Nearly three years after I hung the first one of these on my house, I am amazed at how far it has gone. The banner is hanging on houses and places of worship all over the U.S. Here are a few of the stories.
I made this banner and nailed it to my house because I wanted my actual, geographical neighbors — people who live in houses and trailers and apartments near me — to know that if their car battery is dead one morning, they can knock on my door for a jump. If their dog got out, I’ll walk the neighborhood and help them look for it. I don’t want to be afraid of my neighbors, and I don’t want them to be afraid of me.
Folks often stop in front of my house to talk with me about the sign, or pull in the driveway to take a picture. It’s serving its purpose.
The only real pushback I’ve had is from people who respond with some version of, “Nope. People are dying because of political decisions being made right now. We can’t make nice.”
The thing is, I completely agree. Things are urgent. It’s hard to overestimate the seriousness and consequence of decisions being made right now. Lives are on the line. It’s no time to pretend everything is alright.
But that’s not what the sign says. It doesn’t say, “No matter who you vote for, your skin color, where you are from, your faith, or who you love, everything’s cool.” It says, “No matter who you vote for, your skin color, where you are from, your faith or who you love, we will try to be here for you. That’s what community means. Let’s be neighbors.”
It doesn’t get any more serious than the questions we are grappling with as a nation and planet in these days. But given that truth, the next obvious question is, what do we do about it? And how? Which way is forward?
If you hope to transform society, there are two main schools of thought as to how that is done — one historically popular option is to kill off your opposition. Aside from all of the moral issues with that approach, it simply hasn’t proven to be too effective, historically. It breeds generations of hatred, and seldom ends or meaningfully addresses the conflict.
The other most common approach is to try to heal the wounds and transform the relationship, so that your opposition is no longer your enemy, and you can try to find a way forward together. That doesn’t mean lack of accountability, but it does mean trying to find a way to create wholeness out of brokenness. Nonviolent activism is a part of that approach. This doesn’t always work either, but it has a better track record than violence.
Peacemaking is not about avoiding conflict or pretending it’s not there. Peacemaking is about approaching conflict in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. The verb in that last sentence, though, is ‘approaching.’ Both my study and my personal experience have taught me that people are seldom rejected into making more compassionate decisions. First comes the relationship, then the possibility for transformation — for all of us, not just the people we disagree with. Though it may sound naive, I have found that in the most pragmatic of terms, it really is love — not just a feeling, but love in action — that has the best chance of healing us all.
If we can know each other, there is a better chance that we can stop dehumanizing each other. That dehumanization diminishes us all — both the dehumanized and the dehumanizer. As Booker T. Washington famously said (later paraphrased by Dr. King), “I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.” We take on moral injury when we let ourselves hate, not to mention the damage it does to the targets of that hatred, especially when that hatred is institutionalized in law or policy.
So yes, let’s sacrifice and take action to stand in the way of what we understand to be wrong, and to create what we see as right. I’m convinced that the best way to do both is together — beginning by knowing each other. That takes some risk, and some intention. It’s not painless, and it’s not 100% effective. But it’s our best option.
When we were designing the new Abraham Jam CD, White Moon, we decided to include a two-sided poster that folds into the CD case. Billy suggested that we re-design the ‘Let’s Be Neighbors’ banner to be the right dimensions for that poster, and we asked the designer, prominent graphic artist Qutaiba Al-Mahawili, if he would put something together. Qutaiba wanted it to match the rest of the CD design, of course, and he created this beautiful new rendition of the sign. I loved it so much that I am adding it to LetsBeNeighbors.org, as an alternate version.
If you want to download any of several versions of the sign, you can do that for free (or any price you choose). If you want us to create a physical banner for you, you can do that through the web site, too, or drop Barbie a note and she can help you out.
Thanks for being the change you wish to see in the world. If we want to see more kindness, more communication, more connections across boundaries designed to separate us, it’s up to us to make that happen. Thanks for standing in the circle of people who are trying to make that happen.