Yard signs channel the fears — and hopes — of a fraught era
Yard signs are the new bumper sticker. The messages are direct, stark, unambiguous.
One, on a dead-end street in Watertown, declares: “Hate Has No Home Here.” It’s translated into English, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and Korean.
“It seemed really terrible and horrific to me that anyone in Watertown, Massachusetts, would be afraid to walk the streets,” said Elizabeth Del Porto, a teacher who put the sign in her front yard. “So it seemed like an upfront way to say, ‘Love wins.’ If one person who walks by our house feels safer, then it’s worth it.”
The signs, or ones like them, have popped up across the country, tens of thousands in total. There’s one under the banner of the “Welcome Your Neighbor” campaign that has sparked connections on a Facebook page and last week reached 10,000 likes.
The “Hate Has No Home Here” sign started in the Chicago neighborhood of North Park. A third-grader and a kindergartner came up with the aphorism.
The “Welcome Your Neighbor” sign — out of Harrisonburg, Va. — began to spread as rapidly as dandelion seeds across the country. The message it sends: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” It was first painted outside Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg.
The signs are meant to convey hope and send a signal that the home, business, or church standing behind the sign would provide help if someone needed it, said Immanuel’s pastor, Matthew Bucher.
“In our church, we say we’re real people following Jesus’ radical call to love and service,” Bucher said. “The sign is a reminder of who we are.”
The church has allowed other organizations to print and distribute the sign. David Landis, who helps coordinate the church’s sign campaign, said at least 50,000 signs have made their way to all 50 states and many Canadian provinces.
Thank you notes have been posted to the Facebook page, and the occasional thank you gift has been given. One person received a beautiful piece of calligraphy in Arabic from someone who saw the sign. Another received a hug from a delivery person.
“It’s not about an election cycle,” Landis said. “It’s about assigning a value to your community, your neighbor.
“I really think it’s one of the memes or symbols of the times.”
Lily Eisermann, a 24-year-old science teacher, got a “Welcome Your Neighbor” sign following an incident near her Easthampton home. Mount Tom had been tattooed with swastikas.
She could sense the fear and disbelief in her neighborhood. She saw the same fear in her students right after Election Day. Middle-schoolers asked her whether their relatives, their neighbor, or they would be deported.
“People who have never felt stigmatized or stereotyped don’t understand,” Eisermann said. “You don’t know if your neighbors are friendly. This signals we are happy to have you here.”
Dietmar Offenhuber, an assistant professor at Northeastern University in the departments of Art + Design and Public Policy, compared the yard signs to street art, a compassionate message to a broad audience.
“It’s finding a different way of leading political discourse that’s not dictated by rhetoric of mass media,” Offenhuber said. “It’s finding a way to use your own voice to express these issues.”
For Del Porto, the Watertown resident, putting the sign in her yard provided a way to make a statement in troubled times. She ordered it from a local woman she found on the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation.
The sign became a way to start a conversation on her street and to make clear her dismay at the anti-immigrant stand coming out of the Trump White House.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time we’ve been so active in our political fight,” said her husband, Jason Del Porto.
Once she planted her sign, the neighbors wanted one. The Del Portos ordered nine more.
To Jason Del Porto, assistant principal at Watertown Middle School, it was a way to be engaged and welcome others. They’ve taken their sign to rallies and marches.
“Whatever our beliefs, we want to share those ideas in a nonthreatening way,” he said.
Their sons, 14-year-old Jackson and 11-year-old Luca, have watched their parents use their front yard to express their principles. They’ve had conversations about what to do if they see injustice.
“Part of it is giving them the language of what to say when you see or hear that,” Elizabeth Del Porto said. “It’s the power of not being a bystander and not standing by.”