Photograph by Steven Higgs
Elizabeth Verbich-Britton concluded she couldn’t fight her landlord’s order to remove her anti-war sign from her apartment window. But Gene B. Glick Company, which owns her Woodbridge apartment, has no say over her personal property. So, while her husband completes his second tour of duty in the Middle East, she now tells Bloomington about her plight with signs on her van.
Elizabeth Verbich-Britton doesn’t think for a minute that her opinion on the Iraq war is any more valuable than any other American’s. But because her husband is a soldier in Iraq, it’s a bit more personal for her.
So, when her landlord forced her to remove her “U.S. Out of Iraq Now!” poster from her bedroom window, she was incensed.
“The sign was up for about a month,” she said during an interview at her apartment on East 10th Street. “I heard nothing from anyone about it, and then all of a sudden I got a letter from Woodbridge management saying I had to take the sign out of my window. And of course I was angry right away.”
After Verbich-Britton analyzed the rule cited by the apartment management and consulted with a couple attorneys, she was even angrier.
“Basically the way leases are written it’s all about the lessors’ rights, and the lessees have no rights at all,” she said. So she took her message to another venue, one that Woodbridge management couldn’t touch.
“I figured if I fought taking the sign out of the window I would lose, and I knew there was nothing they could do about my own personal property, about my van,” she said. “… I felt that was a major violation of my rights. And I wanted to let people know about it, so the sign went on my van.”
For the past few weeks Verbich-Britton has been driving her van, and parking it in the Woodbridge parking lot, with out-of-Iraq signs on both sides and others that say, “Gene Glick can’t take away my freedom of speech,” referring to Woodbridge owners.
She figures that, at least in terms of getting her message out, the ordeal has probably been positive.
“I should probably thank them because it is even more visible now than it was in my bedroom window,” she said. “A lot more people are seeing it.”
Telephone calls to Woodbridge and Glick offices were passed around and received no response.
Verbich-Britton and her husband Adam Britton will celebrate their second wedding anniversary next Feb. 12, and they will have been apart more than they’ve been together when his latest stint in the 377th Army Reserves out of Bloomington is up.
“He should be on his way back, or back in the states, by the beginning of June,” she said. “I’m hoping, but nothing’s ever for sure with the military. They don’t really like to tell you specifics. And once they do they can change them.”
Britton did one tour of duty in Afghanistan before the couple was introduced by mutual friends shortly after Liz moved to Bloomington from her home in Portage. This is Adam’s first tour in Iraq.
Verbich-Britton said the recent three-month extension of duty is only supposed to apply to regular army, and Adam does not intend to re-enlist. She spoke to him about a half hour before being interviewed for this story and said he supports what she is doing and shares her views on the war.
“I hesitate to speak for him,” she said. “But I don’t think he necessarily agrees with or even understands why we’re there. A lot of the troops over there don’t really know why we’re there. They’re just doing their jobs. I don’t think this is what any of them signed up for. But most of them are committed to doing their job anyway.”
And that is one reason why she is so determined to speak out against the war.
“The men and women who are doing their job really want to believe that they’re making a difference, doing the right thing and helping people out in the world, they really do,” she said. “And I think that’s really hard for me to take, knowing that the people in power have exploited that. They’ve exploited those soldiers who have signed up, their want to do good has been exploited for someone else’s personal objectives.”
Verbich-Britton’s passionate opposition to the Bush administration’s policies led her to the March 17 peace march on Washington, which in turn led to her confrontation with Woodbridge management. Upon her return, she decided to hang some signs in her bedroom window to express her opinion on the war, which she thought was her constitutional right.
“I don’t own a TV network,” she said, “I don’t own a newspaper, I don’t have the money to go rent a billiard. So this was my way of showing support for the troops and my patriotism and my dissent with the government’s policy.”
She was outraged not only that Woodbridge made her remove the sign but also in way the whole thing transpired.
“It says sincerely at the bottom,” she said of the Woodbridge letter. “But there’s no name, it isn’t signed. They didn’t come to and talk to me personally. They know my husband is in Iraq. They know this is a personal issue for me. I think they went about it the wrong way, first off.”
And then there’s what she sees as selective enforcement of the apartment rules, which attorneys have told her is the property owners’ prerogative.
“I personally don’t care, but there are people on the balcony with charcoal grilles with flames shooting up to the roof,” she said. “There are people with dogs on the second floor. I don’t care about any of that. I’m not a nosy neighbor. I don’t care as long as they’re not hurting anything, as long as they don’t burn the place down.”
At Cambridge Square, another nearby Glick property, someone has an American flag hanging from their balcony.
“What’s the difference?” she asked. “This is my way of showing my patriotism.”
Since putting the signs on her van, Verbich-Britton said she has gotten a variety of responses.
“I haven’t really gotten any comments from neighbors,” she said. “The people in the building here are still friendly with me. So I guess that’s a good sign.”
On the streets, the response overall has been supportive.
“I’ve gotten more positive comments,” she said. “It’s just that the few negative comments are angrier and louder.”
As she was getting in the van at the library a guy in an army shirt yelled at her and said if we get out of Iraq we’ll have another Darfur, she said.
She was also approached by a Glick maintenance worker, which at first made her nervous.
“He had heard the call over the maintenance radio, had heard someone say something about having to come out and he thought it was ridiculous,” she said. “So I actually got a positive comment from their own maintenance staff.
“I think one of the best comments I’ve gotten was a very sincere ‘hell yeah’ from a guy riding a bike,” she added.
As far a resolution to the situation, Verbich-Britton knows what should happen.
“Honestly I think they should apologize and ask me to put the sign back in my window,” she said. “And then we could all make nice and live together harmoniously again.”
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