This is part of Trump Slump, a series of stories checking in on how things are going now for the people and products that were riding high during the last administration.
You know the sign. Its black background features various axioms of modern progressivism in rainbow colors: “In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter. Women’s rights are human rights. No human is illegal. Science is real. Love is love. Kindness is everything.” Alongside pussyhats, the “kindness is everything” sign will likely prove to be one of the most identifiable commercial artifacts from the #resistance movement. It’s popped up in lawns throughout the nation and in foreign locales like the U.K. and Australia during President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. It sparked numerous disputes with homeowner associations that were wary of any signage broadcasting even a whiff of political affiliation. Students in some school districts demanded that the sign be displayed on campus to foster a more inclusive learning environment, while parents in other areas made a fuss to get teachers to remove it from classrooms.
The sign has been everywhere, but the very first one appeared in Madison, Wisconsin, where a librarian named Kristin Garvey came up with the concept in 2016, the day after Trump was elected. “The sense of loss I felt that day was more than I’ve ever felt after an election,” she told me recently. In her low spirits, she put her kids down for a nap and, she says, thought about the people who would be most affected by Trump’s presidency. Garvey pulled together a number of quotes she found from activists, liberal politicians, and different social justice movements and inscribed them in Sharpie on a white poster board. “I don’t really know why I decided on a sign,” she said. “Maybe it shows my age more than anything.”
But it quickly made its way to the internet: According to Garvey, a passerby took a picture of the sign and posted it to Facebook, where it was noticed by local activist Jennifer Rosen Heinz, who then recruited artist Kristin Joiner to stylize the copy with neon hues and pleasingly erratic fonts. The three women banded together to sell physical and digital versions, with proceeds going to the ACLU, Garvey said. Demand became so intense that they couldn’t manage the franchise themselves, so they decided to hand the rights for the sign over to an organization that had the operational bandwidth and could really use the revenue.
That organization was the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, a small nonprofit dedicated to advocating for policies that ensure the health, safety, and economic security of women in Wisconsin. Its founder and executive director, Sara Finger, recalls that she was in a hotel room in D.C. for a health care reform convention when she received a call from Rosen Heinz, offering up the image as a means to keep Finger’s organization afloat. “I didn’t really have much of an expectation at the time about what that would look like, but I saw it as an incredible gift, and I went ahead and created the online stores and put things into motion,” Finger told me. Since then, the sign has generated more than $300,000 for WAWH. Finger said the sign “honestly saved us, because we were having a really hard time securing funder donations for advocacy work.”
WAWH sells the sign on a number of e-commerce sites, handling the bulk of the transactions on CafePress and Zazzle. Finger provided Slate with monthly sales numbers for the sign on the two platforms: Demand really took off in January 2017, and sales jumped during particularly contentious cultural moments, including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, and the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. The sign’s popularity has been a sort of barometer for emotions among the resistance left.
Given its success, the sign has perhaps unsurprisingly spawned a number of imitators. Search the terms “kindness is everything” or “in this house” and you’ll find a litany of listings on Amazon and Etsy selling copies or near copies. Garvey and Finger don’t have a problem with copycats in principle, though they do have one objection: “I don’t want people to make money off of it. If they’re donating the money they make, then that’s fine,” Garvey said. “These words aren’t my words. They’re just the order I put them in.”
Finger has taken to getting lawyers involved when it’s clear that a seller isn’t earmarking the profits for a cause related to the values communicated through the sign. “Those people who have completely co-opted it, the exact image, and have used it to benefit themselves have been frustrating, because that’s not at the heart of what the sign stands for,” she said. Her lawyers have contacted people requesting that they cease selling the sign if that’s the situation, but charity-minded people can apply for authorization rights through the group’s site. There are also a number of parodies of the sign spouting conservative axioms or mocking its allegedly “simplistic platitudes.” But Finger considers these versions to be merely “inspired” by the original.
Now that Trump has left the White House, sales are still chugging along, though they’re not quite what they used to be. There was a lull in demand between January and now, which Finger partly attributes to a sense of post-inauguration complacency. Garvey said she’s hopeful but not outright confident about the sign’s longevity post-Trump. She thinks that the sign could be updated to include quotes related to the current wave of violent attacks on Asian Americans or the rapid proliferation of anti-transgender bills in state legislatures this year. “I hope people don’t think that just because we have a new president we’re done,” she said. The original sign Garvey etched with Sharpie currently sits in the National Woman’s Party museum. She now has a copy displayed outside her own home. “I don’t know if people are getting sick of signs in their yards or not,” she said, “but I hope it stays.”