So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin
Great. This is a necessary behavior in the face of the election of the most overtly racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti- gender and sexual minority candidate in the history of the modern United States. You know the rhetoric of his campaign was wrong. It was the very worst thing about America and you want to do what you can to combat the result. Good. Do that.
But don’t do it without a plan. Because the very last thing a tense situation needs is someone full of good intentions but with no knowledge of de-escalation tactics or self-defense. Your intentions are not a tangible shield. If you don’t make a plan, you will get yourself or the person you are trying to defend very killed.
Let’s avoid that.
So make a plan.
Some of you can stop reading now. You have, or know how to make a plan and you don’t need help. Cool. Go forth and make a plan on your own. For those of you who have little or no experience in this realm, I am here to help you.
- Know What The Pin Means.
It is a sign that you are a safe person. A marginalized person who is being harassed will look to you to help keep them safe. By wearing the safety pin you make a public pledge to be a walking, talking safe space for the marginalized. All of the marginalized. You don’t get to pick and choose. You can’t protect GSM people but ignore the Muslim woman who needs help. You can’t stand for Black people who are dealing with racial slurs but ignore the disabled person who is dealing with a physical attack.
This is all or nothing. If you aren’t willing or able to stand up for everyone, don’t wear the pin.
- How Many Plans Will You Need?
Are you single? Do you spend most of your time in public with a significant other? Do you go out with your kids a lot? Are the people you spend time with willing to get involved? If not, do they know not to step in and try to stop you if you get involved? Can you trust them?
Assuming you’ve got a good crew, you need to know beforehand who will engage the aggressor and who will film. If you’ve got more than two people, those people need to have a role. Otherwise they will try to help and that can be bad. They become just another source of noise and confusion in an already confusing situation. Give them something to do. They can corral bystanders, or act as another layer of protection. They can call for help, if the person being attacked thinks that will help.
What about your kids? Are you willing to put your children in a potentially violent situation? Are you willing to have them see their parent in a physical altercation? Are they old enough and do they know who to call in the event that something happens?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, especially if there are children involved, maybe don’t wear the pin.
- How Much Are You Willing to Risk?
This is the most important question. Before you get involved, you have to decide how much you are willing to risk in the interaction. Depending on how privileged and/or sheltered you are, you may be unaware that these kind of interactions can get violent and they can get that way fast.
Are you willing to have violence in your life? Are you willing to be violent in defense of the marginalized? If you’re not willing, that’s fine. Not everyone is. But you need to be realistic. If you wear the safety pin, you are telling people you are willing to confront violence on their behalf. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t wear the pin.
- Does the Person Want Help?
Don’t just jump in and engage the aggressor. DO NOT DO THAT. Do not assume that the person being attacked wants you to get involved at all. The fact that you are white, or male may make you suspect. No matter how helpful you want to be, or how willing you are to put yourself forward, the person you are trying to help may look at you as just another aggressor. Don’t add to their trauma if they don’t want you involved. And above all, do not forget the reality of being marginalized in America. Calling the police may not be something the person you are trying to help wants. The police don’t make all of us safer and bringing them in could get someone killed. Do not assume that you are going to step in and make everything OK. Allow the person being attacked to lead by their behavior. Follow their lead.
- Do You Know How to De-escalate?
Marie-Shirine Yener did an excellent comic on how to de-escalate a situation in public. The comic itself speaks specifically to anti-Muslim violence but the skills are useful in situations beyond that. Try this first.
- What Will You Do if De-Escalation Doesn’t Work?
If you are also a marginalized person, and by that I mean, not a person who reads as male, cis, het, and white, it is entirely possible that the aggressor will attempt to bypass you or physically engage you to get at their target. Are you prepared for this? Remember how I asked before how much are you willing to risk? This is where the rubber meets the road. Because talking can be hard for some people but violence hurts. That’s kind of the point of it.
- What Will You Do if The Situation Gets Violent?
So, no one like to think about this part but we need to. Can you throw a punch? Can you take a punch? Can you win a violent altercation? Can you hold your own long enough for the authorities to get there, assuming that the authorities can be trusted to help you? Are you willing to be beaten in place of another human being?
I am not judging you if you are not. Most people aren’t. A~ and I were in the military and once you are in, you’re never not a soldier. We are, and always have been willing to lay down our lives for others. Not everyone is us. Not everyone is able to risk what we risk. And that’s OK. But you need to know that if you step up for part of the responsibility the rest of the responsibility may be thrust upon you. It’s an uncomfortable fact but it is a fact.
You’ll feel like a fool but it’s necessary. You can imagine, or you know, watch on YouTube, the sorts of attacks that people have been subject to in the past few months. They are hard to watch and can be triggering but they are significantly less troubling than being in the actual situation with no idea what to do. You need to practice or you are in danger of freezing up and failing to keep your promise. And that’s worse than not wearing the pin at all.
Don’t get me wrong, the safety pin is a good idea but if you are going to wear it, you need to know that it is more than an idea. It is a visible, tangible announcement of your commitment to defend the rights and dignity of your fellow human. If you are not willing to follow that announcement up with action, rethink making the announcement.