One of the great freedoms in America is the freedom of speech. A man named Tom Wedell, who I do not know, is a shining example of it. He has stood out in front of the 7-Eleven in Southampton, marching back and forth carrying a sign protesting immigration in America, for eight long years. Yes, he has missed days out there when it is raining. Yes, he has missed days out there when a hurricane is coming through. But most of the time you will find him out there. He’s been like the Montauk Lighthouse, Home Sweet Home or Long Wharf. Bus drivers, giving tours to people who’ve signed up at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan for tours of the Hamptons, have their tour guide point him out.
“And there is Tom Wedell,” they say as they drive by. “A man of conviction in the Hamptons. Expressing his beliefs.”
Many people agree with the idea he espouses. Many people disagree. They engage him in conversation. Points are made. The discussion goes on for a while. And then Mr. Wedell goes back to carrying his American flag, or sometimes one of his signs that reads, for example, DEPORT ILLEGALS. The illegals, or some of them, as a matter of fact, are not far away. This is all at the corner of North Sea Road and County Road 39, perhaps the busiest intersection in the Hamptons.
Tom stands mostly on the side of the 7-Eleven where his banners can be seen by motorists on the main artery, County Road 39. The people without legal paperwork, along with legal Hispanics and men from other foreign countries, congregate on the other side of the 7-Eleven, on the sidewalk along North Sea Road, where they wait, hopefully, for cars to come along whose drivers inside are looking for day laborers.
Sometimes it’s happened that an argument erupts between Tom Wedell and those who choose to talk to him. Occasionally, the police are called. I know of at least one incident where police arrived to talk to a man who was getting particularly obstreperous. I know of another incident where Tom got so excited about something going on that he made a huge ruckus, not only outside the 7-Eleven but inside, as a result of which he was escorted out of the store and told he wasn’t welcome there anymore. As I recall, this is when he learned that the woman who is one of the owners of the tire store across the street was generously serving food to the “illegals” looking for work. It was on a particularly cold day.
Eight years out there is a very, very long time. At first we all went over there and talked to him about his point of view—we ran articles in Dan’s Papers about his opposition to the growing number of people illegally crossing the border from Mexico to take jobs away from loyal Americans. But later on we just got used to him, and after that we didn’t even notice him as we drove by—our office is just down the road from where Tom demonstrates.
As it happened, none of us, I believe, ever got to personally know Tom Wedell. His personal life was his business just as our personal lives are ours. He was just out there, exercising his right, as strongly as one could ever imagine, day after day after day.
Until last November. At first, I just thought it was the weather. Then I thought maybe Tom Wedell had the flu. He’d be back. He wasn’t.
There had been, over the years, a persistent rumor—never proven—that Tom Wedell was being paid to carry his sign and walk back and forth by some carpenter’s union. It would be in the interest of such a union to employ somebody to do this. Perhaps it would have an effect. Perhaps the prospective workers would move away. Perhaps it would affect the national policy. And wouldn’t you think, if Tom Wedell was out there, day after day, as he was, that he would have SOME source of income? Somebody had to be paying him, people said. He had to eat. (But not in the tire store). Well, maybe he had an inheritance, some people said. As for Tom, he just said what he always said when you asked him, that he’d had a job in construction, but now he didn’t anymore. These foreigners had stepped in and were now working for less. He couldn’t compete.
So here are fresh rumors. Tom, where are you?
This is what people are speculating:
1. He got an enormous roofing contract. It was so huge, it overwhelmed his convictions to fight for American workers. He is out there making money working again. He’ll be back there when the building gets finished. Yes he will.
2. He had a dignified argument on the street corner with someone who, after all these years, persuaded him that this Hispanic immigration was good for America. He put his sign down. He smiled happily. And he went home.
3. Facing the hard winter this last November and remembering how tough it had been out there in winters past, he decided to take a two week vacation in Arizona. He went out there. He stayed.
He is now a Brigadier General in the Arizona Minutemen, standing guard on this side of the fence between America and Mexico, wearing the uniform and the little hat of that private organization and carrying a rifle rather than a sign. It’s a much bigger problem there. That’s where they get in. Now he’s out there on the front line.
4. Tom came down with something last November. It’s pretty serious. He is lying in a hospital bed feeling bad that he can’t be out there doing what he had been doing. He rallies. But then he has a setback. He’ll be back. He just has to get through this. Just hold the phone, everybody.
5. When Barack Obama won the election for his second term last November, all the air and enthusiasm went out of Tom Wedell. He’d been out there day after day. He had lost. There are winners in life. And there are losers in life. What really matters is how you play the game. And Tom Wedell played it very well. He has nothing to be ashamed of. It was just so hard to believe. There was Romney and his 47 percent of Americans on the take, and there was Obama and his failed economy and the determination to continue the policies of spend and spend as in the past. It was time to go home. And he did.
So, where in the world is Tom Wedell? I go by the 7-Eleven when I go to work every day and I miss him. Come back, Tom. All is forgiven. I got a letter from President Obama just the other day.
“Where is Tom?” it said. “We have a new immigration policy we want to pass.”