Welcome signs: The message needn’t be political
“No matter where you are from, we love you as our neighbor. Welcome to Ridgefield.”
It’s written in Spanish on the red stripe at the bottom of the signs, in English on the white band across the middle, and in Arabic in the blue at the top. The picture is Lady Liberty — her torch of freedom held high, just like in New York Harbor.
“It’s about love and humanity and making people feel welcome,” said Alan Ibbotson.
He had the signs made — 50 of them — and distributed them among friends, neighbors and Facebook followers for a suggested donation of $5 each.
All proceeds from the signs went “to the International Rescue Committee to aid the refugee crisis around the world,” Ibbotson said.
He is awaiting delivery of a second batch of signs, and for these he will take $5 as cost reimbursement and recommend that people make additional donations to the rescue committee. Anyone interested in getting a sign may join or follow the Welcome to Ridgefield Facebook page to see when the new batch arrives.
The message is not political, Ibbotson insists.
“It’s as much to me about celebrating the people of Ridgefield, as far as making people feel welcome wherever they’re from. It’s not a political thing at all, at all,” he said.
“I know there are people who are going to see it that way, or twist it that way.”
‘Not a political thing’
Coming out as they did — amid the national reaction to President Trump’s first initiatives to limit immigration, tighten the borders, and deport more undocumented immigrants — the signs may, of course, be read as a statement on the politics of the moment.
Ibbotson says he understands that.
“I don’t know that you can completely disconnect them,” he said. “You can still treat this as its own thing. There is a climate where people are fearful and not necessarily feeling as welcome as they were. The other reality is this is a welcoming town.”
But he is adamant about the apolitical nature of the signs’ basic “welcome, stranger” message.
“I will tell you, people who have been collecting the signs, that signed up and have gotten the signs, are from all sides of the political spectrum. This is not a political thing,” Ibbotson said.
The initiative was inspired by the way Ibbotson felt he’d been welcomed.
“I wanted to do it because I have had the experience,” said Ibbotson, who speaks with a British accent.
“Even though I’m a white guy with a nice accent, I still had the benefit of feeling the open, welcoming spirit of Ridgefield.”
Ibbotson and his husband, Steven Greenfield, bought a house in town 10 years ago, and moved out of the city to live here full-time with their two adopted children, Isaac, 16, and Jesiah, 12, six years ago.
“You don’t see that many same-sex couples with kids out here,” he said.
“We were a little bit nervous. We didn’t know what the reception was going to be. And the reaction was alternatively amazingly welcoming, generous of spirit, and kind. We were really happy we were in Ridgefield.”
The signs’ design was based on something Ibbotson saw used in other parts of the country.
He added the Ridgefield aspect to make it town-specific.
He’s had “nothing but positive responses” to the signs and their message — whether by emails or people writing on the “Welcome to Ridgefield” page he set up on Facebook.
“I’ve had so many messages of support, saying, ‘Thank you for doing this,’” Ibbotson said.
One supporter, Siobhan Fisher, liked the message enough to put it up on a big banner in front of her house at 325 Main Street, prominent across from Lounsbury House and beside St. Stephen’s Church.
Ibbotson said he’s gotten messages of support from outside the Ridgefield community — many from close by, communities like Danbury and Wilton, but also from farther afield.
Some people have reached out to him to borrow the template of his design and do similar things in their towns.
“Somebody in Wilton wanted to do it there, so I sent them the design, so she could use it in Wilton,” he said.
“People seem to be looking to do the same thing. They’re looking for a way to show support and express the welcoming spirit all over the country, judging by the emails I’ve been getting and requests I’ve had to send a version of the sign to them, to do in their own towns,” he said.
“The point about this not being a political thing is really important. Some people will look to politicize it — it doesn’t need to be.
“It’s just about the people of Ridgefield welcoming people, regardless of where they’re from.”