Signs bearing the message “Refugees Are Welcome Here” have sprung up in cities across the country.
Over the past year, restrictive and discriminatory legislation has proliferated across North Carolina. At the end of March, the HB 2 bill swept aside the state’s laws protecting LGBT residents against discrimination; a bill signed in October by Governor Pat McCrory limited acceptable forms of identification and deregulated police investigations into a person’s immigration status.
Still, messages of acceptance are appearing throughout the state. At the beginning of this year, some local businesses hung graphic posters in their windows, bearing the words “Refugees Are Welcome Here.” Initially posted in response to the anti-immigration bill passed in the state last fall, the messages also resonate in the wake of the more recent discriminatory policies, says Noah Rubin-Blose, a member of the Triangle, North Carolina branch of Jewish Voice for Peace, the national organization behind the posters. In the midst of the refugee crisis playing out across the globe, the signs are especially potent: the artist Micah Bazant based his design for the posters on an image of a Syrian father and child seeking refuge.
The “Refugees are Welcome Here” posters have been showing up in cities across the country since December. After Bazant finished his design in November, the JVP printed and distributed them to their various chapters. But anyone can access and print a poster, Bazant tells CityLab; they’re available for download on the JVP website. “It is everyone’s responsibility to speak out,” Bazant adds. “I hoped to inspire people to connect to the humanity of people driven from their homes—which is really an opportunity to reconnect with our own humanity.”
The JVP chapter in Washington, D.C., posted signs throughout an urban shopping mall, and also went door-to-door offering posters to independent merchants. In Portland, the posters were warmly received: when the city council passed a resolution condemning Islamophobia in December, the posters were on display outside City Hall to illustrate the message, says JVP Portland member Maxine Fookson.
In North Carolina, the response to the posters has been varied. “We’ve had people cry because they’re so moved to see the posters,” Rubin-Blose says. “We’ve also seen them torn down.” In Raleigh, two businesses displaying the refugee poster and another reading “Stop Profiling Muslims” were targeted by protesters. In response, the community has come together, Rubin-Blose says. At the Lucky Tree Café, where a sign was torn down, Raleigh residents organized a “Hangout Against Hate” to show support for both the business and the message of acceptance conveyed by the posters. “Islamophobia is not lessening now,” says Donna Nevel, one of the initiators of JVP's Network Against Islamophobia. “It’s pervasive, and it’s become even more important for us to be as visible as we can in our opposition to it."
While on the surface, the “Refugees Are Welcome Here” posters address one strand of discrimination extant in the country, the message stands in response to so many more issues. “I hope what’s happening now has helped people to see the connection between all of the ways discrimination manifests,” Rubin-Blose says. Posting a sign is a simple act, but “art is one of the most powerful tools we have for inspiring social change,” Bazant says. Just the act of putting the message out there in graphic form, Bazant adds, “can transform the conversation and our sense of what’s possible.”