A Safety Pin is not a Safety Plan

I’ll say it again – a safety pin is not a safety plan.

I love the safety pin thing going around as a result of last week’s election results. I love the tales on my Facebook timeline of strangers stepping in to defend people under attack: the young men who threw the “pussy grabber” off of the metro, the 300 Baylor students who walked the young girl to class after someone called her the n-word. These are amazing events, signs of the human capacity to be inately kind and wonderfully resistant to conditioning.

But this is not a safety plan.

As amazing as the human capacity for kindness is, the humany proclivity toward inattention and distraction looms infinitely larger, crueler, and more sinister. What I’m saying is this: to all my people for whom Tuesday’s election was more than merely a disappointing outcome in a fair and democratic process; to those who feel genuine and justifiable fear that, regardless of why people voted for Trump, it just became open season on your life, here is what I say: get a safety plan.

Time for some real talk: the electoral college is not going to overturn Trump’s election, Trump is not going to get impeached (I don’t think – I’m not really a forecaster), and even if he is, Mike Pence might actually be worse than Trump. So the next four years are going to be rough. And you cannot bet your life and safety on the kindness of strangers continuing for the next four years. Most people are just not about that life. See, a lot of people, poor things, saw Trump as the antithesis of the political machine that has disenfranchised them for centuries (not years, centuries. Read real history sometime, not that shaded nonsense they teach you in school). These people did not realize Trump is not the outsider who shows just how much you can “shake up the establishment.” He is the 3rd cousin, twice removed, of Ivan the Terrible, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Vlad the Impaler, Catherine the Great, Louis the Sun King, Pol Pot, King Edgar the Peaceful, King George the III,  and any assortment of African dictators, southern plantation owners, and powerful industrialists whose names you can feel free to insert here (I hope you noticed that I included no Nazis – that’s intentional, as is the deliberate mixing of people “history” deems both villanous and comparatively benign). That’s very bad news for these hopefuls. It means that sooner, rather than later, they will feel the effects that we felt right away. They will wake up, like we woke up, going, “Oh America – what have you done?” And when that time comes, you may find you see fewer safety pins, not because people actively hate you, but because there are suddenly many, many more things that personally affect them, things crowding out the relative safety of strangers. And there is always something more important than the life of a stranger (many experiments, both skewed and helpful, have docmented this).

Don’t get me wrong – there are still Stranger Allies, people who are committed to making the world safe for everyone. But there are not enough of these people. I know because if there were enough, the issues we have would not still be issues. I would not dread reading international news because it tells me that in every country, essentially men suck: misogyny (such a terrible yet inadequate word) prevails around the world, despite the efforts of many organizations to raise awareness and then keep the issue in people’s minds.  Because that’s the real battle: not just awareness, but sustained action. Sure, we were outraged about that girl gang-raped in India. Question: where is she now? What about her family? How many of those outraged folks stuck with the story until legislation passed and then was enforced? O, like 12 (becasue it’s still not enforced)…huh. *in my Captain Jack Sparrow voice* “That’s interesing…” Side note: how many people know what happened next in her story? Talk to me about human trafficking – why is it the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world? And don’t tell me some nonsense about technology and the devious mind of criminals and the helplessness of government in the face of gangs and guerilla warfare…please. That’s not a real answer. If I learned nothing from the  movie Taken, it’s that I want Liam Neeson to be my dad. And also that government officials facilitate the process of trafficking. That elitism is everywhere, that when a religion becomes an institution, it stops being about any God, and that the only color that matters to people in power is not red or blue – it’s green (I didn’t get all that from Taken. There were lessons from real books thrown in there, too).

I’ve gotten distracted.

They say that people who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I don’t want us to be doomed. I wonder if anyone who’s ever found themselves on the business end of oppression would tell us, “Hey – wake up. Time to make a safety plan.” If anyone who’s ever been on the recieving end of a fire hose, night stick, police dog, lynch rope, lynch mob’s fist/feet or been on the wrong side of a truck, train car, barbed wire fence, or auction block (the old and the technology reboot) would say to us, “Don’t let them catch you by surprise. You can’t keep being surprised by how bad it gets, and how quickly it gets that bad.” I can’t put words in their mouths, but I can tell you: start networking. Think of it as building the Underground Railroad. Look out for each other. Form communication networks. Set up safehouses. Use technology to your advantage: warn people likewise in danger of “hot spots” (something like a text alert saying avoid 7th and Madison – the crazies are out). Get organized and do it soon.

Because this ocean of allies that you are currenly enjoying will fade. Other things will pop up that take up the attention of these strangers because these things will have personal significance, and you will be on your own. I’ve never been accused of being a raging optimist, but I don’t think I’m overly cynical or prone to being an alarmist. I just know people. And I know they lack staying power, and history tells me over and over that this is an almost infallible truth. You can set your watch (your calendar, your period app, all of it) by the perpetual failure of humans, not to care, but to keep caring. So, by all means, smile at the safety pins, accept the intervention of kind Unknowns, feel good about the kindness you encounter. But, for God’s sake, do not let that be your only plan. And don’t be lulled into the illusion of believing that this is enough to carry you through the uncertain days ahead. And if I’m wrong – so what? You’ve networked with people in ways that can only benefit all of you. You can always use that network for the next ice bucket challenge. But if I’m right, you’ve given yourself resources that will help protect you as you try to do the most courageous thing people of any minority have been trying grimly to do for centuries: live.

Good luck. Stay safe. And “may the odds…”




Also relates to the Daily Prompt: Lofty


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