On Safety Pins and Feeling Lost
In the wake of an election that did not go the way I expected or hoped it would, I am so confused about this country I barely leave my house right now. I stay home and knit mostly, which is a valid thing to do, since I'm actually getting paid to do it these days. Still it might also be a little bit cowardly of me. I will admit to feeling kind of lost, and at a loss as to what I might do that will do any good.
"Peaceful" demonstrations in the Portland streets are not just "out there" somewhere, but in my own downtown neighborhood. I look out from the safety of my fifth floor window, and see streams of people marching, shouting, chanting, carrying signs. The signs are all over the protest map, scrawled with everything from "Love Trumps Hate" to "Please Be Nice" to "Not My President" to "F**k Trump."
These peaceful demonstrations are taken over by a few dark-minded trouble makers, and then I see trucks loaded with riot squad police officers roll by, followed by the sound of loud speakers and warnings, and eventually flashbangs exploded into crowds, in an attempt to disperse them, or at least keep them moving. It goes on late into the night, and it's one of the most disturbing things I've ever lived with.
All over the internet, I see people expressing shock, sadness, anger and hatred. I suppose it's to be expected that Hillary supporters would be outraged and vocal. But what scares me is that I also see Trump's supporters lashing out with hatred for the majority of the country who actually would have elected Hillary if numbers of votes were what we counted. It's almost like there's a new permission for people to behave at their very worst, granted by a man who is proud of his own bad behavior.
What are we all supposed to do? There are good and decent people in both camps. I know that my friends who voted for Trump did not do it to cause us all harm. We've all heard all the reasoning, and it doesn't matter anymore why this man was elected. What matters is how are we going to keep him from dividing us in ways we thought we'd long ago healed? How will we keep the good that this country has? How will we preserve the rights we've worked so hard to earn? How can we still treat each other with kindness and respect, even when we don't agree?
I latched on to the growing popularity of wearing a safety pin, thinking that was a quiet little expression of solidarity with other peace-loving people. I thought it would discreetly, but clearly say, No, I did not vote for this. I wore a pin for a couple of days, and I felt like I was making more than the usual connection with people I passed on the street. Young women of various ethnicities, all with darker skin than mine, were the most likely to make eye contact and smile. Did they feel safer with me out there, wearing my little safety pin? Maybe. Or maybe I imagined it.
Then I came across an article criticizing the safety pin movement as just a way for white people to make themselves feel better without really doing anything. Crap. That's sort of what I was doing. I don't want to demonstrate, march, or protest. I don't want to be confused for one of the crazy window breakers. I don't want to find myself in a cloud of tear gas. And I really really don't want to be hurt or arrested.
The day I took my pin off, I was out with Rick, and a woman looked at us and launched into a hissing tirade - something like, Oh my God... oh my God... so much hatred... It hit me almost physically. Why in the world would someone make such an enormous assumption about a small, even meek, symbol of peace? I was crushed. I thought about it all afternoon, and while Rick tried to assure me that the woman was just a crazy person, I was seriously questioning the value of my safety pin wearing. If it could be misunderstood so hugely, how was it helping anything?
Later, on the way home, we passed a leftover Halloween prop that a local pizza place had outside their door. It had creeped me out for weeks, and it was still there, too long after Halloween to be even remotely amusing anymore. It was a life size Arnold-As-Terminator statue, with half of his face dripping off, wearing a chef's apron with "You'll Be Back" written on the front in blood red, and holding a pizza peel and a very large, very real looking shotgun. It wasn't witty. It was offensive. I walked as far around it as I could, and crossed the street, back to the spot where the woman had been offended by my safety pin earlier...
Oh man... what a day...
And that's when I realized what had probably really happened. The Terminator across the street was in direct line with where the woman had been looking at "us" earlier. More likely, she had looked right past us, and was as offended by the lifelike killer on the corner as I was. I can't be sure why, but that big creepy Arnold disappeared later that day, and hasn't been back since. My guess is the angry woman went right over there and set them straight, while I walked invisibly by with a safety pin on my sweater. I took the pin off and set it on my bathroom counter.
We have to be so careful right now, not only with what we say and do, but in what we assume. We don't know what each other is thinking. I could have just walked over to the woman whom I thought was outraged with me and asked her what was wrong. Even if she was upset by something about me, I'll bet we could have talked about it. I also could have gone into the pizza place days before all this happened and gently suggested that their Halloween joke had turned the corner to bad taste. I can do more. We all can. But I'm really not at all sure what that is just yet.
My safety pin remains on the bathroom counter. It's cold and rainy outside today, and there's nothing I need to go out for, so I'm staying home. After writing this, I'll make more tea and knit. I have wishes to fill, soft comforting things to make for people who have asked for them. Maybe I'm not really lost after all. I'm right here. Doing what I know how to do. I have to believe that's helpful in some way.
As for the safety pin, well I'm not sure. It might be better to actually speak with other humans. I have long had the habit of keeping a little smile on my face when I'm out in public. Very tiny. It's more intentionally from my eyes than from my lips. More often than not, when I catch someone's eye, they'll smile back, and that, in turn, can change their whole day.
What might happen if we timid ones put ourselves out there as a one-person peace march whenever we go out? I think it's worth a try.
Things for me to remember:
Talk to people.
I can't get lost because I'm always in here (hand held over heart).
Making beautiful things puts love into the world.
I can always do better.
My smile is my safety pin.