By Matthew Rothschild on July 07, 2008

Professor Robert Ovetz was driving through San Francisco on the morning of June 30 when he saw the lights of a police car behind him.

Ovetz pulled over.

"When the officer came up to my window, he asked the typical police requests: registration, drivers’ license, insurance card," says Ovetz. "I asked him why he was pulling me over. And he said because of the bumper sticker on my back window."

That sticker says, "No to Empire," in large bold letters, and on the bottom in very small letters, "www.thenation.com," Ovetz notes. It’s a bumper sticker from The Nation magazine.

Ovetz’s first reaction was to laugh, he says.

Then he recalls the following conversation:

"How could it be illegal for me to have a bumper sticker on my back windshield?"

"It’s obscuring your view."

"You’re just trampling on my free speech rights."

"No sir, I’m just doing my job."

At that point, the officer went back to his squad car for a few minutes.

When he returned, he gave Ovetz a ticket.

That ticket cited part of the vehicle code that prohibits driving a car if the "driver’s clear vision" is "obstructed by snow or ice" on the car windows.

"I’ve never seen snow in June in San Francisco," says Ovetz’s attorney, Ross Dreyer.

The code also says, "No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any object or material placed, displayed, installed, affixed, or applied upon the windshield or side or rear windows."

While this would seem to apply to Ovetz, it also would apply to anyone who puts a college decal on their windshield or their high school athletic team’s name or anything else, for that matter, including stickers endorsing candidates.

The officer’s name is Mike Mitchell (Star number 4160), according to Ovetz, who notified him that he would be publicizing this incident.

"I asked to get the spelling of his name and told him I’ll be doing a press release on this," Ovetz said. "And I asked him, "What if the sticker had said, Yes to Empire, would you have still ticketed me?’ "

According to Ovetz, Officer Mitchell responded: "I don’t care if you’re a Star Wars fan, or not."

Ovetz responded: "You know, clearly you’re just harassing me because of what it says."

The officer remained polite, Ovetz says, and told him that if he removed the sticker, he could go to court and the ticket would be dismissed, possibly with a small fine.

"And I said, ‘I’m not removing the sticker.’ That was pretty much it."

Ovetz believes he was a victim of "selective enforcement because of his political message and the policeman’s own bias."

A lot of other cars have "a spare tire, or another sticker, or a bicycle car rack" that could be cited for obstructing the view, he says.

"We’re filing a petition to the court to have the charges dropped," he says. Ovetz, a professor of political science and sociology at the College of Marin and Cañada College, bemoans the state of our civil liberties. "We can’t even speak about the implication of empire in our country," he says. In his press release, he added: "It is disturbing that in one of the most liberal cities in America, citizens cannot freely express their opinions without fear of government harassment and intimidation."

Sergeant Wilfred Williams is a public information officer at the San Francisco Police Department.

"He can protest the ticket," says Sergeant Williams, who offers "no comment in regards to the officer doing his job."

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By Julia Burke
Ali Abd ElRahman believes the United States has the potential to take a leadership role in food...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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