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History of the WIMBY campaign

The WIMBY campaign was first conducted in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the 1993 in response to the burning of a swastika on the lawn of an interracial couple in an integrated, working class neighborhood of small homes on Ann Arbor’s North side. Further below, guidelines will be presented by way of an account of how the WIMBY materials were used in this first WIMBY Campaign. Since 1993, the same approach has been used consistently in a number of instances.

For instance, the WIMBY campaign was conducted door to door in a neighborhood where an African-American paper boy had been harassed. It was used on North Campus of the University of Michigan by residents opposed to efforts by some other residents to prevent same sex couples with children from being allowed to lease family housing units. It was used by the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County in a City of Ann Arbor-funded community awareness campaign which was conducted door to door in a neighborhood of historic homes where there had been organized resident opposition to rental housing in the area. (In that instance, the WIMBY sign was altered to place a Fair Housing logo on it.) And it was used as part of a community mailing by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. There has not been a great deal of use of the WIMBY material since that time. In 2004, a website was created (www.wimby.org) to begin to reinvigorate the WIMBY campaign. At this time, volunteers are sought to be available to do outreach to communities where a bias incident has taken place, and there are renewed efforts to utilize the WIMBY sign and pledge.

In response to the swastika burning, a group of veteran activists met and considered a response. At first we thought we would picket the police station to protest what we felt had been an insufficient police response. Then we thought, why not do something different? Larry Fox and Michael Dover, who later incorporated Welcome in My Back Yard, Inc. (as a nonprofit corporation in Michigan) met with the affected couple and obtained their permission to do something entirely different! We would fight NIMBY with WIMBY!

We wrote the WIMBY pledge and sought feedback from other activists. Some said that what we proposed wasn’t radical enough! We said the goal wasn’t to be radical. The goal was to raise consciousness about the principles of the WIMBY pledge, to provide residents of the affected neighborhood with one small way in which they could express their feelings about the larger issues associated with the bias incident which took place in their neighborhood, and to provide some solace to the persons who were the victims of the incident that some or even many of their neighbors are in disagreement with what happened to them. The goal was not to substitute for other forms of response, whether that be letter writing, or picketing, or meetings with elected officials, or media contacts, legal responses, or police responses. The goal was simply to provide this one freestanding way in which people could respond. In a later visit to the neighborhood, we found that for many of the dozens of people in that neighborhood who chose to sign the pledge and display the sign, it remained up for the recommended year. It was much appreciated by the persons whose lawn had been defaced. The police did identify a suspect, a former resident of the neighborhood, but had no proof of who was responsible.

Although our policy (see further below) is not to re-visit those who have put up a sign, in meeting people subsequently in a variety of circumstances who indicated that they did sign the pledge and put up the sign, we heard one story after another of the impact of the WIMBY campaign. It turned out that we were right to think that putting up the sign lead to neighbors talking with neighbors about the WIMBY sign, the WIMBY pledge, and the local bias incidents. It did, in other words, affect community discourse. Also, for many of the people who put up the sign, this was the very first time they had ever done something like this. Many had never attended a protest rally, or had a political bumper sticker on their car, or even signed a petition. It was, for many, their first time speaking out, and their first time seriously considering committing to principles such as those on the WIMBY pledge. Welcome in My Back Yard, Inc., does not claim that this campaign provides any kind of long-term strategy for social change. Implementing the WIMBY campaign can, however, be one way in which communities respond to incidents of bias. We authorize the use of the WIMBY material in this spirit and according to these guidelines.

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