Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 57% rise in hate crimes following the Brexit referendum. Similar increases in hate crimes were reported stateside following the recent presidential election. This came in addition to reports of children, terrified that their parents would be deported. And worse, demeaning behavior, discrimination and overt hatred now legitimized, social mores becoming tawdry, a culture becoming fearful, exclusive, unwelcoming. How do we counter the toxic wildfire twitters, the rise in hate crimes, the debasing of a culture?
People are responding, in England and here. Interfaith coalitions have sprung up. Jews and Muslims, responding to “a wave of hate crimes…are forming interfaith coalitions,” some sharing a Shabbat dinner, reported the New York Times on December 6. Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “Jews know what it means to be identified and tagged. If Muslims were ever forced to register ‘that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim,’” he declared. Twenty-five hundred religious leaders signed a petition condemning a “Cabinet of Bigotry, a cabinet including Senator Jeff Sessions, Alt-Rt leader Steve Bannon and Lt. General Michael T. Flynn.
On November 17, Nicholas Kristof, editorial writer for the New York Times, publicly pledged to take 12 steps. Among them:
- Avoid “demonizing people”
- Support advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Contribute to organizations that help the needy
- Support refugees through The International Rescue Committee and explore volunteer opportunities through www.rescue.org/volunteer
- Counter degrading comments about minorities or women
- Understand that progress will unfold on the state and local levels
- Never lose hope.
Mike Walker, Executive Director, Partnership For A Safer Cleveland, dear friend and colleague, a very large man, and a veteran advocate for at-risk youth and the fragile communities in which they live, shared these thoughts with vintage Walker passion. “Jack, I grew up in Alabama, picking cotton, drinking water from ‘Colored Only’ water fountains.” At nine years old they thought I was big enough to work in the fields. One day it was so hot that I had to have water, any water. So I grabbed a jug and drank. Problem was that it was the white man’s jug. My granddaddy got a terrible beating as a result of my mistake. You see, Jack, I’ve seen the worst, but I’ll never stop plowing, never stop planting, never stop watering. They’ll be floods, droughts and weeds, weeds, weeds. The nation got through Colored Only water fountains, got through segregation. I’ll never lose hope. I’ll never stop planting.”
I’m pretty clear about my pledge going forward: intensify my work with struggling children, youth and families, help mobilize citywide efforts, speak out/write, work on the local level for political changes, intensify my support for gun violence reduction strategies, and to keep close family and my “beloved community,” friends and colleagues from across the nation – such as Mike Walker – who support and who continue to inspire.
Pledges vary. Some are heavy lifts that not all can carry. But a simple, yet overt, option exists. Allison, an American woman living in Britain, alarmed by what she was reading and seeing on busses, wondered the same. How to counter this, she asked herself, how to show that I stand against this and that I am there for “the other?” A safety pin. Yes, a safety pin. “For those wearing it, it would be a constant reminder of the promise they’ve made not to stand idly by while racism happens to someone else.” In other words, “you’re safe with me, I will protect you.” In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, thousands of British people started wearing the token and posting photos of themselves using the #SafetyPin hashtag on social media. “I wear my #SafetyPin to show I am a safe place. I will protect those who are treated unfairly bc of gender, race, disability, & indiv beliefs” twittered Sarah Lill. “I put on my #SafetyPin today. Whoever you are, I am a safe person and I will help you!” said Rodger Dobry.
Many people wear some sort of religious icons or sustaining talismans or small, framed pictures of loved ones on necklaces, usually hidden, discreetly worn under shirts or blouses. Allison didn’t want people to go out and buy something, noting that “everybody has a safety pin somewhere in the house.”
A simple and powerful statement not hidden in computers or cell phones, something seen in grocery stores, on buses and subways, on Little League fields. “What’s that?” the pin-wearer might be asked. “Did you forget something this morning when you got dressed? I think you didn’t see that a safety pin is stuck to your sweater!” “No, I put it there. This is what it means…” And it can mean, in addition to conveying that you are a safe place for others, that you, as Kristof, have made your pledges.
And the word spreads, the willingness to act unmistakably clear. A safety pin. A little old safety pin that might help spur change. Too simplistic? Who knows. But to the wearer it represents a public proclamation of values. And to the viewer it may spur a question, a question that might lead to action.
Finally, let’s be inspired by John, Chapter 1, verse 5: “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Let your light shine, even if a glint from a safety pin.