Forget Facebook. The new place to speak your mind is your front yard

Yard signs showing messages of inclusion have been appearing in the Curtis and Land Park neighborhoods since last November.
Yard signs showing messages of inclusion have been appearing in the Curtis and Land Park neighborhoods since last November. gmcintyre@sacbee.com

The sign is fire-engine red and designed to demand your attention. Placed outside the Curtis Park home of Kathryn Griffin, it issues a clear directive.

“Love your neighbor,” it says in bold script. “Your black, brown, immigrant, disabled, religiously different, LGBTQ, fully human neighbor.”

Griffin, a retired former administrator with the U.S. Forest Service, said she stuck the sign in her yard partly because she wanted to “make a statement against the increased lack of civility that I think we’re experiencing as a nation. I think it starts local – loving your neighbors, appreciating your neighbors, reaching out to your neighbors.”

Amid continued unease from a divisive presidential election, and ongoing debate about partisan issues such as immigration and health care, people across the country have turned to a somewhat rudimentary medium to express their fundamental beliefs. Signs such as Griffin’s have appeared in front of thousands of homes, simple placards conveying similar themes of inclusion and goodwill.

Their look is reminiscent of campaign signs common to the capital city, and some even riff on previous political rhetoric. But their messages speak more to societal values than ballot-box choices, albeit in ostensibly liberal tones. “Make America Kind Again,” one urges. “In Our America, Love Wins,” states another. Yet another promises, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” the words written in Spanish, English and Arabic.

“I think people have always wanted to make their views known, but (that desire) certainly is higher now than it has been,” said Barbara O’Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State. The signs reflect people “feeling emboldened. And part of it is they’re really unhappy.”

Yard signs have achieved social consciousness before, having been used by various movements in the 1960s and ’70s, O’Connor said. But they may not have been as wide-reaching as today’s versions, with social media allowing a few popular signs to be seen and distributed from coast to coast.

This past fall, Arden-area resident Amanda Blanc received national attention for her “Make America Kind Again 2016” design, which played off the campaign slogan of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Blanc, 26, said she has shipped approximately 800 signs and still gets about an order a day online (she has updated them by removing the “2016”).

Blanc, a stay-at-home mom who sells her products on Etsy.com, describes her sign as “politically neutral” because the idea of kindness can resonate with people of any party. She said the yard sign as a medium may appeal to some as being subtler than a T-shirt or Facebook status.

“I just think it takes you out of the picture,” Blanc said. “For me and a lot of people I know, you don’t want to go around waving a sign in your hand. You kind of want it to be more anonymous ... and just let the message stand.”

With their messages, the signs are a lot like bumper stickers, said Alison Ledgerwood, a professor of psychology at UC Davis. They function “not only to signal ‘who I am, who we are,’ but also, ‘who we are not.’

“Following the November 2016 election, you saw multiple sources report an awakening of white nationalism, stories of hate crimes across the country,” Ledgerwood said. “In that context it might be especially important to individuals and groups to effectively say, ‘That is not me. This isn’t us.’ ”

The popular “In Our America” sign, which depicts an American flag, was created last November in Portland, Ore., by a community organization called “Nasty Women Get (Stuff) Done PDX.” The group’s name is an ironic twist on a term Trump used for Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in one presidential debate.

The sign reads, “In Our America: All people are equal. Love wins. Black lives matter. Immigrants and refugees are welcome. Disabilities are respected. Women are in charge of their bodies. People and planet are valued over profit. Diversity is celebrated.”

“We wanted to put it back to red, white and blue, reclaim the American flag and state our values on it,” said Kirsten Hunter, co-founder of the group.

NWGSDPDX has distributed more than 17,000 signs in Portland and across the country, donating the funds they have raised to local charities, she said. The signs cost $10 each on the manufacturer’s website.

Locally, signs including “In Our America” largely can be found in neighborhoods such as Curtis Park, East Sacramento, Land Park and midtown. By contrast, heads of neighborhood associations in Arden Arcade, Natomas, Del Paso Heights and Oak Park said they have noticed few, if any, of the signs in their areas.

Ron Maertz, an East Sacramento resident, placed an “In Our America” sign in his yard a couple months ago, in direct response to the presidential election.

“For us, it symbolizes anti-Trump ethics,” Maertz said. “We’re all for what the sign says. And (Trump) is against many of those things. So we just want to make it known that’s where we’re coming from.”

On another East Sacramento street, the “In Our America” signs created a visual foil for real American flags flying from houses. The resident of one of those homes, who asked not to be identified for fear of backlash from neighbors, said he finds the yard signs “kind of weird.”

“It lists a bunch of groups, and it just seems odd we would do that,” he said. “It seems like you’re leaving a few off the list. What if they put conservatives or Republicans on there? Would that take away from whatever it is they’re trying to say?”

Laura Thompson, a Minnesota minister who designed the “Love your neighbor” sign being seen around Curtis Park and elsewhere, said she has heard questions about why certain groups aren’t named on her placard. Thompson said she focused on groups being “marginalized” for her sign, which begins with a quote from Bible.

“It was important for me to use that (Bible quote) because I feel like a lot of the folks that are marginalizing and oppressing folks claim to be living up to the ideals and yet I think are missing the mark,” said Thompson, a minister at Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bloomington, Minn.

“The sign itself is kind of a reach to bring people back to the values that hopefully we all uphold. It is a Christian message, but it’s beyond a Christian message. I think it resonates with all faiths.”

It resonated with Terri Shettle, director of the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association. The group last week encouraged Curtis Park residents to post the “Love your neighbor” sign in yards, offering one free with an association membership or for a $10 donation.

For a group “built on inclusiveness,” the sign “just made sense to me as an extension of what we do,” Shettle said.

Thompson said her sign was a direct reaction to last Election Day, after which she noticed more people attending services and felt their uncertainty about the country’s direction. She chose red to stand out against the Minnesota snow, and as a “color we associate with love.”

“It started out as a kind of reaction,” Thompson said. “But it would be nice if (the signs) just became a symbol of who we (are), instead of who we’re trying to be. That would be my hope.”