Safety Pins As Both Hope And Resistance



Thanks to Jessica Jacks-Turkas for the image.


Since Donald Trump was declared President-elect of the United States in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I’ve wandered around like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series, which I’m currently teaching at a state university — although, as fans of the novels know, there are many Katniss Everdeens. The one I am right now is Catching Fire Katniss, the one who knows the worst has happened and who has no idea what to do next, the one who spends all her time (chapters and chapters of it) playing out various scenarios in her head (challenge the electoral college? hope for impeachment, even though that would mean Pence? is Pence more or less scary than Trump? etc.). Needless to say, I haven’t figured things out yet. But there is one thing I know … follow the jump to find out what.

My first impulse when I realized that Trump would win the presidency was to reach out to my minority friends, to tell them that I recognize my privilege as a white cisgender woman and that I have their backs. I was able to do that with a simple status update on Facebook, which led to hugs when we bumped into each other the next day, and both public and private messages detailing our fear, our sadness, and our shared affection for both the ideas we hold dear and for each other.

That’s not enough, though. In light of so many Americans voting for a man who has encouraged violence against people exercising their constitutional right to protest; who has avoided addressing the real grievances of minority communities in favor of waxing poetic over “law and order”; and who has not only demeaned women but also bragged about sexual assault, we need to know that a larger community (beyond our own like-minded friends) has our back.

This is why I was so encouraged to read about the safety pin movement, an idea that was birthed after a similar conservative surge led to Britons voting to leave the European Union. To combat the rise of hate crimes against minorities that followed, as they have here, Alison (a UK citizen and immigrant) decided that the titular symbol of her movement would signify her stand with all those oppressed:

It’s simple because you don’t have to go out and buy it, there’s no language or political slogans involved … It’s just a little signal that shows people facing hate crimes that they’re not alone and their right to be in the U.K. is supported … Remember that wearing the #safetypin is an act of solidarity, not just of opinion.

That last part is essential to remedying fears that some have expressed re: whether or not the safety pin movement is, in fact, lazy (i.e., a way for people to feel they’re doing something when they have no intention of following through with the promise to be supportive in all the difficult and scary ways that entails). Its founder makes clear that the safety pin isn’t just an opinion; it’s a pledge to put our skin in this dystopic “game” along with those who never got a choice about whether to “play” or not, who are already doing so because of their sexuality, or race, or religion. Just see this linked Buzzfeed video for an example of how to be the sort of ally the pin, in its noblest representation, is meant to say we are.


Here’s hoping that we’re brave enough to follow through.

14955868_1511324558908011_1382994394073396956_nBut even if we falter, the pin is at its least a recognition. Those memes that we’ve seen since Tuesday that liken this moment in time to the second installment in a trilogy, whether The Empire Strikes Back or Catching Fire, are spot-on in their recognition of our movement from hope, to fear and despair, to — eventually justice — since that’s how the arc of the moral universe bends.

And of everything we need while stuck in the second installment, symbols to bolster us and camaraderie to sustain us are by no means at the bottom of the list. Let’s not forget that Gene Sharp, an expert on nonviolent resistance movements, recognizes the power of symbols as a way “to demonstrate unity of resistance.” Like Katniss’s mockingjay, they’re a way to show that “we’re on your side.” I hope to see even people who voted for Trump (maybe they’re jobless and hope that Trump somehow will change that?) will wear a pin to show that they’re against the racism, and sexism, and xenophobia for which their candidate came to stand.

A lot has been written about self-care and the importance of it right now in the aftermath of one of the most divisive presidential elections in history. What we mustn’t forget, though, is that self-care and caring-for-others is not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, the only way we’ll ever be at our best and most whole is when we’re helping others be at theirs.

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4 Responses to Safety Pins As Both Hope And Resistance

  1. wordcloud9 says:

    Unfortunately, the White Brothers are trying to use this idea for their own purposes – they want to use the safety pin as a secret signal to their like-minded brethren.

    I’d hate for someone to see a White Brother wearing a safety pin, and turn to them for help.

    So I’m thinking we should use baby diaper pins, the ones with pastel plastic heads on them – I can’t see a Neo-Nazi wearing a baby diaper pin with a girly pink, lavender, duckling yellow or baby blue head.

    I’m going to wear a whole set – together, they make a rainbow.

    • Nicole Plyler Fisk says:

      Oh, I hadn’t heard that it was in danger of being co-opted, wordcloud9! But, yes —feminizing it a bit would solve that problem. One of my friends told me, back during the Democratic primary, that if I thought the GOP was racist, I had no idea how much more sexist they are. I didn’t believe it at the time but am beginning to think she was right.

    • Back when Mensa was first founded, the symbol was a map pin with yellow head worn on the lapel. That identity marker is no longer used, since they have a logo pin now. I say keep the safety pin, because the disrupters will never succeed in making it their symbol.

  2. shortfinals says:

    This reminds me of the use of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, used by the BBC during radio broadcasts to Occupied Europe from 1941 onwards. The ‘. . . –‘ beat on a timpani, resembled the Morse code for the letter V, and as such spread like wildfire across Europe, representing ‘V for Victory’. This was chalked on walls and daubed in paint in the most unlikely of places. What the Germans tried to do was take the symbol over, claiming that it was really ‘V for Victoria’ in German, indicating a German victory. This weak attempt to subvert the campaign failed abysmally.

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