Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why I will wear a safety pin

For anyone who somehow missed it:

In WWII the Dutch resistance wore safety pins as a sign to Jews in their midst that they stood in solidarity with them.

After the rise of hate crimes in the UK following the Brexit, people wore safety pins to show their solidarity with vulnerable populations.

In light of the rise of hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump, many people are wearing safety pins to demonstrate that if a vulnerable person feels threatened, they are ready to step in and intervene.  It is a symbolic pledge.

Now, there is a counter-camp that is angry and says that this is just about privileged people making themselves feel better and people who are wearing safety pins should be taking more practical if these are mutually exclusive conditions.  While I get the anger, functionally, I find this to be a destructive approach.  This is why I will wear a safety pin.

  1. Symbolic action matters.  Symbolic action, when taken, increases commitment by making it a public display.  It increases the likelihood of taking risks to enact the values behind the symbols.  Any scholar of religion can tell you this.
  2. Shared symbolic action builds a sense of cohesion, commitment, and again...increases the likelihood of taking action in alignment with the values behind the symbols.  So, me wearing my safety pin does not only functionally increase my commitment...anyone seeing my safety pin in alignment with their values, it increases their commitment.
  3. Deterrence.  If someone is being harassed, are they going to look for a safety pin?  Probably not.  But if someone is the kind of person who is going to harass others, who is feeling emboldened by the symbolic silent majority who did not show up on the polls but who voted for Trump and are now thinking "this country is filled with silent people who have my back if I lash out against this 'other'" then seeing safety pins tells them that, in fact, they are not surrounded by others who agree with them.  Imagine, for example, a woman in a hijab is on the bus and a hate-filled person is about to harass her.  S/he may think that everyone secretly hates Muslims and s/he is just giving voice to what everyone else thinks.  Emboldened, s/he attacks.  Now imagine s/he looks around and sees 8 or 9 people on that bus wearing safety pins.  People who clearly don't agree and have, in theory, made a pledge to step in.  S/he might think twice.  This is why I also think the protests right now are important.  It is important to be visible.
So, I will wear my safety pin and I will take that pledge seriously.  I will be visible in what I stand for.  I encourage everyone to do the same.

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