Last week, the tiny West Texas town of Vega (population 884) became the center of controversy online. A billboard, placed along Interstate 40 about six miles east of the town, offered an instruction to travelers on the left-hand side of the political divide: “Liberals,” it read in big block letters, “Please continue on I-40 until you have left our GREAT STATE OF TEXAS.”
A photo of the billboard made its way onto Facebook, where it was shared more than 22,000 times. The original post garnered nearly 1,000 comments, and the response quickly devolved into the sort of social media bickering that makes every interaction online feel like trudging into a mud pit: 996 strangers all began insulting each other, trash-talking Texas, calling for people with different opinions to be exiled, insisting that only people who shared their views were true Americans, and otherwise behaving in ways that would get a kindergartener put in time-out.
There are plenty of sentiments that make sense to present for travelers cruising I-40: “Howdy, y’all” works, or maybe “Put on your sitting britches.” Telling people to get out of the state, though, isn’t the finest expression of traditional Texas values. Regardless of where you stand politically, we can all recognize that friendliness is a key Texas trait. “The Friendly State” has been our official slogan since 1930! (If one insists on a message with some political shade, might we recommend “Bless your heart”?)
The outcry over the billboard led Burkett Outdoor Advertising, which owns the billboard, to contact the client to talk about removing it. Both parties agreed that it’d be appropriate to take the message down, and the client—who is a private citizen, not a representative of an organization—will be reimbursed. Just days after the Facebook post went viral, Roman Leal, a resident of neighboring Amarillo, created a GoFundMe account for a new billboard. Seeking to raise $1,850, Leal created a campaign to place a billboard along I-40 that reads, “Texas is for everyone—not for bigotry.” The campaign was a quick success—at press time, it has reached nearly double its goal—and the sign was up by Friday. (Leal updated the campaign to say that extra funds will go toward extending the duration of the lease with Lamar Outdoor Advertising.)
This being a thing that exists on the Internet, of course, the discussion section of the GoFundMe page is now full of people debating whether Texas is really for everyone—but we’ll take the call for unity along the highway as a win nonetheless.