It started innocently enough. A neighbor tagged me in a picture of a handwritten sign she had seen somewhere in town. She said, “Jennifer, I think you’d like this. Maybe you could make these!” The sign read:
In This House, We Believe:
Black Lives Matter
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
No Human is Illegal
Science is Real
Love is Love
And Kindness is Everything
I loved the simplicity of the messages. Putting them together did not detract from each other, but rather, amplified something I think we’ve all been feeling: the need to stand up for humanity, decency, and kindness.
Since I work in the publishing industry, I know a lot of amazing artists and graphic designers. On a lark, I threw the picture of the original sign onto my Facebook page, asking if anyone would be interested in doing a pro bono design. My friend, former colleague, and current expat Kristin Joiner of 622 Press jumped right at it and within a day or two had designed the image to perfection.
Another friend of mine, Becca Schwartz, volunteered to help figure out how to get the signs made and get the word out.
To be clear: It wasn’t my wording. It wasn’t my idea. All I did was reach out to people whom I know and ask for help. I have a full-time job, school-aged kids, and am pretty darned busy being on a couple of nonprofit boards. I was not looking for a project. I wasn’t able or willing to do all the work on my own. Neither was anyone else. We all contributed what we could, what we were best at, and took it from there.
Within minutes of posting the image to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group and each of us sharing the image on our Facebook pages, it took off. On one of those images alone, we got more than 30,0000 shares. Our inboxes were flooded with people asking how to get the signs in their area.
Through making the project public, we found the author of the original sign, yet another mother from Madison, Wisconsin, named Kristin Garvey. We asked her blessing to continue to use the spirit of her words to do good. She was gracious in letting us continue. Every step of the way we have asked her permission — we wanted her to know that we would never profit from her words, but would use them to enact what the sign states.
Before we posted, Becca, Kristin, and I had all agreed that we wanted this sign not to be just about slogans. We wanted it to do actual financial good for organizations who defend what these slogans stand for.
All told, to date we have raised over $7,000 for the ACLU through the sale of yard signs in and around Madison and the Upper Midwest. We know that there are groups all over the country making and distributing the signs. A little coffee shop called the Whittier Cafe in Denver made a batch of the signs and was handing them out to customers for free. A group in northern California copied our model and has donated almost $2,000 to the ACLU.
Just one search on Instagram for #kindnessiseverything yields images from all over the country. It’s on lawns from LA to Miami, St. Paul to San Antonio. Singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson posted a pic on Facebook of the sign in his parents’ yard, and we got goosebumps. A woman from Grand Rapids posted on Instagram that someone who had seen her sign left her a pound of coffee, along with a note that said, “I happened to drive through this neighborhood one day (after the election), and your yard sign made me happy and gave me hope!”
But after a couple of months of each of us spending four to six hours a day fielding emails from people interested in buying the image, we all felt exhausted and decided to gift the design to an organization who could continue to use it to do good while freeing us all up to return to our regular lives. We donated it to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health because we know that women’s health and well-being is crucial to the health of our state. To date, they’ve made $4,000 from the images, with many people buying signs and T-shirts to have at the women’s marches on Jan 21.
The reason why I tell this story over and over to anyone who will listen is this: We are just four women. Three of us are moms. Three of us have full-time jobs. But in coming together with a common purpose, we were able to do far more than any of us individually could have done.
I know I speak for all of us when I say that, despite what anyone says, these signs make a difference. We have gotten many requests since then to add other lines to the signs, about the environment, about religion — you name it. That is the beauty of the sign. It allows people to think: And how can we widen the tent? How can we include people, especially people who have been discriminated against or left behind?
These signs challenge us all to embrace the and. To use our skills, our talents, and yes, our precious time, to not just do better, but to do good.
Follow the sign project on Facebook at Kindness is Everything.