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United we stand 

I've never been a bumper-sticker kind of guy. The world does not know whether my child is an honor-roll student or whether I advocate practicing random acts of kindness (who wouldn't?). I don't like to wear my opinion on my sleeve or on the rounded hunk of Fiberglas that passes for a bumper these days.

Yet I found it hard to resist when my wife brought home a bumper sticker backing the campaign to organize a union for nurses at Duke University Medical Center. The nurses look like they're engaged in a David vs. Goliath-type of struggle, especially in a right-to-work state (or, as we like to say up North, a right-to-work-for-less state). I felt if I were going to take a stand, it might as well be for people who have the courage to stand up for themselves.

Besides, this particular bumper sticker offered an interesting experiment in public-opinion measurement. "A union for Duke nurses. Honk if you're with us," the bumper sticker says in large white letters against a Blue Devil-blue backdrop. I could gauge support for the nurses while I drove around Durham.

But I forgot it was there. A car honked as it passed me on 15-501, and I muttered, "Yeah, same to you, buddy." Another motorist sitting behind me at a red light leaned on her horn, smiled and waved. I alternately wondered whether flames were flickering out my car's tailpipe or whether I had once again left home with my travel mug sitting on the roof.

The note under my windshield wiper, however, was unambiguous. I was parked on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill one day, and a big-hearted student left a note asking how he could help in the organizing drive.

So I finally see some good in bumper stickers. They give us a way to connect, however briefly and fleetingly, with others in an increasingly isolated world. We can say our piece and find validation in the waves and honks of other drivers. (Fortunately, the bumper sticker hasn't brought out road rage in anyone. Chalk one up for civil discourse.)

Now I've noticed that the rest of my bumper is looking a little bare. Hmmm. My son is only 3 years old, and there's no honor roll at his day care. I wonder if I could get them to start one?

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