That’s for my own protection. I save and archive the audio recordings – they’re mostly wind noise, but also have some very interesting snippets of conversation.

Some curious people see me, stop, and approach. They ask, “What does that mean?” I explain that it’s sarcasm, in Russian, and it says (speaking in Russian) “Sdellat Ameriku velikoy snova”. I then translate it to English – “Make America great again.” Almost invariably, they laugh.

I’ve had individuals, including international students, stand and engage in extended conversation. On one very cold day two students returned from the Union, after speaking with me earlier, with a hot cup of coffee for me.
Another time two students approached, asked me what it all meant, laughed after I explained the sign, and then asked if they could take my picture (sure). They posted it on social media. Almost immediately one of their friends called them and asked what it meant. One of them responded, on the phone, “He’s saying that Trump is a piece of crap.” Then she laughed.

I don’t have any pictures of me on the quad – I’m standing on my own and I’m not particularly inclined to set up a tripod for the camera to take my own picture.

Today I had a very interesting conversation at the flag pole on the quad:

UCM Police Officer: Hello.
Me: Hi, how are you doing?
UCM Police Officer: Pretty Good. What’s your connection to UCM?
Me: I teach here.
UCM Police Officer: You teach here?
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: Okay. I, I don’t understand your sign.
Me: Uh, it’s actually, it’s Russian.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: And, so I’m being sarcastic. It’s in Russian. So, it says “steladt Ameriku velikoy snova”.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: So, translated, it’s, “make America great again”. In Russian.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: So, it’s being sarcastic.
UCM Police Officer: Okay. So, ten four [into radio], um, so, did somebody give you permission to, to be out here holding your sign?
Me: [turn around, pat the bronze Bill of Rights First Amendment Plaque on the base of the flag pole].
UCM Police Officer: I understand that.
Me: Uh, huh.
UCM Police Officer: But in order to put signs out on campus you still have to go through the, the Union. There’s an office over there.
Me: Oh, really?
UCM Police Officer: Yeah.
Me: Well, it’s kind of interesting, ‘cause when I started doing this…
UCM Police Officer: Uh, hm.
Me: …the president of the university…
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: …came up to me…
UCM Police Officer: Uh, hm.
Me: …and we talked, and he’s like, thanks for doing this.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: So, are we getting like, is there a policy problem, that we’re getting like a disconnect?
UCM Police Officer: So, apparently that is.
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: So, do you have an ID by chance?
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: Okay, can I see it?
Me: Uh, do you need to see it?
UCM Police Officer: Yes. Just so I know who I’m talking to [inaudible].
Me: Okay. Um, but I’m actually under no obligation to show you my ID, am I?
UCM Police Officer: Well, you’re a UCM employee, right?
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: So, anybody here at UCM that a Public Safety officer asks for an ID…
Me: Okay. Fair enough. Okay. [hand over UCM ID]
UCM Police Officer: Do you have your driver’s license?
Me: [hand over driver’s license]
UCM Police Officer: Uh, typically like if people want to put signs out and things, like I say, they go to the Union. [wind noise] Trying to remember what office it is. But, basically they just have you fill out a form and then [inaudible].
Me: And, and I understand in certain…
UCM Police Officer: [responding to radio] I’m sorry, go ahead.
Me: What’s, what’s kind of interesting, ‘cause it’s, like, inconsistent.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: ‘Cause there’ve been Public Safety people that have come by and seen me…
UCM Police Officer: [reading driver’s license number into radio] I’m sorry. I had people talking.
Me: Yeah, yeah. I understand. So, it’s like, so, it’s kind of interesting, ‘cause it’s kind of inconsistent because I’ve been out here probably for a couple of weeks.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: And so, Public Safety people come by, walk by, see me, they’ll walk by.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: Whatever. Ignore me.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: And, so, it’s kind of interesting to me. In, you know, the president of the university knows I’m out here. Other people in the administration, in the university know I’m out here…
UCM Police Officer: [into radio] Go ahead. Okay.
Me: [….] Uh, as long as I’m not interfering, you know, making noise or anything. It’s like, it’s like [gesturing to empty quad] is there like anything going on here that I’m disturbing?
UCM Police Officer: Right. Well, the, kind of what normally happens [crosstalk]. Um, let’s say you weren’t associated with UCM. [crosstalk] and you want to have your signs.
Me: And I understand that, too. [crosstalk]
UCM Police Officer: Basically what we ask is that you move to sidewalks along the [wind noise].
Me: Yeah, and that kind of thing. Yeah. [….] I did his here fourteen years ago.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
UCM Police Officer: Like I say, you’re being peaceful and all that, [crosstalk] so I don’t really have a huge issue. I just needed to find out what was going on.
Me: Yeah. Oh, I understand that. Hello.
Second UCM Police Officer: How’s it going?
Me: Good. Good.
UCM Police Officer: Typically what they ask that you go through the Union. [to second officer] Do you know the office over in the Union that like approves signs on campus and stuff?
Second UCM Police Officer: Not off hand.
UCM Police Officer: And, um, but they basically authorize it and, and say it’s okay.
Me: Yeah, and, and I understand that. And, but, it’s my understanding is that nobody can really disapprove.
UCM Police Officer: Okay.
Me: You know, other than, especially since, you know, I’m not sitting here with a megaphone screaming at the top of my lungs and, you know, interfering with classes to be able to hear and stuff like that.
UCM Police Officer: Right. Yeah. Like I say you’re not shouting or…
Me: Nah.
UCM Police Officer: …or disturbing the peace. You’re just holding up signs.
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: Okay. What I’ll do, like I say, I got your name and everything and, and we’ll just kind of go from there.
Me: All right. Awesome.
UCM Police Officer: All right. Well, try to have a good day and enjoy this nice weather.
Me: Yeah, actually, it’s a little cool.
UCM Police Officer: It’s a little chilly, I agree.
Me: Yeah.
UCM Police Officer: Yeah, so, okay, all right, we’ll talk to you later.
Me: All right. Take it easy.

Both officers left and I continued my First Amendment activity until the end of the hour.

I’m curious why, after a month, this conversation occurred. Did someone call them to complain? Maybe I’ll request a copy of the incident report – “white haired nearsighted old guy standing silently on the quad holding a sign no one can read, upsetting protofascists.” It could make for interesting reading.