We’ve been talking a lot lately about the meaning of monuments. There’s the debate around statues and memorials to people who fought for the Confederacy. Do they celebrate hate? There’s talk about taking down the Lenin statue in Fremont. Does it honor a murderer?
None of us gets to decide which public tributes stay or go. But there is one thing, a different kind of monument, that any of us can put in public view any time we want.
A lawn sign.
“Pretty sure these are actually required for home ownership in my neighborhood,” tweeted Megan T., who lives in Hillman City.
She was talking about a sign she’s seen everywhere — one that’s turned up in hundreds of local lawns since January. It’s a colorful list of principles that begins with, “In this house we believe.”
It’s hardly the only familiar sign on Seattle lawns these days. Black Lives Matter signs are pretty prevalent in some neighborhoods. As are the signs that state, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” in Spanish, English, and Arabic.
In Beacon Hill, neighbors have been sharing a template that lets them customize a sign with whatever message they want: “We stand together with ____. We stand with all people.” One version adds “courage.” Another, “refugees.”
It’s hard to know where the most familiar signs came from, or how to trace their spread.
In the case of the “In this house we believe” signs, though, most all of them came from Seattle photographer Tara Clark.
Here’s how: Back in January, Tara was feeling “really frustrated and unsettled” about everything going on in the country ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration. She found a poster online by designer Kristin Joiner that summed up a lot of what she believed. Inspired, she added a note about water and religious freedom, altered the colors and layout, and took the new design to a sign maker.
“I just wanted to put a stake in the ground about what I believe in front of my house,” she said. Literally.
Making one sign was expensive, Tara learned. Making 200, though, would cost a lot less per sign. So, on a gamble that she wasn’t the only one who wanted to post her principles, she put in the order.
Fast forward several months, and Tara’s gamble paid off. She’s sold more than 4,000 of the signs all over the country, including, she thinks, about 3,000 in Seattle. And she’s donated all the proceeds from the signs and other merchandise she’s got on her Spread Love site to nine nonprofits, including KUOW, Planned Parenthood, and OneAmerica.
So far, that’s $41,500.
“It’s been crazy,” she said.
Not too long ago, Tara made a flag 20 feet wide by 14 feet tall with the same list of principles that’s on her sign. Except instead of beginning with “In this house,” the message starts with, “In this city.” She’d like to see her flag fly over the Space Needle someday.
Which brings me to some questions.
We’re staking our beliefs on our lawns, and that’s absolutely fascinating. Political and social statements are a feature of our neighborhoods now. And we know why: The signs are both a reaction to a wild, anxious political climate and an attempt to fix it.
So we should ask: Is it working?
I’ve heard that the signs are making neighborhoods feel safer. That they’re standing up to hate when hate seems to be gaining the upper hand. That they’re reassuring people who feel threatened or vulnerable. That’s awesome.
I’ve also heard, though less often, that the signs can help people feel better without their having to do much. That in gentrifying neighborhoods, the signs can seem to “welcome” communities who were there first. And one local conservative told me that because she doesn’t believe in what’s on the signs in the exact same way a liberal does, the signs make her feel unwelcome.
Do you have a sign like this on your lawn? Why did you put it up, and what impact do you think it’s having in your neighborhood, and on the city? There’s a lot more to unpack here, so let us know…