I was there last Friday, off of Rush Road in Chehalis when Lewis County Lollipop Guild founder Kyle Wheeler and another volunteer erected the sign: “Lewis County Welcomes Everyone.” It sort of felt like witnessing history in a way.
I had been following the efforts of the LCLG since I first heard that the registered LLC group had purchased the residential Chehalis property across the road from the Hamilton sign — and following along still as Wheeler and volunteers have communicated with city officials.
When communication with the city seemed to stall on overall display progress, Wheeler went ahead and had a storage container delivered to the LCLG property off of Rush Road. Wheeler said he was inspired to bring in the container after seeing a city councilor utilize a trailer parked in a front yard for business advertising. It was on top of this container that Wheeler and another volunteer mounted the colorful sign. The rainbow and intersecting triangle flag background on the sign is known sometimes as the “progress pride flag,” which includes representation of not only LGBTQ individuals, but also black, brown, and transgendered individuals (often considered as additional marginalized voices) as well.
In case you hadn’t followed along online, it wasn’t just Wheeler alone who decided what imagery to erect on top of the container on the property. Wheeler had allowed the wider LCLG group to weigh in on the topic via their Facebook group. The now nearly 700 members of the guild had very intentional and frank conversations about the type of display they hoped to see in the space.
As I watched Wheeler putting the finishing touches on the very real, physical display this past Friday, I thought of the commenters on Facebook who said “it’ll never happen” — that a sign would never appear in that space.
But there it was.
It seemed somehow momentous. A milestone of sorts.
As the leader of the Lollipop Guild raised a peace hand sign alongside the second volunteer, while standing on top of the container next to the finished sign, I snapped a photo and sent it to the LCLG. That photo was posted and has now been shared over 500 times from the LCLG Facebook page. The support and positivity was immediately evident.
When I awoke the next morning to see a post from the LCLG group indicating that the new sign had already been torn down by an unknown assailant, it was obvious that emotions were instantly running high.
“I knew it! Called it!”
“Everyone knew this would happen.”
“Apparently Lewis County doesn’t welcome everyone.”
Many people — including some who had felt so joyful upon the sign going up — now felt despair at the sign having been damaged. Some went as far to say things like: “I always knew Lewis County was like this,” alluding to Lewis County’s sometimes perceived reputation for bigotry.
I was a little surprised by this reaction, because you have to remember that the people who put up the welcome sign — and the “Rural Americans Against Racism” and “Love Thy Neighbor” signs — live here in Lewis County, too. And, the only way to change a perception is to take ownership to create a new one.
Attacking that sign, in my opinion, has done nothing but add legitimacy to the cause(s) of the Lewis County Lollipop Guild and given them additional steam. Violence against something that initially brought people so much joy has now triggered what appears to be a surge of donations and numerous offers within the group of labor and materials to replace the display. The attempt to push back on the message only seems to have collectively strengthened the group’s resolve.
This is where I start to feel shades of Hamilton sign deja vu.
The action also seemed to lend itself to the idea that, for maybe one person, removing the competing sign wasn’t about free speech, but more about propping up a dominant voice and tone above all others. But, for credit in their own right on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also seen several adamant supporters of the Hamilton sign come to the defense of the LCLG’s sign, too.
By the time I drove by the LCLG site on Sunday, a lone rainbow flag on a farm t-post softly lilted in the breeze atop the container.
While the attack against the display on private property should be just as roundly denounced as any attempt on the Hamilton sign, I do have to admit that I’m excited to see what the Lewis County Lollipop Guild comes up with next.
I’m also curious to know why the sign smasher left behind $40, among other things, at the scene.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at firstname.lastname@example.org.