Arlington Cracks Down on Sidewalk Advertising, Ignoring Veterans Who "Fought and Died" for Right to Wear Sandwich Boards

It's a business practice that's as old as commerce: Pay some poor soul a few bucks to stand on a corner as a cartoonish chicken urging passersby to eat his crispy, fried brethren, a somber Statue of Liberty leading the masses to freedom, opportunity, and a great deal on a tax return, or, simply as a human billboard advertising a furniture liquidation blowout.

But not in Arlington. The city has a longstanding ordinance banning handheld and temporary signs and, while it hasn't really been enforced in the past 17 years, is once again being dusted off.

"We began to see more and more people just ignore the ordinance," Rebecca Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the city of Arlington, told WFAA. "It's the city's preference businesses use permanent signs. It's just a safer way to advertise your business."

Stepped up efforts began last week, as code inspectors handed out more than 20 warnings to business owners, WFAA reports. The stated goal is to ease traffic and remove roadside distractions.

That argument seems a little thin to the business owners who pay the sign holders, not to mention to the sign holders themselves.

Among them is Calvin Watkins, a 25-year-old convicted felon who "simply dances in a Statue of Liberty costume to the honks of passing cars," per WFAA. "I got a brand new baby, so it's hard for me right now," he told the station. "This job has given me opportunity."

Randy Brown, who employs homeless veterans to advertise for Veteran's Thrift Store, is organizing a petition asking Arlington to leave street-side advertisers alone.

"As a veteran, we fought and died just to have this particular right," he says, overstating somewhat sidewalk advertising's role in America's armed conflicts. Still, he's right in that holding a sign in public sounds suspiciously like free speech.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson