Local business owner Ken Simon has distributed
signs to other downtown businesses expressing opposition to the
pending war against Iraq. A handful of businesses have displayed
the 8 1/2 by 11-inch pink signs. .
Iraq war, 1 sign at a time
Like many people, Ken Simon feels troubled by the state of the world and
like many, he often feels powerless. Once a political activist, he has,
in the past few years, felt increasingly discouraged by both local and
world events. In the past few months he watched as his country prepares
to make war on Iraq, a war he strongly opposes, and believed he could
do nothing to make a difference.
I had pulled back, he said in an interview last week. I
felt increasingly hopeless about the world.
But recently Simon worked his way through his hopelessness and found something
to do. He took an action, a small, local action, but one he hopes might
help empower other like-minded people.
A Yellow Springs store
owner for more than 20 years, Simon created bright pink signs that say
We Oppose Our Country Making War on Iraq, and distributed
the signs to other Yellow Springs stores to display in their windows.
His purpose was not to argue, or to try to convince anyone of his view,
Simon said, but simply to offer a way for shop owners or employees who
oppose the war to express their views.
I wasnt trying to get people who support the war to agree
with me or to say that theyre bad people, he said. But
if there are people who agree with the sign, its time for them to
Simon said he opposes the war on several grounds. He opposes the United
States making a pre-emptive strike on another country without what he
feels is just cause, and he fears for the loss of both American and Iraqi
lives. He is also concerned that a war will further inflame Arab hatred
of this country and thus increase, rather than decrease, terrorist acts.
I think the decision to make war is an enormous one and will affect
millions of people for years and years to come, everywhere, he said.
Helping to spur him past hopelessness was Simons participation in
a local discussion group which is studying the book Hopes Edge.
The book, by Frances Moore Lappe, tells stories of people worldwide who,
when confronted with large problems and feelings of powerlessness, took
small actions that resulted in change. Simons decision to focus
on local merchants grew from his belief that the most effective political
actions arise from peoples lives and concerns.
I dont think theres any way to take an action that doesnt
come from ones own passion, he said. It needs to be
something you feel like you want to do, that feels personal and close
For Simon, that personal thing is his store, Gemini World Music and Art,
which he opened 22 years ago. Formerly a philosophy professor at Central
State University, Simon initially focused his store on framing pictures
and selling art prints, then expanded to include musical instruments.
Now his shop features African drums, Australian didgeridoos, hammered
dulcimers, kazoos and musical spoons along with paintings, some his own,
on the walls.
I decided a long time ago that this place is not just a store,
he said. Its me.
Simon also chose to distribute the signs to shop owners because he believes
that small business owners like himself are a big, untapped source
of power in this country. Ninety percent of American businesses
employ four employees or less, he said, and more than half of the countrys
wage earners work in small businesses.
And store owners have a unique and visible location, he said, since theyre
often located in the center of a community.
Simon hoped that the signs, displayed in storefront windows, might help
empower other people who also oppose the war but perhaps havent
found a way to speak out. In his daily life, he said, he finds many more
who oppose the war than who say they support it. Perhaps, he had hoped,
the Yellow Springs merchants signs might spark a similar action
in other towns or might lead to different sorts of protests.
So far, things havent turned out as hed hoped. Although he
passed out about 50 signs, only a handful have gone up in store windows.
But Simon felt encouraged last week when the sign went up in Current Cuisine,
due to its central location, and also felt encouraged when Tim Rogers,
a pharmacist at Town Drug, called to say his employees had decided to
modify the sign by changing the We to I, then
to display it in the window with the signatures of employees who oppose
I was so happy to hear that theyd sat down and discussed it,
Prompting discussion about the war, giving people a place to express themselves,
is what he wants most of all, said Simon. Several customers have engaged
him in conversation since he put up the sign last week, most who agreed
with him and one who did not.
The more people who put up the signs, the more people will talk
about it, he said.
The timing was right for Gail Lichtenfels, owner of Epic Bookshop, who
displayed the sign in her window. Recently, she said, she had finished
reading local resident Luisa Owens memoir about growing up during
World War II, which, Lichtenfels said, made her more aware of the
nitty-gritty of war, what its really about.
I know a lot of merchants are afraid of offending customers, but
I felt ready to take a stand, she said. I just immediately
got the tape and put it up.
After devising a way to put up the sign and still honor the opinions of
his employees, Rogers chose to display the sign in the window of of Town
My feeling is that this [the Iraq war] is probably the most important
thing that will happen during my lifetime, he said. Although
I think its usually poor business practice to take a political stand,
this is so important that it has to be done.
Simon doesnt think the signs will keep people from shopping in stores
that display them, since he believes out-of-town customers tend to be
aware of Yellow Springs liberal image and to shop in the village
because of it. If anything, he said, he believes the signs will help local
But most important, Simon believes, are the signs effect on those
who walk by and see them, people who, for a moment at least, might think
and wonder about the war on Iraq, might find the courage to express their
own fears and doubts, and might be prompted to protest the war themselves.
It might seem hopeless, Simon said. But who knows?
* * *
Anyone who wants a sign is encouraged to contact Simon at 767-7602.