The anti-Gov. LePage graffiti mural that was recently painted on the Portland Water District’s wall – where graffiti art has been allowed since 2001 – is provocative. It’s hard not to have a visceral reaction to it.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said it should be removed: “I do not want it up there. It is not reflective of our values.”

Mayor Strimling, your pocket Constitution – which I’ve seen you pull out and wave around on more than one occasion – isn’t just a fashionable accessory. We the people have the right to say – and draw and sing and perform – provocative (even offensive) things without fear of being silenced by government officials.

The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It was supposed to be “the press” that protects our democracy: challenging public officials, fact-checking them, holding them accountable for what they say and do. Sadly, our “free press” has become the “for-profit media.”

American journalism traded Edward R. Murrow – “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful” – for Chris Wallace – “I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad.”

It is the purpose of art to provoke: Provoke emotion. Provoke thought. Provoke discussion. U.S. courts have tended to give artists a very wide berth with respect to criticizing and mocking public officials.

As for the anti-Gov. LePage graffiti mural: Love it, hate it, argue about it, but get used to it. Artists are the great protectors of democracy now, and our artists have definitely stepped up.

Kelley McDaniel

Portland