Design by Emma Sortor

Political signage around Ann Arbor, though often a year-round affair for many students, protestors and organizations, has been amplified by the midterm elections, from splashes of “Vote Yes on Prop 3” signs across the Diag to yard signs promoting local candidates.

I was not accustomed to this politically charged environment until coming to college, nor did I realize its prominence until a recent controversy occurred in my hometown.

Grosse Pointe’s St. Paul on the Lake Church garnered media attention last month after displaying a large “VOTE NO ON PROP 3” sign on its front lawn, accompanied by dozens of small white crosses. Driving past the church with my mom, I saw the sign and felt a knot tighten within me — a visceral response triggered by not only frustration toward a message I don’t agree with, but its size, lettering and language.

It was eventually taken down for violating city code regarding the size of signs, but its message continued to reverberate within me when I returned to Ann Arbor for the start of the school year. It struck me in the physical context of my hometown, where such signs are a rarity. Looking around Ann Arbor, I thought: Were there any signs here that I was missing?

Kerrytown’s sister funhouses: MichMinnies Cooperative

I hurried over to MichMinnies Cooperative on Halloweekend, my Princess Peach costume hidden beneath a U-M hoodie. Though it was dark outside, I could still admire the exterior of the houses as I approached: the blue “Michigan House” and, sitting just next to it, a large purple townhouse named “Minnies.” Together, they make “MichMinnies,” one of 16 co-ops in Ann Arbor’s Inter-Cooperative Council.

The brightly colored co-op stands out among the other houses on North State Street. A variety of signs, flags and other objects dotted the wrap-around porch of Michigan House, making it an anomaly among its plain surroundings. Signs on the front of the blue building advertised carbon neutrality, LGBTQ+ pride, Bernie Sanders and perhaps most infamously, a cardboard sign that reads RONALD REAGAN’S GRAVE IS A GENDER NEUTRAL BATHROOM.

The inside of the building held the same chaos of posters. The walls were clustered with a variety of artwork and pictures of friends, as well as a large swordfish sculpture, a presumably stolen bus route sign, caution tape and DIY wanted posters, among other aesthetic curiosities.

I would later learn from MichMinnies’s president, LSA senior Mack Kroll, that the co-op was originally named the Michigan Socialist House, established to serve students seeking affordable housing during the Great Depression.

Because of the houses’ consistent political and cultural leanings inherent to the community of housemates, the signage isn’t reflective of just one member of the co-op, but is rather a shared representation of the intertwined values and personalities of MichMinnies.

The occupants of the co-op are not the only ones that enjoy the inclusive environment MichMinnies offers. Kroll recalled a time when a mother walking with her son noted his interest in the house. The mother relayed to Kroll that they had always passed it on their way to the son’s preschool, and that the son would tell his mom how much he liked the decorations. After taking down their former trans flag due to wear and tear, the mother gifted MichMinnies a new one.

With all these signs, these physical manifestations of the houses’ cooperative identities, the most important thing for Kroll is that people living in and visiting MichMinnies feel like they can express themselves without hesitation.

My first time there, despite not knowing anyone, I felt welcome in the chaos of the property and, in that interview, welcomed by Kroll’s kind disposition. Knowing it was a safe place for everyone, even though I am not a part of the marginalized groups explicitly uplifted by the signage, makes me feel more comfortable being there myself and bringing my friends.

A visual slap in the face: The Diag Preacher

On my way to work, I saw a sign in the Diag that read, “JESUS SAVES FROM HELL.” It was strapped to the back of a man with slightly balding, dark brown hair. On his front was another sign, a Bible verse to the effect of “ye shall save thee.”

As I neared Hatcher Graduate Library, a young woman handed me a “Vote Yes on Proposal 3” pamphlet. Gretchen Whitmer would be at the Diag in mere hours campaigning for issues like Proposal 3. I looked down at the hot pink pamphlet, then at the preacher, then back down. I turned to the woman.

“I’m about to go talk to that guy — please don’t judge me.”

I’ve seen students interact with the Diag preachers before, but never out of genuine curiosity, only through middle fingers and jeers. I introduced myself and my position on The Daily, and asked if he’d be comfortable being interviewed.

His name was Jeremy. I was too hesitant to ask for his last name. He seemed calm and unfazed by my presence. He said he was there to bring people into the Christian faith and that most of us are going to hell, and only Jesus can save us from that fate.

These ideas are the truth, he asserted, and if that’s offensive to students, then that’s okay — because they need to hear it. Most of the time he’s ignored, but occasionally someone will jeer at him or even stop to hear him out. Just then as Jeremy was talking, a student stuck out his tongue and gave him the thumbs down.

I asked him why he wanted to tell his message on this particular day. He retorted that this was a message everyone should hear, and it was beautiful weather for him to be out on the Diag preaching his message. But I wasn’t fully convinced that was his only justification for being here.

“Are you here because of Gretchen Whitmer visiting today?”

His face lit up. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “Guess I picked a good day to be here.”

Perhaps he was being honest. In my rush, I thanked him and took one of his bright yellow pamphlets, which outlined the different types of sins and how they all lead to hell. I thanked Jeremy for his time, tucked the yellow pamphlet under my pink Proposal 3 pamphlet, and continued my day.

Maybe it was just the cinnamon roll I was digesting, but I felt sick. I’m sure a lot of people can laugh off Jeremy’s sign and not give it a second thought, especially when these occurrences are considered a rite of passage here at Michigan. However, that laughter doesn’t take away from the uncomfortable fact that someone can freely spew homophobic, violent rhetoric toward people, toward our campus community.

The juxtaposition between MichMinnies’s welcoming, openly liberal appearance and Jeremy’s sign effectively damning me to hell represents a dual reality of Ann Arbor and places like it. As much as we can tote the message that Ann Arbor is a welcoming and inclusive space, pockets of hatred fester uninhibited. And sometimes, existing in this place can feel like walking through a landmine.

Signs and snacks on Election Day Eve: Washtenaw County Democratic Party

That next Monday after meeting Jeremy, I made my way down from the University of Michigan Museum of Art to State Street, feeling discouraged; the line to update my voting registration was at least an hour and a half long. I was too busy to wait that day, so I’d have to come back the next day to update my voter registration and cast a ballot. Little did I know lines would be three times as long the next day, with students waiting up to five hours to register.

Between the UMMA and Angell Hall, a group of volunteers stood at a table, passing out stickers, voting guides and cookies. I walk down State Street multiple times a week and first noticed the table about midway through the semester. I’d never really considered who these volunteers were. They were clearly left-leaning based on the Ruth Bader Ginsberg sign that was bolstered on a cart next to the table holding more signs, but besides that I knew nothing about them.

When I approached, the volunteers were coordinating getting snacks and water for those waiting in line at the UMMA. One volunteer asked me what kind of snacks would keep me waiting in line. I said water, maybe Gatorade. She then asked me how I would be voting.

“All this,” I replied, motioning to their set-up. 

Theresa Reid was in charge of the tabling, led by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. She was in constant motion: picking up phone calls, packing up cookies, handing out stickers, pins and voting guides and engaging with pedestrians.

I asked her why she was out here encouraging others to vote. In her answer, she strongly emphasized her role as a Democrat. As a Democrat, she wants people to vote a progressive ticket; as a Democrat, she wants to protect our democracy and bodily rights. Her signs reflected these goals, with bold lettering and hands with varying skin tones raised up in solidarity.

I felt embarrassed hearing that last point. Often I hurry past the volunteers on my way to class or home. I don’t necessarily want to be rude, but I have places to be. Maybe if I had paid more attention to them, I wouldn’t be stuck getting up at 7 a.m. to vote the next day. Getting called out by volunteers when we’re on the move can be frustrating, but it’s clear to me they have good intentions.

Being apathetic toward their goals has worse consequences than simply taking a minute to speak with a volunteer about voting.

Signing Off

The variety of signage that is seen on campus invariably plots the character of Ann Arbor. Despite being surrounded by so many visual demonstrations of political and cultural identities, I think we become desensitized to the presence of good messages and only notice the bad. It’s easy to ignore good signs, and even easier to ignore the people holding them.

I think there are opportunities for cultivating both community and understanding when we take in the good, and challenge the bad.

Statement Columnist Elizabeth Wolfe can be reached at