Ships and sails and sealing wax, and little safety pins

Don’t wear the safety pin if you don’t mean it as a pledge.”

It got me thinking about all the different things a symbol pinned to clothing can mean.

Medals conferring recognition for extraordinary response to a situation.

Tokens of membership in a group. Professions of faith. Expressions of love. Declaration of a support. Political sloganeering. Exhortations to action. Presentation of a philosophy. A captured joke. Ornamentation.

The things that people intend the pin to convey in the wake of this most recent US election are much more complex than the original “I’ll sit with you” support post-Brexit. Small wonder that it hasn’t been as straightforward as the English movement.

I saw a wide range of approaches. People wanting subtlety, because they were afraid. People wanting visibility, because they wanted to be assertive. People wanting ornamentation, because they would be wearing it frequently.

I questioned what their motivation was…because when one is looking for someone to sit with on a bus or train, someone’s shoulder is a logical place to look as one scans for an open seat. A small safety pin is an easy thing to see at that range.

It works in small places. on the neckline of a teacher’s shirt, as a quiet, nonverbal marker in a place where political statements cannot be expressed clearly. (It reminds me here of the signs put up in libraries during the height of the Patriot Act’s invasions into library records, stating that the *absence* of that sign would indicate a search had occurred, because the librarians were barred from making any active statements about searches.)

It may work as a personal reminder to be brave and step up.

It may work as a quiet recognition symbol between people in passing, at the coffee shop, so that conversations can be started with some sense of comfort.

But…in public, in a tense situation, those pins are small and hard to spot. Yes, even the 2-inch ones. The head is barely larger than the gaudiest tie-tack. If the shaft is covered in beads and bling, it’s hard to separate that from just an improvised brooch. Was it ever going to work as a demonstration of one’s prior commitment to stepping in to de-escalate a moment of peril for someone?

I said rather bitterly elsewhere, “It’s not a sheriff’s deputy’s badge”. It doesn’t confer anything. The idea that someone being harassed will recognize it in the moment sounds like a radio serial decoder ring fantasy to me.

So.

I think it’s mostly for the other moments…and best unornamented, unembellished, unobfuscated. And best as a thing you wear for yourself, to remind yourself of your commitment.

Be prepared. Do not put it on without thinking about what you are capable of doing. Are you going to step in? How are you going to inject yourself into the situation? Are you willing to be alert so you can detect the situation early? Are you willing to take the risk that you stepped in too soon? It’s not going to help if you have your headphones on and your nose buried in your book or phone, and you don’t notice.

What’s your strategy?

Don’t make it an empty gesture. It can be a really meaningful thing you’ve promised to do. The idea of an entire nation of crowdsourced immunization against the bystander effect is amazing. But only if you’re really willing to do what it takes not to be a weak link.

Ultimately, it’s going to be your actions in the crisis that matter.

Start practicing now. Oh, and maybe call at least one of the groups around you dedicated to safety for marginalized people, to volunteer what you can, whether time or money, okay?

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