Ken Plum: Don’t tread on me

don't tread on me ken plumFor a short time when I was in college I sold Fuller brushes and home cleaning products door to door to make money to pay my bills. I could make several-fold more per hour selling door to door with flexible hours than I could with any other part-time job. I was trained by a mentor salesman who made a good living selling the well-known brushes and cleaners. One practice of his that I never adopted was to knock on doors that had a “no solicitation” sign. He explained that while he may encounter a grumpy person or two behind those doors he mostly found people with a low resistance to sales pitches who used the signs as their first level of defense to keep from buying something.

More recently I have been seeing a different sign, “Don’t Tread on Me,” not on homes but on vehicle license plates. The original yellow flag with a coiled snake and the slogan on it was the flag of the early navy in our country. Today it is the flag of the Tea Party.

Each time I see the yellow license plate I wonder what message it is intended to convey. Is it at all like the “no solicitation” signs on homes that proved to be a not-very-effective defense from the salesman and the outside world? Or is it a proclamation of self-importance that one should be able to live in the world without being bothered by others?

Since the flag has been adopted politically by the Tea Party-ites, its meaning no doubt is aimed at laws, regulations, or government actions that are viewed as “treading” on someone. Government actions do affect us. We have a system of national security that gets in our way especially when we want to board an airplane or enter a government building. We may feel tread upon by the number of traffic rules we have to abide by or by the health and safety regulations affecting our homes and businesses. Certainly there have been cries of protest at any attempts to tread on someone’s ability to buy and carry any size gun whenever or wherever they want.

Living in a civilized society means that we sometimes are inconvenienced by the necessity to compromise some of what we are doing for the greater community’s health and safety. There simply has never been a government devised that allows everyone to live a life unfettered without any thought of the needs of others. There is no constitutional right to live a life trampling on others in order that you are not tread upon.

While certainly not intended by most, the admonition to not tread on me can be interpreted as selfishness. You view your needs as greater than others; your rights trump (sorry for the pun) others’ rights. Certainly there are mixed messages that can be interpreted from such a simple phrase. I prefer the simpler and easier to understand bumper stickers like “live simply so that others can simply live” or “coexist.”

What does “don’t tread on me” mean to you? Positive or negative. Let me know at

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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