Affinity groups that preach radical egalitarianism are a paradox. We organize in order to work for equality for all, but it is so easy to slip into the romanticism of MY PEOPLE! The joy. Separate from Them, the delusional haters. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. The statement is binary. It divides. Which side are you on? I declare there to be two, and mine is Right. I mean Left, but Correct.
Before googling and finding this awesome snopes post about the history, legends, and symbolism of wearing safety pins, I thought to myself: wearing a safety pin is a poor substitute for actual human contact. The post confirmed my suspicions that the idea of secret signs and signals is romantic folly, easily thwarted and misappropriated. Why use a semi-secret sign instead of a button with explicit meaning that one can simply read? Because it is safer? more fun to be part of a semi-secret sect?
Wearing a safety pin, if you must, should be used like training wheels for looking people in the eye and being open and friendly in that very moment, however brief it might be. Or not training wheels, but a token, a reminder to practice reaching across the false dividers.
This takes practice. Not doing it, out of fear of the unknown, or laziness, is precisely part of the problem. Learning to do it without annoying the heck out of every person you pass in the grocery aisle takes practice, but that practice is what should make you feel good, not wearing a semi-secret symbol that by its very nature is divisive. You can trust me, you might not want to trust her, she has no pin and might be a Hater.
I love my sisters. I know one voted for Trump, and I assume the other did as well, though we don’t spend time discussing such things. Sara, in North Carolina, feels that Obama emphasized existing divisions and whipped up hate. I saw Obama, by his mere existence, exposing divisions while calling for love and tolerance. My heart-sisters, here in California, Krista and Carolyn are in much the same opposition, and their brother voted for Trump, too.
It is uncomfortable, sometimes, but I am so very grateful that we have each other so that we know, deeply, how human and real, intelligent, thoughtful, and fundamentally loving those Others are. It is not possible that our families are the exceptions and the other half of the voters who elected Trump are categorically delusional.
My daughter, age 23, nestled in the people’s republic of Berkeley, my beloved college town, said last summer, “Read this, it is very discomforting for liberals: Smug American Liberalism.” She is right! It is discomforting, and the intellectual points are spot on. Even worse, though, it takes as given the division and the us vs. them. Because it is a given, unfortunately.
That is the good fight, the daily practice. Figuring out how to love Them, individually, ordinarily, daily.
Here is a token that would work better for me, in my pocket, as a reminder of how far we’ve come and yet how far we have to go. I would not use it to foster discontent with the present in myself, but rather as a reminder to do my part in both the personal and the political.