DULUTH — In the age of social distancing and social upheaval, signs have become a common way for people to share their beliefs, political leanings or causes they support. From Black Lives Matter to Trump support, signs and flags have become shorthand for a person's or business' beliefs.
Sometimes the signs are embraced and more signs are made and distributed. Sometimes people react negatively and attempt to remove the sign.
At least that's been the experience of Big Bear Lodge and Cabins owner Andy DeLisi. A few weeks after George Floyd was killed, he decided to put up a couple of signs in support of Black Lives Matter outside his resort property in Grand Marais, Minn.
"For me, it's both personal and it's the right thing to do," DeLisi said. "I feel very strongly about it and I think social justice needs to be at the forefront of people's minds right now."
He picked up the two yard signs from a friend in Grand Marais and placed them beside the road. He isn't sure exactly when they disappeared, but in a matter of days they were gone.
"It bothered me. Why did you take the signs? I think everybody has the freedom of speech and we all have our own opinions. You don't have to agree with it, but you do have to respect their right to voice it," DeLisi said.
Rather than travel back to Grand Marais, he decided to make his own sign and to make it more difficult to steal. He used some 3/4-inch plywood, painted it with braces and set up a trail camera beside it to watch if someone decided to tamper with it. Sure enough, within a few days, the trail camera captured two people from Iowa messing with the sign. The couple took it down and threw it into a culvert.
DeLisi contacted the Cook County Sheriff's Department and posted about the incident on social media. With help from friends online, the couple was found and, when confronted by the sheriff's office, confessed to the vandalism.
"Essentially, they didn't agree with the sign and wanted to send us a message," DeLisi said. "But I drive by so many signs every day that I don't agree with. It's their right to do that. I have to respect their right to put signs up on their property even if I don't like it or agree with their viewpoint."
DeLisi said he put the sign back up and will do his best to keep it up because he believes in the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I know there might be repercussions for it, even business-wise. People might not stay with us because they don't agree with those signs, but I'm OK with that," he said.
Flying flags on trucks
The founders of the Northern Lifted Trucks Facebook group haven't had anyone tamper with the flags which they display on their trucks, but Twin Ports residents Chris Bissonette and Zach Moore said they have been harassed.
“Once when we were at a meet, someone walked by and said they were going to burn our flags,” Moore said. “But then they noticed how many of us there were and decided against it.”
"I got letters on my truck window at work," Bissonette said. "That was the worst one. I usually take the flags down when I'm parked out there because work doesn't really like my flags. And when I walked out after work, I saw a lovely piece of fan mail."
Bissonette didn't elaborate on the exact message of the letter, but it did motivate him to step up his security on his truck. He flies 10 flags on his truck, including a American flag, a Blue Lives Matter flag, a Trump flag and flags to support U.S. troops.
Northern Lifted Trucks is a fairly new Facebook group of truck enthusiasts that Bissonette and Moore started in May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The duo said they wanted to give people who were interested in trucks a place to share tips and tricks.
Many NLT members embrace the flag-displaying part of truck culture. Some display them every day. Moore tends to save his for the meet-ups so that they don't wear down or get torn.
Bissonette said he's pretty well-known for his flags, especially among the police.
"But I only get stopped when a cop wants to say thank you for flying a flag," Bissonette said. "That's happened like three times now."
Partnering with businesses to support law enforcement
Greg Perella doesn’t want people to take his messages politically. The real estate company owner has partnered with three other local businesses in Hibbing to put up billboards with the message “We support first responders and law enforcement” for six months.
“It means that we support the enforcement of laws. It doesn’t mean we support breaking of laws, be it a police officer, sheriff, anyone. It’s not political in that way,” Perella said. “We don’t support the person who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and should be held accountable like anyone else. We aren’t against the people who are protesting, as long as they’re doing it legally.”
After purchasing the billboards, Perella turned his attention to creating 600 yard signs with the same message that were distributed freely. Within a few days the yard signs were gone. He recently put in an order for 2,000 more.
“I have a waiting list of people who want to get a sign,” Perella said. “It shows that there’s a silent majority of people who just want to be fair to everybody and want our law enforcement and first responders to know that we support them.”
He’s also arranged for another three businesses to support another billboard for six months. He hasn’t heard any negative comments or any cases of tampering.
“I think that’s because people get what I’m trying to do here,” Perella said. “I’m trying to let people who want to say something but don’t want to get political, don’t want to take a side, let them share the simple message of support.”
Sharing a message of justice and peace
Up in Two Harbors, Minn., the Rev. Paula Gaboury just put a sign up in her yard for the first time. The United Church of Two Harbors minister put smaller yard sign versions of the banners on display outside the church. The banners read “There is no peace without justice” and “Lord, empower us to pursue justice.”
The church decided to create the banners shortly after Floyd’s death, but the roots of the project go back to January when the church council began a study on implicit bias.
“The last session of that study was the same weekend that Floyd died. It was serendipitous,” Gaboury said. “So we wanted to take a stance and show the community where our heart is and what we stand behind.”
After creating the banners the church made yard and window signs with the same messages and gave them away freely. Gaboury said she hasn’t received any negative comments about the signs and has received more calls asking for signs than anything else.
“When we were first thinking about putting them up, we thought ‘Is this going to cause consternation?’” Gaboury said. “Then we all thought, so what if it does? It gives us a platform to really reach out to people and live the gospel. I think that’s important right now.”