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Turning The Safety Pin Into A Fashion Accessory Misses The Point

Started from the bottom, now we’re here

Image via Instagram

As the national election withered from an upbeat celebration of Hillary Clinton into a stark realization that Donald J. Trump would be our next president, fear and sadness have saddled many in the country—and around the world. While Clinton won the popular vote (by a mile we’re now finding), Trump won the White House with a campaign fueled by anger, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia. Hate groups, from the Klu Klux Klan to neo-Nazi groups, have sprouted up behind him like weeds.

For many, the consequences became tangible; both our own government and ordinary citizens could now be emboldened to violence as Trump’s win legitimizes their anger. To combat this staggering feeling of injustice and to show solidarity for the increasing number of vulnerable communities, people have taken to wearing gold safety pins on their shirts and jackets. But, over the past week, amidst the gesture reaching peak cultural saturation, the pins have been co-opted, with necklaces showing up on Etsy, and even a $1,000 gold pavé version at Barney’s.

Look, we’re all for solidarity, but at what point does a supportive gesture devolve into farce? The backstory is humble enough. Post-Brexit, Twitter user @cheeahs of the United Kingdom is credited with the suggestion that folks wear these tiny, utilitarian markers as a way to say “I’m with you.” The idea took off.

It’s simple—wearing a safety pin silently shows vulnerable parts of the populace that they’re safe with you. In the United Kingdom, the idea has continued to be mainly one of highlighting togetherness. Somehow, Americans have turned it into a silly cash grab, weakening the symbols of empathy, utility, and promise that the pin evoked. Like those yellow, rubber bracelets of yore, we’ve managed to take a physical object that represents a bigger idea and diminish it as a fashion trend. We’ve gone overboard (already),while the genuine fear of bodily harm on segments of the population is vastly underserved.

It’s no one’s fault the safety pin became social media’s bat-signal for representing angst for the days to come, but it needn’t be treated as though it were an accessory of class expression, either. Some of the items on sale to show support—while beautiful—carry the kind of hefty price tag that can go toward donations for organizations or causes you agree with—like sending money to Planned Parenthood in the name of Mike Pence, in case you need any ideas. But the time you take to shop for these products might be better off spent joining a movement or coming up with your own plan to help keep people out of harm’s way.

Think of that safety pin as an instant signifier: You’re the human version of a safe space. The next step is to prove you actually are one. If you see someone being harassed, hopefully that pin moves you to intercede on their behalf. When you have an opportunity to talk to someone with a vastly different point of view, maybe that pin moves you to try and understand where they’re coming from. There’s a lot at play here that falls along lines of class, gender, race, religion, expression, and sexuality. Let that pin be a catapult toward more action and compassion. That may not be all we need right now, but it’s a start. If you’ve got questions on ways you can take action to become the safe space that pin says you are, perhaps these organizations can help you find your groove:

The ACLU wants to see Mr. Trump in court.

Help fund Planned Parenthood.

The Audre Lorde Project is a “lesbian, gay, bisexual, two spirit, trans, and gender non-conforming people of color community organizing center, focusing on the New York City area.”

Border Angels is helping deconstruct the mythology around undocumented immigrants.

CAIR is fighting against the appointment of conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

RAINN is an anti-sexual assault organization fighting for the most vulnerable.

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