(cover image from the Museum of Everyday Life)
I have no idea from where or whom the idea to wear safety pins originated. The origin story pins it (pun intended) on a grassroots movement in response to Brexit. I remember seeing it in my news feed back during the summer, but I don't know if it truly started then or not.
What I do know is that chances are it was started by someone NOT at risk. Most likely it was started by a white, middle class, hetero person wanting to protest a political outcome and show solidarity. Chances are that an immigrant, Muslim, person of color, or a disabled or LGBT+ person didn't go, "I know! Why don't you all start wearing safety pins so I know who's safe to go to?!"
As someone who is committed to helping individuals, families, and communities act in solidarity against the threatened other (hell, I've even written a book about it!), I can't knock any efforts people want to make about creating safe spaces. I encourage it. I'm glad this conversation is happening and that people are awakening to a need for sanctuaries and for the provision of protective hospitality. I want to hope that safety pins are the "gateway drug" to getting in the way and for active resistance to oppression and marginalization for some who may not have had this on their radar before. If you truly are committed to the safety pin, Isobel Debrujah gives some fantastic advice on how you should be prepared.
However, we need to be honest about what purpose the safety pins serve in most cases. Hear me: SOLIDARITY IS A GOOD THING. SAFE SPACES ARE NEEDED. But a safety pin does not a safe space make. More than anything, wearing a safety pin is a marker so that we (people who don't want to be known as racist or homophobic) know each other. There's strength and comfort in numbers and that is where the solidarity of wearing safety pins lies. For some, wearing a safety pin makes the wearer feel better, to say "this wasn't my fault." At the end of the day, it's a political statement.
It is NOT a clandestine signal to an underground railroad.
If things are bad enough that people are seeking protection from the government or other oppressors and abusers, I think it's safe to say that wearing a safety pin in public to mark yourself as a protector is a dumb move as it would put yourself and those you are protecting at risk. So let's keep perspective. Also, in times like these, visible signs of solidarity will be co-opted and appropriated in order to dilute, confuse, or destroy the message. Do you really think those who wish to exclude, marginalize, and destroy are going to sit idly by while you go around doing good with your safety pin on?
Case in point:
Zoé Samudzi goes on to explain further what needs to be considered regarding outward signs of solidarity and being an ally:
Let me repeat: A safety pin does not a sanctuary make.
If you are not fully aware of how quickly things can descend into the type of scenario where clandestine meetings and transfer of people to different sanctuaries in order to save their lives happens, then you've not been paying attention. The potential is there and it's naive to pretend that it's not.
The optimist in me says that if thousands of people wearing safety pins leads to one vulnerable, suicidal person finding a safe place to talk and is able to continue with life despite this mess these changes have put them in, then it's worth it. But let's be realistic about what we really need to be doing to show solidarity. We need hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
Jesus, when talking to and equipping his disciples for their continued work after his imminent departure, said this:
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
- Matthew 10:16
Over the years in Western Christianity, there has been too much emphasis placed on the "innocent as doves" part - peace and quiet, politeness, respect for authority, ethical purity - and less on the "wise as serpents" part - slippery, wily, watchful, resistant, prepared - in our churches. A church that has been safe through cultural and political power for as long as the white church in the US and UK has tends to make its members soft and unprepared. We are not ready. That needs to change.
My friend and fellow theologian Jon Hatch reminded me this week:
"We need to be ready. "Gird up your loins" to use the biblical phrase. "Get strapped" as anyone on The Wire would say. Get ready to fight for every inch. Speak plainly. Resist."
We pay attention to history for a reason. As a student of history, I know that it does, indeed, repeat itself. Unfortunately, in most cases we do not learn the lessons from it or we wait and let things go for so long that the outcome we've already seen in years past is inevitable.
So what lessons from history do we need to learn now? How can we begin to "gird our loins" and prepare for the battle that is coming?
I suggest we start studying the stories of when protection was extended to people under threat, when individuals, families and entire communities joined together to welcome the threatened other and put themselves at risk to provide refuge. And ask these questions:
- How did they do it? What are the parameters of protective hospitality?
- What were their values that helped them stay committed when things got very difficult?
- What did they do when their own safety was threatened?
- What did it cost them?
- What did those being protected have to say about their hosts? Was there a good and a bad way to do it?
- How did they deal with the authorities?
- What price were they willing to pay for their ethical purity?
- How did they negotiate the boundaries between violence and nonviolence in order to protect the threatened other?
So where does this connect for us now?
Trump has already declared that in his first 100 days, his administration will:
cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities
begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won't take them back ["criminal" here is being interpreted very broadly thus far]
suspend immigration from terror-prone regions [read: "where the US is bombing"] where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting
Sanctuary Cities are already in the sights of alt-right groups and have been for some time. But the history of Sanctuary Cities in the US goes back to the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s when churches and synagogues acted as sanctuaries for Central American refugees in protest to President Reagan's disastrous policies, particularly in relation to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. If you want to know more about how this movement worked, I highly recommend two books: Resisting Reagan by Christian Smith and Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad by Renny Golden and Michael McConnell. For recent stories about sanctuary actions in the US, click here, here, or here.
The above list of Trump's aims doesn't include the expectation that he will also rescind President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which protects approximately 1.3 million immigrants in the U.S. who were brought to the country illegally as kids to receive protection from deportation and work permits, or health and social policies regarding LGBT+ equality and same-sex marriage. (let's not make Obama an immigration hero though - deportation rates were higher under his administration than under any other president's.)
Here's the thing: those of us who care have a lot of work to do, but it must be in communication and concert with those we seek to protect and stand in solidarity with. Able-bodied, white, Christian, cisgendered, and/or heteronormative people (me included) are extremely good at taking things upon themselves, assuming their solutions are the most obvious and effective.
Stop. Immerse yourself in situations where you will be uncomfortable and in the minority. Even if you're already in a minority, there's some other minority perspective you are most likely uncomfortable with. Be prepared to have hurt feelings, but forgo defensiveness. Listen.
And if you're declaring you are a safe place, be prepared for anyone to come knocking on your door - not just your preferred victim of oppression.
This is about resistance, folks. We must be prepared.
I have written on the provision of protective hospitality and sanctuary in my book Safeguarding the Stranger (available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk). I am also available for training, speaking, and workshops should you or your community wish to explore the issue further.
If you'd like to make it possible for me to reach out and connect with more communities, you can support my work for as little as $1 per month or whatever you can afford. Support me by going to https://www.patreon.com/JaymeRReaves.