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Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Erik Lacitis / Times staff columnist

On lawns and on street corners, this is the sign of the times

In these nervous economic times, it does surprise me a bit to drive around the bend of East Greenlake Way North and see something like 350 people waving placards. Especially in these patriotic post-9/11 times, especially against our popular president.

What if you're a salesman or doing consulting work or employed in that company doing downsizing? And then your boss sees you on the evening news, holding that "NO IRAQ WAR" sign? Keep your head low at that office meeting.

But I keep seeing more and more "NO IRAQ WAR" signs, both on lawns and in demonstrations like the one at Green Lake on Sunday afternoon. Quite obviously, a good number of you don't care how you come across on the 11 o'clock news.

I pulled over, and among the people I talked to was David Wright, 44, an urban designer, who is married to Deborah, who does grant writing at a hospital. They have two daughters, ages 13 and 11.

We talked as the cars kept going by, and sometimes somebody waved and honked. A guy in a pickup with U.S. flags planted on both sides of the vehicle drove by, but that's all he did.

It was, I suppose, a typical demonstration in Seattle, with everybody wearing parkas because of the rain. While I was doing interviews, a woman ran by and it sounded like she said something nasty. But that was a case of a jogger not happy that I was blocking the running path.

Wright told me that the previous day he had stood by himself at the corner of Northwest 65th and 15th Avenue Northwest in Ballard, holding up his sign. There was the occasional guy who flipped him off, but Wright said he figured he got a couple hundred nods of approval. It hadn't occurred to him not to protest. You feel strongly about an issue, you do something, right?

I talked to Robert Jon Religa, 51, of Bellevue, who runs a small technology firm. He explained what he did, but I didn't really understand it. It was something about work for NASA with fiber-optic control systems and undersea remote-operated vehicles.

I asked Religa if doing government work and protesting against government policies created a little dilemma. "Not really," he said, "I don't work on weapons."

Another demonstrator in the group was Kathy Taylor Albert, 45, a substitute teacher. Later she was going to sing in a choir at a Catholic church. She began talking about Iraqi kids and malnutrition, asking how could a Christian not try to do something?

It was somewhere along this conversation that I ended up finding out about what the Asteroid Café, which isn't a cafe but a small Italian restaurant in Wallingford, had done.

In lieu of reporting on anti-war confrontations that didn't happen, I can tell how Marlin Hathaway, 38, owner of the cafe, came about ordering 1,000 of the red-white-and-blue "NO IRAQ WAR" signs. It was because of an e-mail from his mom, a community-college teacher in Yakima.

She sent him a story that ran in the Yakima Herald-Republic. It was about a couple, two Yakima doctors, who had put up the "NO IRAQ WAR" sign on their lawn. Some anonymous somebody complained to the city, and then an overzealous code-compliance officer last month decided to send an official letter to the couple.

The letter said the sign violated some kind of city code and was to be taken down in 30 days. It didn't take long for a number of people to point out that even in Yakima, something called the First Amendment still applied. The city backtracked big-time and said it would its instruct two code-compliance officers about free speech.

Hathaway decided that he'd get a whole bunch of "NO IRAQ WAR" signs for his mom to take back and distribute. She returned with 200 of the signs. "They were all snapped up," Hathaway said proudly.

It costs about 93 cents to print each sign, and Hathaway asks people for a $1 donation and is breaking even on the project.

I've got one of the signs, which I'll store in the furnace room along with various presidential election posters and buttons and stuff I save.

I figure that the "NO IRAQ WAR" placard is going to be a collector's item, a reminder of the winter of 2002-03, when we'd see the sometimes-naive-appearing demonstrators along Green Lake and other places. At least they spent time trying to figure things out, instead of hoping for the best and flipping the channel to "Joe Millionaire."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com.

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