About 150 community members, many families with young children gathered Oct. 1 to protest against hate graffiti spray painted in the Lincoln Square area of Chicago's Northwest Side.
Community members met at Waters Elementary School, 4540 N. Campbell Ave., in front of a map of the Lincoln Square area. They were there to gather and distribute signs reading "Hate Has No Home Here," "Love is Love," and "Black Lives Matter."
The action was a response to two Lincoln Square LGBT couples who a week earlier found their yard signs defaced and hate graffiti spray painted on the sidewalk in front of their homes.
"I know this is not what we stand for," Indivisible's Jason Rieger said as he began the rally, alluding to other recent incidents of hate graffiti the neighborhood. Indivisible Lincoln Square and Chicago Progress helped organize the event and signage distribution plan. In a media release prior to the rally, the organization said they planned to distribute 4,000 signs, and by the event's end, the map was dotted with colorful highlights from volunteers committing to bring signs to their block.
"They're not just signs, they're an entryway to getting to know your neighbor," Rieger, also a Lincoln Square resident, told the audience. He asked them to make a deliberate effort to connect with neighbors, such as sitting out on front stoops and sharing donuts.
State Rep. Ann Williams summed up the rally's overall message succinctly. "Talk about love with your neighbors," she told the crowd. Many speakers shared anecdotes about recent incidents of hate or community support.
Jessica from Indivisible recalled trying to explain the recent NFL protests to a coworker who didn't believe white men held the majority of power in this country. "The first thing to sacrifice is our comfort," she said as she led the mostly white crowd in a pledge to end racism.
Andre Vasquez from Chicago Progress said he became more involved in community organizing because of having children. He wanted the crowd to reach out to their neighbors and be fearless and powerful in their organizing, calling the rally an amazing "first step" for continued action.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley reflected on responding to similar incidents of hate, such as the Loop synagogue defaced with swastikas earlier this year. Quigley felt that community events were the best medicine against hate. "The only way we can meet hate is with love," he said.
Rep. Greg Harris said that recently while walking down Clark Street, he was called an anti-gay slur for the first time in years. He noted that hate groups now feel like they have permission to spread their message. "There's a group of people who feel like we can turn back the clock," said Harris.
Ugo Okere, from the community group Fuerza Del Sol, remembered how loved he felt when his white neighbors put a Black Lives Matter sign in their window.
"Our struggles are interconnected," Okere said, telling the crowd that his Pilsen-based organization, along with many across the city, was in solidarity with their goal.
Ald. Patrick O'Connor reminded the crowd that they outnumbered the perpetrators. He mentioned that in the past week his office has given out more than 200 signs to constituents, many taking multiple signs to cover their block. O'Connor also urged the crowd to be vigilant and to keep volunteering, saying it made the neighborhood better.
"We are a great place to live because we are so diverse," O'Connor said.
Alderman and gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar echoed the call for neighbors to connect, and talked about how divisiveness gets manufactured on a national level.
"I won't allow a few people to tell us we're all so different from each other," Pawar said. Pawar also encouraged local citizens, particularly women and people of color, to run for office.
Jeff Zacharias, one half of the one of the couples at the center of it all, said he and his husband Bradd Easton had their signs up for two years without incidentin fact they often sparked conversation with neighbors and delivery people.
"It felt safe for us to have it," said Zacharias, as Easton showed the crowd their sign, now defaced with black spray paint. Zacharias said that the couple still feels "some level of trauma" from the incident, but that they appreciate all of the cakes, cards, flowers and Facebook messages they've received since.
"We're glad all of you are here to choose love," Easton told the crowd, and they applauded.
A few blocks away from the home of Zacharias and Easton, another family's home was also targeted with vandalism in the early morning hours of Sept. 24. Kat Hindmand ( who lives with her wife Jennie Brier and their 8-year-old son ) opened the front door at about 8:15 a.m. to retrieve The New York Times from the porch when she saw the sign that is affixed to the outside of their front door ( there is also a screen door ) that reads "Hate Has No Home Here" in multiple languages spray-painted over in white.