'If I get in trouble, so be it'
HILLSBORO, N.D. -- Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. And now, Kevin Burg. They all have been involved in civil disobedience -- the refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government without resorting to physical ...
HILLSBORO, N.D. -- Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela.
And now, Kevin Burg.
They all have been involved in civil disobedience -- the refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government without resorting to physical violence.
You probably know about Gandhi and his pursuit of independence for India. You probably know about King's work for civil rights. And you probably know about Mandela and his crusade against apartheid.
You probably don't know Burg, unless you live in this Traill County town. He's the city commission president, the equivalent of being the mayor.
Hillsboro and the North Dakota Department of Transportation have been at odds for years over the intersection of Caledonia Avenue and Old U.S. Highway 81. For almost 50 years, the intersection has had traffic lights or a four-way stop at the busiest intersection in town. But a DOT survey a year ago said the traffic wasn't enough to justify stop signs for the Old U.S. Highway 81 traffic heading north-south.
The stop signs came down in the late afternoon of Oct. 10. With the beet harvest in full swing, trucks hauling their loads to the beet plant north of town didn't have to stop. Burg and police Chief Ray Weber were worried that the east-west travelers wouldn't be properly warned. So, the local police stood guard at the intersection for three hours, cautioning drivers that north-south traffic wouldn't be stopping.
"This is a big safety concern," Weber told the Hillsboro Banner newspaper. "I've lost sleep over this."
Then, came Burg's civil disobedience. He personally put the signs back up later that evening. "It wasn't safe not to have them," he told the Banner. "If I get in trouble, so be it."
Just like Gandhi, MLK and Mandela, Burg broke the rules for what he felt was the public good. And while he won't receive international acclaim for his civil disobedience, his cause was equally honorable.
"I'd rather let the state yell at me than have the ambulance squad pull someone out from under a truck," he said.
On Monday, 10 days later, the reinstalled stop signs still were up. But Burg was hesitant to talk about his move.
"We're trying to work with the DOT without causing them too much trouble," he said. "We understand that the signs have to go away, but we want to keep working to get them back up. We're trying to avoid too much publicity."
It's too late for that. It's also too late to earn the admiration of the local residents.
"I admire our city leaders for having the fortitude to take matters into their own hands," said Neil Nelson, the Banner editor. "The general consensus in town is that it will turn into a racetrack if that intersection is opened up. Our petitions have fallen on deaf ears."
If nothing else, Burg's civil disobedience has bought the city time to put up bigger signs and increase awareness that times have changed at that intersection, a direct path between the downtown and the school.
And if Burg is fined, you better believe the town will take up a collection to pay it.
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .