Signs signify

by Wade Rathke

New Orleans   In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent mass protests, support for the Black Lives Matter movement and organizations rose dramatically across the US population. Some protests continue with widening demands for police reform. Other reform efforts have been thwarted, including the refusal of Congress to stop the militarization of local police units. Corporate and cultural institutions continue to play catch-up to their history of ignoring race or supporting white supremacy in ways either direct or subtle. This fight is ongoing.

There is much advice, duly appreciated, from sources near and far, on how to be more attuned to this moment and where to stand in support and solidarity with the demands. Many have counseled that putting a sign up that says “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe” is not enough. Certainly, they are correct. A simple sign is absolutely not enough.

But, it’s something, it matters, and it’s better than nothing.

There may be pockets of the country where such signs are ubiquitous. Like Brooklyn or Berkeley or Cambridge. Perhaps they are so common that they dilute the impact, have become prosaic, and have lost their power? I get that.

A sign should not be a pass to excuse the lack of action. Nonetheless, a sign signifies, and that is important.

In my travels, now limited in recent months to the middle south, seeing a mural or post that Black Lives Matter, tells me something about the neighborhood. Seeing a sign in front of someone’s house or business, tells me even more. It identifies the people behind those closed doors and shutters as fellow travelers. Of course, it’s no surprise that signs are up where we live and work, but walking Lucha in the predawn, we are often surprised and heartened seeing a sign somewhere on an unknown neighbor’s house or fence identifying them with a Black Lives Matter sign.

Remember in past decades, before child predation was polarized, when signs in windows, were used to identify houses willing to shelter children on the run? ACORN used signs to ward off blockbusters in the early 1970s in Little Rock saying “This House is Not for Sale.” They worked. ACORN used signs saying “No Bulldozing” in New Orleans after Katrina to save the neighborhoods so that families could return. In a million political campaigns, yard signs still matter, allow voters and politicians to gauge their support, and build momentum and support for candidates and causes.

It’s a big country. Any ways that link us together and allow us to identify and connect with people who feel the same way and are willing to be counted, builds for the future, whether moment or movement, and certainly when it comes to the potential for organization.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International

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