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So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin

November 12, 2016


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.

  • 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. Lisa Parker permalink
    November 14, 2016 8:30 PM

    This is a great idea, but what if a person that wants to cause harm wears these making those think they are safe…. Just because a person wears them doesn’t mean they are not out to cause harm… In Russia they post a page for gays wanting for a hookup and instead they are there to either kill or arrest them… It is the same thing to me, want to cause harm and just wear the pin making others think they aresafe….

  2. November 14, 2016 10:53 PM

    Very important…Thank you!

  3. November 14, 2016 10:55 PM

    Reblogged this on Art by Rob Goldstein and commented:
    If you are thinking of wearing a safety pin, read this.

  4. Jeanie permalink
    November 15, 2016 5:52 AM

    It is sad that this article even has to be written. Our country truly needs a mature leader that understands Awareness, Honesty & Responsibility. We are all one.

  5. November 15, 2016 6:49 AM

    Reblogged this on life after dani and commented:
    An exceptionally well written piece that brought a few safety issues to my attention. I’ll still wear my safety pin, but I’m going to be prepared and safe. Please be the same.

  6. November 15, 2016 11:09 AM

    A lot to consider, and frankly I’m super empowered!

  7. November 15, 2016 2:08 PM

    This was great.

    Was it Martin Luther who said not doing anything about the problem makes you just as guilty as the perpetrator?

  8. November 15, 2016 2:24 PM

    Reblogged this on 'Nathan Burgoine and commented:
    This is a fantastic read, whether or not you’re planning to wear a pin.

  9. November 15, 2016 2:32 PM

    I love this … I read the full post and I love the tone of this piece. It made me want to start in this movement, and it also made me think about the bigger picture. Yes, it does require more than just wearing the pin. We need to shut down racism “behind close doors” we need to stand up to our friends and family and tell them that their jokes are inappropriate. We have to stand up for one another!

    As difficult as this situation is, at least you are talking about it! That’s inspiring and it shows great maturity.
    My blogs’ focus is to uplift women and make them consider how the can break society’s norms and be the best versions of themselves…
    Please check it out

    I Absolutely love it!

  10. November 15, 2016 2:33 PM

    Love ❤

  11. November 15, 2016 2:50 PM

    I find it strange that white people have to support in SILENCE. The harassed are in the skin they are in every single day and white people want to walk around in a safety pin, smh. I personally think it’s cowardly.

    • November 16, 2016 5:39 PM

      That’s part of why I wrote this, because SO MANY people think that wearing a safety pins means a POC will come to them if they need help, rather than seeing it as a promise that the privileged person will step up.

  12. dlroc permalink
    November 15, 2016 2:51 PM

    I thank you for you post. A lot of people see the face value, and the good intention that it stands for, but may not necessarily think of some of the dominoes it could cause to fall. Interesting perspective, it seems like such a simple, but important thing to do to stand with your fellow Americans, but it’s easy to forget people won’t agree with you wearing the pin. Obviously, why we need to this.

  13. LINDA MADDOX SOLICE permalink
    November 15, 2016 2:58 PM

    We shall overcome the dictatorship being our way of life

  14. November 15, 2016 3:28 PM

    Thank you for this. Sharing.

  15. November 15, 2016 3:38 PM

    Not bad.. That another thing I learnt

  16. November 15, 2016 4:30 PM

    These are excellent questions to consider. I appreciate the candidness and the opportunity to reflect on these situations before I get caught in one. Thank you so much.

  17. November 15, 2016 4:46 PM

    Reblogged this on Rusty2rustys Chatter.

  18. November 15, 2016 4:47 PM

    Interesting post

  19. November 15, 2016 5:17 PM

    Hi! I would like to tell you how much I appreciate this. I think a lot of us just have the big intentions to help but have no clue how, or what to do if the situation ever arises.. I’m glad you took the liberty to explain this in detail. I shared your post on my fb page and twitter feed hoping you don’t mind. Once again, thank you so much!

  20. Helen permalink
    November 15, 2016 8:23 PM

    I read the “about” section and see you are also a POC, so I apologize for making assumptions.. but I see that it is white people sharing this post (that is how I came across it), and it will be mostly white people reading it and taking it to heart.

    • November 16, 2016 5:46 PM

      I don’the necessarily have a problem with that. White people are the ones who need the talking to on this issue.

  21. November 15, 2016 8:58 PM

    This was required! Ty

  22. November 15, 2016 10:13 PM

    I was looking for more information on this, and yes, you’re right that things can get violent. I’m definitely not in shape to take a hit or anything like that, but its definitely an incentive to do better. At least I’ve got some things to brush up until I feel physically capable of being helpful. Knowing my tendencies, I might help in lower-risk situations anyway. Hugs!

  23. November 15, 2016 11:00 PM


  24. November 16, 2016 12:27 AM

    The voice of wisdom – to be applauded.
    Another voice of wisdom: what about accepting (like Hillary) the election result with grace and preparing for the next election by giving democracy a chance?

    • November 16, 2016 6:33 AM

      Because the winner of the election has surrounded himself with people who want to remove my fundamental rights, electrocuted me until I am straight, and, in some cases, literally kill me.

      Why not just calmly accept the election results? Basic self respect.

  25. nbahustle permalink
    November 16, 2016 12:27 AM

    Nice Post

  26. Dalindcy Koolhoven permalink
    November 16, 2016 4:33 AM

    This was a great article, both for those who choose to wear a pin and for those who don’t. 🙂 Thank you!

  27. November 16, 2016 6:33 AM

    Thank you! I’ve seen celebs – and most of us who aren’t celebs-jump on every bandwagon without stopping to think what a certain symbol, such as the safety pin, actually means. In addition, not all of us are so sure as to what to do in these situations, but you nailed it when you said protecting one member of a minority, but not another is worse than not wearing the pin (or any symbol) at all.

  28. November 16, 2016 6:55 AM

    A lot to think about after reading this. Most people wouldn’t do anything about it. Good post!

  29. November 16, 2016 8:51 AM

    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this article:

    “And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better. They’ll do little or nothing to reassure the marginalized populations they are allegedly there to reassure; marginalized people know full well the long history of white people calling themselves allies while doing nothing to help, or even inflicting harm on, non-white Americans.”

    Emily K

    • November 16, 2016 5:36 PM

      Unless wearing the pin is a small part of a larger plan to proactively fight bigotry and the dehumanization of the marginalized, then yes, the pin is about making the wearer feel good about themselves.

  30. November 16, 2016 9:25 AM

    Thank you so much for posting this piece. I had no idea what the significance of the pin was. I love this idea


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  5. I wore a safety pin on my shirt today | Progressive Culture | Scholars & Rogues
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