The Sign Wars

Is it more than a black and white issue?


Signs Appear

On the weekend of Nov. 4th, white supremacy signs were posted up on telephone poles and plastered over community members’ yard signs, covering messages promoting diversity and inclusion with messages promoting the alt-right. Needless to say, community members did not take it lightly.

After various residents found their yard signs to be covered the next morning, East Grand Rapids Mayor Amna Seibold was quick to respond that the white supremacy leaflets found in various East neighborhoods have been reported across the country, adding that “racism has no place in our community.”

Sophie Hojinacki’s ‘19 “In This House, We Believe…” yard sign was covered by an alt-right poster with the words “It’s Okay To Be White” written on it with a picture of Donald Trump.

A Facebook Group Forms

“It was disturbing to see that these beliefs supporting white supremacy are still alive today and that people [in our community] found the need to promote them by overriding people’s messages of peace,” Hojnacki said.

Amidst community members’ confusion over the signs, members of the EGR Parents for Promoting Education on Racism Facebook page, founded by Angie Walters, were discussing ways to combat white supremacy within the community.

The Facebook page was created by parents who wanted a platform to communicate their concerns regarding racism in the community. The page also acts as a medium where parents can discuss ideas to expand their kids’ knowledge on racism and develop further ways to combat white supremacy in EGR.

Parents Respond

“It is heartbreaking to hear stories about children who have suffered discrimination in our community and schools. It is important that we investigate what can be improved,” Walters said.

With the hopes of educating East students on racial discrimination, the parents of the Facebook page hope that their kids, with a more cognizant perspective, can counteract white supremacy that continues to threaten society today.

“I believe that EGR students can make a big impact when they go out into the world,” Walters said. “We want students to be fully prepared to succeed in a variety of situations and within diverse communities.”

As being discussed within the Facebook page, community members are wondering which steps should be taken next in combating white supremacy.

In response to Seibold stating that rallies are not the best solution as they are simply giving hate a platform, there has been much controversy on whether holding protests and putting up anti-alt-right signs are the most impactful actions, or if there are other more effective solutions.

Resolutions are Formed

“I do not think fighting hate with hate is the answer. However, staying silent isn’t going to solve any issues either, so I think discussion is the only way we are going to better understand our neighbors,” Hojnacki explained. “Putting up posters to attack the other side is not the answer to fighting these supremacy signs.”

Walters agrees that staying silent is the exact opposite reaction EGR community members must have in response to the signs. Instead, she believes that speaking out, while refraining from doing so in a hateful way, is the best action to take.

“We cannot turn our heads and pretend that everything is okay. First, as a community we can educate ourselves,” Walters explained. “Next, we can reach outside of our community to start conversations, which can lead to action. We all must help change the culture and that starts with speaking up.”

Over the past few weeks, community members have shown that EGR will not tolerate alt-right messages within the community.

Seibold stated in her message responding to the posters that “these people tried to upset our community and we’re stronger than that.”