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Lots of people hate graffiti. I’m not one of them. Being an artist helps. I can appreciate the artistry behind a lot of graffiti. Being a writer also allows me to empathize with graffiti artists’ desire to be heard. After watching several documentaries about graffiti artists, I also marvel at the risks they take in order to tag public spaces and the amount of work that goes into creating a complicated piece.

Banksy has become one of the most celebrated and mysterious graffiti artists in the world, with his work selling for huge sums of money. He tends to use stencils to create street art with a political message. (His official website is here. Click each image to see more.)

When visiting a local park yesterday in order to run the dog, I was thrilled to see we have our very own Banksy-style graffiti artist in our small town.

Graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Close-up of graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Close-up of graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Close-up of graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

Close-up of graffiti in North End Playground skating rink, Little Falls, MN, May 27, 2012.

It’s obvious that the person who created this graffiti is an experienced artist. Further, the message “Long Live The New Flesh” seems to have a deeper social justice meaning.

This graffiti gives me  hope for our Stepford Town, a town so overtly conservative that anyone with a contrary opinion is shut down, ignored and sometimes ostracized. I like to think of this as “Tidy Grass Syndrome.” If you don’t have tidy grass in this town, you might as well get out. And some residents will be happy to tell you that in the nastiest possible way.

Our Stepford Town cannot be bothered with progressive ideas or post-secondary education or businesses that pay decent wages because that might upset our tidy lives and tidy grass. (I mention post-secondary education because years ago our town was examined as a potential location for a community college and turned it down because we couldn’t have all those college-aged kids here messing things up. The depressed wages for work issue comes from past existing businesses actively keeping such businesses out for fear they would have to match those good wages.)

There is such an aversion to progress, liberality and messiness in this town that we may as well shutter the place up. My in-laws and I were joking the other day that we need to put “Do Not Disturb” signs at all the entrances to town. Kind of sad, eh?

Ah, but we’ve got the graffiti artist. And the city is being sued. As long as we’ve got those things, we’ve got hope.

How so? Because they show that someone has the courage to fight this town’s Tidy Grass Syndrome.

The city is being sued by Robin Hensel, a woman who posted Occupy Wall Street signs in her yard. The signs were in bright neon colors and someone complained to City Hall. Robin was told by the city that she was in violation of the sign ordinance and that she had to take the signs down. She did. And then she discovered that the city was allowing all sorts of people and businesses to violate the sign ordinance, but only if they had signs that matched the city’s conservative values.

She complained to the city and threatened to sue, which forced the city to rewrite the sign ordinance. Robin was at every sign ordinance meeting with a tape recorder. I was also at these meetings because I serve on the Heritage Preservation Commission, which oversees signage in the downtown historic district.

While I was admiring Robin’s fortitude in attending every meeting in order to stand up for her rights, I noticed that some people at the meetings didn’t get it. They suggested we alter the sign ordinance and then not enforce it. One person called Robin a “bad neighbor.” She’s endured worse comments online via the newspaper articles posted about the issue. (Check the comments on the article I linked to above and you’ll see examples of the city’s Tidy Grass Syndrome in full force.)

The residents of this Stepford Town ought to be thanking Robin for preserving their right to freedom of expression. Without her, they might find themselves without that right in the future when they might need it.

Robin and the graffiti artist are exactly the sort of people this town needs in order to shake it out of its Tidy Grass complacency.