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So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin

November 12, 2016

rainbow-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.

safety_pin_1

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.

antimuslimharassment

  • 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.

  • Practice!

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.

374 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2016 6:42 PM

    Reblogged this on Into the Mists and commented:
    Because this is important…

  2. November 13, 2016 6:52 PM

    Reblogged on [Into the Mists].
    Thank you for writing this – lots of food for thought.

  3. November 13, 2016 7:12 PM

    Honestly, I think most people think wearing a pin is enough and what they’re willing to risk is maybe making a hole that will grow. I see people talking in terms of ‘showing solidary’. Passive verb. I agree with your points. Make a plan, and don’t ignore harassment when you see it. Don’t just put in a pin because it’s fashionable. Don’t wear it to gratify your sense of personal identity.

  4. November 13, 2016 7:35 PM

    Thanks for this. I am a proud immigrant(Asian American) became citizen, woman who experienced fair amount of sexism and inequality, person with disability (invisible), and I am with safetypin movement.

    Not just by wearing, but going out to NYC subways to handout safetypins with card about what this idea. I’m glad you are spreading words and what really the movement is about, the importance, and what it really takes to “wear a safety pin” means.

  5. If you don't know, look it up permalink
    November 13, 2016 8:16 PM

    It’s a good article on the realities behind the superficial fact of having a pin on your clothing and what makes it really a “safety” pin. I am a veteran also, but I am older and have multiple disabling conditions. Unfortunately, one of those is PTSD and I am aware of the fact that in a physically violent situation I will either get badly hurt/killed or if triggered severely may still end by killing someone else if I engage rather than run the hell away from the conflict prior to being pushed into “fight mode”. I’ve avoided even throwing a punch for 20 years of struggle with PTSD because I know it will get harder to NOT throw one at a human being who sets off my disability once I’ve crossed that line. I’ve destroyed glassware, pillows, computers, bookcases, chairs, walls, doors and hurt my hands and feet rather than throw a punch or kick at another person. But this is no longer America, or perhaps we should say just that a President and his crowd so willing to throw out the Constitution and allow those freedoms guaranteed to everyone in the US to be denied so many who are not, as you reminded us, white/cis/het/male (and Christian) are about to destroy the foundation of what makes this not only a democracy but The United States of America. I’ll wear the safetypin and I’ll take the chance. I’ve been speaking up for years when people talked trash about others. How can I refuse to uphold not only that commitment to friends who weren’t white/cis/het/male (and Christian) and continue the courage of my personal convictions but also refuse to abide by my freely given oath to support and defend the Constitution from ALL enemies, including the domestic ones, even should it mean my death?

    I am ashamed of my country, a friend said to me, for the first time in my life. All I could do was nod.

    But I thank you for posting that comic. That is one way to defuse an attack I had never heard of or thought of, and it gives me one more possibility to avoid direct violence in confrontation.

    • November 14, 2016 6:51 PM

      This: ” But this is no longer America, or perhaps we should say just that a President and his crowd so willing to throw out the Constitution and allow those freedoms guaranteed to everyone in the US to be denied so many who are not, as you reminded us, white/cis/het/male (and Christian) are about to destroy the foundation of what makes this not only a democracy but The United States of America.”

      You, sir, have won the internet with this statement. VERY well put!
      I’m a veteran as well (8 years; Army), and I hear exactly what you’re saying.

  6. Brit permalink
    November 13, 2016 9:06 PM

    So since I’ve been trained on deescalation can I wear the pin? Is it ok if my kids wear the pin too? I’m a woman, so I probably won’t be able to ninja fight a squad of offenders, so maybe I shouldn’t? It’s a symbol and one I’m proud to wear to represent anti discrimination and anti bullying. You do what’s right even if you stand alone. This is the message I want my watching children to see and learn.

  7. November 13, 2016 9:25 PM

    This is a great piece, thank you so much for writing it!

  8. Mike Newton-Ward permalink
    November 13, 2016 11:09 PM

    Excellent! Very helpful. This reminds me of the prayerful planning and preparation that went into Civil Rights and other protests, which helped them be successful.

  9. November 13, 2016 11:27 PM

    Anyone doing this in my sight is going to get a stern talking to.

    I don’t care who you are, if you’re white in this country, you benefit from racism no matter whether or not you’re racist. Make a real difference, your stupid safety pin is another thing white people are doing to make themselves feel better for fucking everyone else up, as has happened so many times in the past.

    But no, wear your fucking pin and make yourselves feel better, I’m sure you don’t have time to make a real difference.

    • November 16, 2016 10:55 AM

      Strangely enough, being “called out” by sanctimonious people who think they can call me a racist for being white and wearing a safety pin is one of the risks I take when I wear that safety pin, and I’ve accepted that. I’m not doing this to be politically correct; I’m not doing it for the warm fuzzy feelings. I’m doing it because in my neighborhood there are immigrants and black people and Muslims and LGBT people, and I want to prevent violence to them. If need be, I will take a punch for them. They are my neighbors, and they deserve not to be alone. I’m also working at the food pantry and volunteering for an autism self-advocacy group. What are YOU doing?

  10. Jason permalink
    November 14, 2016 2:36 AM

    I wrote a comment but it didn’t post so..

    You’re going to get a lot of people hurt or killed. I was psychologically and emotionally abused as a child and on top of that I was physically bullied throughout middle school and junior high. I was also a soldier as you claimed to be. If I see someone on the street that needs help I’ll step in but I’m not “pinning” a bullseye to my chest. You say you were military but I don’t see it. One thing I remember hearing a lot is “Don’t be a hero”. That is the exact OPPOSITE message you’re sending and on top of telling them to be heroes you’re telling them to show the rest of he world that they can take verbal or physical confrontations so someone else doesn’t have to. I read some of these comments and these people believe the law is going to help them in these life or death situations. I’m sure telling someone that has a gun to your head that if they hurt you they will go to prison will have the necessary effect of having them run away. I’m sure they’d never do anything as rash as pulling the trigger to watch the street get painted with your brain matter because the thought of going to prison never occurred to them until THAT moment.. It sickens me for you to say that you were military and you’re advising people to step in front of a bullet. I’d like you to wear a pin, go to where the protests are happening and tell them you’re there to protect everyone that voted for Trump. We both know you won’t do it. It’s easy to preach, a lot harder to practice what you preach.

    • November 16, 2016 10:59 AM

      I don’t think you get it; that’s the whole point. You don’t stand by and let people get hurt. It might mean stepping in; it might mean calling the cops, if you can trust them. It might mean taking a bullet for somebody else. It’s a rather small chance, and I doubt the average person will be doing any more than discouraging bullies; but if it comes down to it–look, those minority people take those risks every day just existing, and they haven’t got a choice. The idea isn’t to make more victims; it’s to defuse the situation entirely and make sure there are NO victims. If we fail at that, if it gets violent anyway, the goal is to get people to safety. And if we fail at that too, then I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles and we’ve got to take our lumps. Minorities have to do it every day. Why shouldn’t we stand with them, now that all the racists are coming out of the woodwork again?

  11. November 14, 2016 7:49 AM

    I am a large white male, so just me being there may be enough to put a damper on the situation. That said, I still don’t plan on engaging in a confrontation with the attacker. I plan to speak to the victim, and attempt to move away from the situation, into a store or another more crowded area. I also have to be mindful that these cretins often travel in groups, and that they may turn their hatred onto me. If that happens, my plan is to turn the other cheek if possible, and remember that my aim is to remove the victim from a situation.

    • November 16, 2016 11:00 AM

      Good plan 🙂 I’m a small white female-ish person, and that’s my plan too. I don’t do violence.

  12. Joanna Gomez permalink
    November 14, 2016 7:50 AM

    This is a great article. I’m still all in but it is really important and sobering to think about what that means.

  13. November 14, 2016 8:38 AM

    Thank you so much for this! The hardest part is accepting the reality of it. Every time you said, “or you could get someone killed”, a death-knell four our democracy rung in my head. We must fight on though, and this is a life skill we all need to hone. I am also interested in trying to preempt bigoted behavior. I have every intention of starting a proactive, door to door canvassing campaign, and asking my neighbors to choose civility, tolerance, and understanding. Having personal conversations worked with passing Marriage Equality in Maine, and I am pretty hopeful there is a chance to do good. Thank you again Isobel, and thank you for your service to our country.

  14. November 14, 2016 10:10 AM

    Reblogged this on Welcome to Change Management!.

  15. Stephanie permalink
    November 14, 2016 10:13 AM

    Thank you for this. And my follow up is: if the safety pin isn’t something we can commit to (mother of two young kids and I wouldn’t last a second in a physical altercation), what CAN we do??? I want to help, but I will not risk the safety of my children and I shut down in high stress situations.

  16. November 14, 2016 10:23 AM

    Reblogged this on Eccentric and Bent.

  17. Antha Auciello permalink
    November 14, 2016 10:29 AM

    What does GSM stand for? I googled it and found Global System for Mobile Communications. I’m guessing you didn’t mean that one of the categories of people a safety-pin wearer should be prepared to protect is people with high-speed internet in their pocket.. so.. maybe write more clearly..

  18. November 14, 2016 10:56 AM

    Read this last night and allowed it make me feel deflated. Woke up this morning burningly angry. NO. The safety pin means I’m safe to stand in the line with, I will smile at you, i will sit with you, I will be your friend, I will speak up if I see injustice. It doesn’t mean I will engage in violence and it shouldn’t be restricted to only physically fit people who know self defense. Who decided on these limits???? I won’t be deflated by rules women put on other women!!! I WILL wear it as a badge of solidarity for a suffering humanity, without shame if I can’t beat someone on your behalf. If I get struck, so be it. Please, do not accept these “rules” that seek to diminish what people are able to offer!!!!! We all do what we can and it all “counts”.

    • November 14, 2016 5:09 PM

      No one. But if things get violent is your burning anger going to translate into action? Or are you going to back off? If the latter, I’mean not really safe with you.

      • Diane permalink
        November 14, 2016 7:28 PM

        I’m not sure anyone could give you a blanket guarantee that they would win any physical altercation that arose. If you need that level of protection look into hiring personal security. What people can do is to record video of what is going on if the aggressor doesn’t back off. I would much rather have several people with safety pins around versus none because they were told they needed to be ready to fight/kill in order to wear it.

      • November 14, 2016 8:01 PM

        Hi, I appreciate the spirit of your thoughtful article, and I greatly applaud those who can physically defend victims of harassment/violence, but to me your manifesto makes more sense as a “for those who are willing/able to engage physically if need be, here’s how to go the extra mile above and beyond attempting de-escalation”.

        I’m a short, older female with no self-defense training, and I’m not sure I CAN engage in physical violence. But I wear the pin so that people more marginalized and targeted than myself know that I am not a threat, and that I didn’t vote for the hateful bigot who managed to get elected somehow.

        Defense against violence is a wonderful asset, but sometimes just seeing people around us who we know are not looking at us as “enemy” is comforting and strengthening as well.

        There’s also a “strength in numbers” element to this: if 5 of the 10 people waiting for the subway are wearing safety pins, it sends a message to any hate-crimers that at least half the people they see have an awareness and intention about safety…so maybe that makes them less bold, less likely to act. It also tells someone who may be afraid of being targeted that they can stand next to those persons wearing safety pins without fearing them, and that many in their midst cared enough to express that fact somehow.

        I understand this can be labeled “not doing enough”, but isn’t it better than doing/saying nothing? Isn’t perfect the enemy of good? Does EVERY person who opposes hate crimes have to be willing/able to engage in violence, just because they wear the pin? Is there no value – in your eyes – to people acknowledging the horrors, and letting others know it scares and bothers them? To saying, “yes, you and I are visibly different from each other, AND I have nothing against you?”

      • November 15, 2016 6:42 PM

        I thought three times before responding, because I agree with most of the article, and accept that your motives are good. Having a plan (thinking ahead) is important. I have the same concern as the commenter above though.

        I worked as a crisis intervention counselor in the field for seven years, walking unarmed into domestic violence situations, suicide attempts and bad drug trips. Sometimes I had police back-up, sometimes not. I’ve taken a few punches, ducked some thrown items and had a couple guns pointed at me point blank, but never found it necessary (or proper) to “hit back”.

        If you think an effective response to violence (in a non-combat zone, when you aren’t under color of authority) is to be ready to commit violence yourself in response, then frankly, no one is safe with you. You are likely to go too far at some point, and escalate, rather than de-escalate things. We’re talking about how to effectively deal with ordinary angry persons here, not hardened criminals or enemy combatants.

        There are dozens of ways to de-escalate in addition to the method in the graphic (which is good). There’s nothing dishonorable about running away or backing down, for one. Humor, distraction, misdirections, lots of ways. It can help to ask the angry person their name and introduce yourself. Aggressors are often only seeking a verbal acknowledgement of their superiority, and you can just flat-out fake it. You can go back to your family unscathed and laugh about how you fooled a bad guy! Any way where ALL parties go home without needing medical attention is the right way to proceed.

    • misumena_vatia permalink
      November 15, 2016 12:14 AM

      Here’s the thing: if you and your burning anger engage with a situation where someone is being harassed, and then the situation becomes physically violent and you fade out because you have no de-escalation knowledge, no practice thinking strategically and no understanding of defensive thinking, you’ve just made the situation worse for the victim. They will pay the cost for your lack of followthrough.

      At the very least, if you want to actively help, read a lot about de-escalating scenarios and nonconfrontational alternatives for making marginalized people safer. Get in the habit of thinking, everywhere you are: “If someone started trouble with this person right here, what would my step one be? Where’s the nearest exit? Where are physical risks (curbs, tripping hazards, protrusions) that could accidentally turn a mildly physical situation into a serious injury?”

      “Solidarity” is vague and passive. If you want to help, make the effort of concrete planning and learning.

  19. November 14, 2016 11:31 AM

    Reblogged this on Illusiones De Una Nueva Vida and commented:
    I haven’t posted much since the election, mainly because I am still in utter shock and trying to come to terms with what will be our nation’s leader for the next 4-8 years (hopefully the former and not the latter)…

  20. Kathy permalink
    November 14, 2016 11:47 AM

    What an amazing article,so thought provoking and so real. So many of us want to help but for a variety of reasons,until now unbeknownst to me, am I mentally and physically equippedto do so? Would I make it worse based on my own past and experience with violence ? Would I say or do the right thing,am I as knowledgeable about the trials facing others? No I’m not but I can’t loom the other way either. Thank you for these tools to educate myself, know my own limitations before I react w emotion without a plan. I’ve done this before but it’s a world I don’t recognize right now..it’s different.Thank you

  21. Len March permalink
    November 14, 2016 12:13 PM

    Thanks for the info. A lot to think about. Some viewpoints I had not considered and situations I had not imagined. This is a new world- and an alien one. But I have foresworn myself to aid to the best of my ability.

  22. ktcampbellart permalink
    November 14, 2016 12:52 PM

    Reblogged this on welcome.

  23. Lisa Gray permalink
    November 14, 2016 1:36 PM

    You do the need to be an ultimate fighter to take up the cause, as in the example cartoon
    There is more than one way to handle a situation. Not everyone will need to physically fight someone, if it comes to it I will physically defend someone. Sometimes all other takes is someone to interven.

  24. November 14, 2016 1:53 PM

    This is excellent. I am definitely in support of this but I know I could not win a strength on strength physical altercation but I still feel I can wear the safety pin. I am a safe person, I will not look the other way and if an attack got physical there are things I can do (and am willing to) but I cannot win throwing punches etc.

    As a disabled person myself if I am being attacked (and it has happened) really I just want to know that the other people not directly involved are not also potential attackers. A kind word, a smile. I want to deal with my own problems.

    In a less dangerous situation a girl did speak up for me and the other person did back off but it had not escalated to an attack at that point so she prevented the attack from happening.

  25. November 14, 2016 3:02 PM

    Reblogged this on DiversityJane and commented:
    It’s not enough just to be an ally – be an active ally, and arm yourself with ways you will choose, every day, to defend those who are being victimized.

  26. Gay phillips permalink
    November 14, 2016 3:19 PM

    I am 71 and walk with a cane but I will wear a pin when I feel strong enough to be effective given I witness bullying, abuse, or worse. I want to be there for whomever feels threatened. I feel I could effectively ask the person threatened if they want my help and then proceed to escort them away and be prepared to use my cane in defense. Being alone is
    scary but we all must be brave in this hate-ridden world.

  27. November 14, 2016 3:38 PM

    Shared this. Thank you.
    Mahalo.

  28. LINDA GALLANT permalink
    November 14, 2016 5:37 PM

    What if everybody and anybody whers a pin to sucker people?…this is nit a safe idea

  29. November 14, 2016 5:50 PM

    I am not that strong and I usually avoid violence. But I have stepped in when others are in trouble. I have stopped several assaults even if sometimes I have become the new target. I have been thrown into a wall for stopping a man hitting his girlfriend who then verbally abused me for interfering. I have faced a gang beating a lone young man and used my loud voice to attract attention to the situation. I have stopped a man from assaulting a woman for bumping into him while crossing the street and I have talked down several people who have attacked me. I do not regret any of this and wear the safety pin as a visible symbol of what I do already. I understand that some people can be angered by what can look like an easy, empty gesture. But I will not stop being who I am. I am a safe person and I do not even think to count the cost of stepping in. I would rather be injured or even killed then stand back and do nothing, but I have survived so far, and so will trust my instincts and my higher power.

  30. November 14, 2016 6:24 PM

    Thank you got this post. I’ve shared it. It has a lot of valuable insight.

Trackbacks

  1. Extra Love. | Rev. Zayna Hart Thompson
  2. Day One: Allyship | See Clair Write
  3. So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin | fae713
  4. 2016 election bibliography – Early Onset Politics
  5. Open Letter to the Pin-bashing White Dude. – springpowers
  6. The Days After | Resident Alien -- Being Dutch in America
  7. So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin – Jamie Lynn Morgan
  8. Sunday’s sermon: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
  9. The Storm Is Here – Banshee Arts
  10. of rabbit holes and safety pins | Chasing Joy
  11. Post Skepticon Thoughts | The Scarlet Virago
  12. Safety Pins and Solidarity | Episcopal Cafe
  13. What if Trump is the Real-World Version of Negan? Thoughts on the 2016 American Presidential Election through a Walking Dead Lens – Professor, What If…?
  14. What if Trump is the Real-World Version of Negan? Thoughts on the 2016 American Presidential Election through a Walking Dead Lens – Professor, What If…?
  15. Safety Pin Activism: It’s Not So Easy – The New Context
  16. Apple II Companies are people | Apple II Bits
  17. Something Good | A Thousand Shades of Gray
  18. So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin | Yarn Spells
  19. The Shame on the Safety Pin – Shame on the Cross
  20. Pin Practice – Love. Life. Practice.

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