West Virginia Sees 'Stump Speech' Revival
WESTON, W.Va. – In the middle of a speech about the outsourcing of American jobs and the reasons Democrat John Kerry (search) should be elected president, sheet metal worker Chris Carlough glanced down at where he stood and grinned.
"The last time I was standing on a tree stump yelling about something, I was 7 years old," he said. "And I was falling fast."
No worries: This stump has a safety railing.
The term "stump speech" has been around for a century, but in this small West Virginia town, people are bringing the literal meaning back to the campaign-season expression.
On Sunday, for the third time this election year, people with issues on their mind hopped atop the stump and spouted off to a crowd of about 75, bringing democracy back to basics.
Carlough, an organizer with the International Association of Sheet Metal Workers (search), is used to giving speeches as he campaigns for Kerry across West Virginia. But the stump was different, planted on a quiet residential street filled with brilliant fall foliage and the aroma of fresh hot dogs.
"It feels like I've gone back in time," Carlough, of Gaithersburg, Md., said after his turn on the one-time tree. "I imagine our forefathers looking around and finding the tallest thing they could see to get up there and get their point across. It's great."
The stump was a silver maple once, but when a storm damaged it four years ago, owner Eric Spelsberg was left with a hunk of dead wood 4 feet high and 4 feet around. Someday, he thought, maybe the stump could become something.
One night in May, while watching TV, he heard the words "stump speech." After the third or fourth time, he got an idea to transform it into a platform. He later added hand rails.
It is an equal-opportunity stump, with no restrictions on who speaks.
At the first event, Spelsberg and wife Julia fed the neighbors who turned out. The second time, the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce paid for a barbecue. On Sunday, a Democratic women's club fed the crowd.
"This is as American as apple pie. Something this traditional, you just can't miss," said Monty Warner, the Republican candidate for governor, who on Sunday debated Weston Mayor Jon Tucci on the merits of a proposed casino in the former psychiatric hospital that stands empty downtown.
Spelsberg, a community organizer, declined to discuss his own politics.
"I'm an advocate of free speech," he said.