Recently I read an article where a man, who probably thought he was well meaning, attacked those who have started wearing safety pins on their clothing to indicate “you are safe with me” for others who may feel threatened by the current political, and dare I say moral, environment in the United States today.
I took exception to that article. Not that it didn’t carry a grain of truth to it: some people do post on Facebook or make declarations on Twitter, or change their profile pictures to indicate solidarity with a particular social mood, and then sit back and congratulate themselves on doing their part to affect change. Yes, in those cases their efforts are ineffectual, and any satisfaction they may have at being politically active could be called into question.
But not everyone who wears a safety pin does so in order to feel better about themselves, as this particular article espoused, or as a tacit excuse to not make a real effort in exacting change. The writer of the article is right – if we can do more than “merely” wear a safety pin on our lapel and that is all we do, then yes, we are not being truly helpful. But to link everyone who is wearing a safety pin to this cynical viewpoint is short sighted, rooted in an unnecessary negativity – and wrong. To demean the movement because of what “some” may do is to cast aspersions on all, and that is just as reprehensible as what is being railed against.
My daughter is deeply distraught with the state of the nation today. She is a very caring, very compassionate young woman, who has had her share of misogynist taunts thrown her way. That she is white does not insulate her from catcalls and being discussed by men she doesn’t know as if she were simply a “piece of ass”, or something that they “would do”. She has been in an emotionally abusive relationship. She is also disabled, not like the person who was ridiculed by Donald Trump, but to a point where she moves through her days with a fear that she may falter due to her afflictions. She knows what it’s like to be misunderstood when her disabilities single her out. For her to venture out without being in the company of her closest friends or her family is a huge effort for her.
Yet she proudly wears a safety pin on her coat and on all her jackets. She does not wear the safety pin for herself. She wears it for the other people who frequent her world who have been marginalized, and who are under threat of further dehumanization or are in fear of having hard fought for victories rescinded. She wears it for other women who may not have the constant support and privilege that she does. She wears it for her friends who are gay, who are trans, who are black (or non-white), who are Muslim (or non-“Christian”), anyone who could be labeled “other”. She wears it for those who are deemed unattractive, for those who struggle with physical deformity or mental disability. These people are her friends and neighbors, her coworkers, her classmates, her heroes, her social contacts.
And yes, she wears a safety pin not just to say “you are safe with me” to others who may need help, but to label herself as someone who has the belief that everyone deserves respect, that everyone deserves to be treated equal, that “liberty and justice for all” means everyone, not just the ones who fit a certain mold.
Is that where her political action ends? In a way, yes. Because she is also stricken with anxiety issues, and has, along with her physical challenges, had to deal with chronic depression, which keeps her from being able to stand up in front of a crowd, or speak up in a group, or talk to strangers on the phone, or knock on doors, or even post things online that may open her up to ridicule or derision. She still struggles with a deep fear of being inadequate even though she knows she is cherished, is loved, is precious. She is emotionally fragile. For her even to make a statement with a safety pin on her coat is a tremendous act of courage on her part, for it means she is open to being approached if needed. But it is important to her, to be the potential for making someone else’s life better in the face of hostility or denigration. And it makes her more aware of what is happening around her, to be more cognizant of the privilege she was born with, and more questioning of the reasons for the world being what it is.
And I don’t think she is unique in this. I believe there are many people out there who, due to the extraordinary circumstances of this time, are stepping out of their comfort zones to reach out to others in many ways. It gives them a sense of solidarity, and a sense of personal power at a time when that is sorely needed. That my daughter, and others like her, are willing to be someone that somebody else can lean on for help and support should not be shunted aside with skepticism, but welcomed and encouraged.
For many, this “safety pin thing” may be just a gimmick or smack of “slacktivism”, and the more cynical out there can claim that it’s simply a way for white people to feel better about themselves. But for my daughter, that safety pin is a talisman, a symbol of unity, a pledge of safety. And it might just be the first step in a journey to a better world.
I’ll take her talisman of hope over cynicism any day. Especially now. And tonight, when I dig out my heavy coat in preparation for the first winter storm of the season, I think I’ll ask her if she has any extra safety pins to share. You never know when someone is going to need a safety pin in their life, and if they do, I’d hate to be caught without one.
~ Sharon Browning