Grassroots campaign finds a home in the ’burbs

Grassroots campaign finds a home in the ’burbs

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On a recent Friday afternoon, Elayne Aion arranged stacks of brightly colored lawn signs in a corner of her Glenside gift shop.

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“Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day,” Aion said, grateful that the printer delivered another 200 signs before the weekend. 

Since Aion’s Dovetail Artisans on Glenside Avenue started selling the “Hate Has No Home Here” signs in January, more than 2,000 have flown off the shelves.

The hot-ticket item originated in Chicago as a way to counter the uptick in hate crimes and pervasive hate speech following the presidential election. Beneath the anti-hate message, the words are translated into Hebrew, Arabic, Korean and Spanish. A heart emblazoned with an American flag sits on each side of the sign, which is blue on one side and red on the other.

The campaign is a nonpartisan one meant to promote tolerance and peace, and not necessarily any political statement.

“I know what this stands for for me, but that might be different from my next-door neighbor; I’m looking at eight signs right now on my block, and all of those owners probably have a slightly different nuanced interpretation of what hate is,” said Kate Thomson, who spoke to PGN while standing outside her Glenside home. 

Thomson learned of the sign campaign back in December from a neighbor.

“I thought, I need to literally put a stake in the ground on this issue. I thought I would get 20 and maybe some friends will want one; I sent out a text and five minutes later everyone wanted one. So I thought I’ll do a print run of 100. That first 100 turned into 700 in 24 hours. And then that 700 turned into 6,000 over the course of two months.” 

For a time, Thomson was distributing the signs from her front porch.

“I’d say probably 300 people came through my house in the beginning. The majority of them were upset and needed to talk but a lot said that they just needed to start somewhere. It was almost like a sense of shock and paralysis and they just didn’t know where to start, what to tackle first,” she said. “But it was heartening that this wasn’t just people grabbing a sign off a shelf. These people Paypaled some random person money, showed up at my house and took time out of their day. They were pretty motivated.” 

Thomson, a marketing professional, launched a Facebook page for the campaign, and soon several local stores offered to assist with distribution, including Dovetail Artisans.

Aion, 63, a native of nearby Elkins Park, has lived in the Ardsley section of Glenside for 20 years, operating Dovetail Artisans for the last 10 in downtown Glenside. She and her wife have two of the yard signs on either end of their property. 

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“I originally ordered four, for [the store] and home,” she said. “Then I met Kate and she was distributing them out of her house at the time and I said I’d be happy to be a distribution site. It just felt like something good to do.”

Dovetail and the other sites order from Fort Washington-based Gallop Printing, which uses union labor. The distributors pay for the signs up front and then sell them at cost, about $5, making no profit. 

“At first, nobody wanted to lay out a ton of money to buy 600 signs and then have momentum die down and they’d just be looking at the signs, dusting them off,” Aion said, noting that distributors were ordering in small amounts, leading to wait lists of hundreds of customers. “But now we know momentum is continuing to grow.” 

Aion has actually had to put out money to hire extra help at Dovetail as business booms.

“People are very appreciative I’m distributing the signs. For me, that’s my activism. It’s pretty much a full-time job. And I already had a full-time job,” Aion laughed, noting that, even though her workload has increased, she’s grateful for the opportunity to interact with supporters of the campaign. “Many of them just feel the need to separate themselves from the hate, to say that they embrace the diversity of their neighborhood; it’s not OK to just put up with diversity.”

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Seeing the area saturated with the signs has provided a needed spark of hope, Thomson said. 

“It’s really heartening,” she said. “I think I knew, intellectually speaking, that there were a lot of people out there who felt the same way that I did about this message but it’s easy to let get lost in the shuffle of the news. It’s been a dark and confusing time in our history — that includes the campaign, not just the election — so it’s heartening to see these signs popping up and go, ‘OK, that’s right. There are a lot of people out there who are really committed and brave enough to stand up with this sort of message.’ That makes me feel a lot more optimistic about the future.”

Aion has seen customers come from well beyond the Glenside area, including Northeast Philadelphia, New Jersey and Bucks County. She has even had folks buy signs to ship to relatives overseas. 

Thomson updates the Glenside “Hate Has No Home Here” page almost daily with information on which distribution sites have the signs in stock. Car magnets are also on their way.

Thomson said the near-100 messages she gets every day have shifted from where to find signs into how people can start their own campaigns. More than a dozen localized Facebook campaigns and distribution sites have cropped up in the region since the Glenside page started.

With the distribution sites set up and nearly 3,000 followers on the Glenside Facebook page, Thomson said she’s now changing focus onto how to support those who want to take the campaign’s message to another level. 

“Now the conversation is around how do we get people to live into those lawn signs further. Whether it’s a workshop talking to kids about race, or anything across the spectrum of what people define hate as; I’m open to ideas from everyone in the community as to what we can do to extend our ability to listen, to learn from each other, to continue to make progress.” 

“It’s not ‘put up a sign and you’re done; you’ve done your civic duty,’” Aion added. “Communities are coming together, neighborhoods are coming together. The more people see these signs, the more motivated they are to say, ‘Yeah, we need to be steadfast in our resistance to hate crimes, to racism, to anti-Semitism.’ This is about a community coalescing around the idea of diversity and safety. I’ve always loved Glenside because it’s so diverse but I don’t think people thought about these concepts in such active terms until things got so scary.”

For more information about the Glenside campaign, visit https://www.facebook.com/hatehasnohomehereglenside/. For more information about Dovetail Artisans, visit http://thedovetailartisans.com.


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