Imagine the scene: On the subway, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab is sitting, minding her own business. A man approaches, full of hatred in his heart. He wants that seat; she doesn’t deserve to sit. He approaches and spews epithets and seems prepared to strike her. He feels emboldened to do so because the majority of voters in swing states chose Donald Trump for President. She looks up from her book and scans the car for a hero, and finds one sitting nearby with a safety pin on his coat. Safety pin man jumps in and beats the assailant into submission before the train can be stopped at the next station, where police are ready and waiting to cart him away for attempted assault and hate crime charges. It’s ridiculous, no?
Despite reports from two of the most untrustworthy sources imaginable, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Council on Islamic Relations (CAIR), it’s impossible to know if such incidents are occurring with increased frequency since the election. Already several reports of such behavior have been debunked as hoaxes; it’s likely more will be as well.
But the possibility of hate crimes being committed post-election isn’t the outlandish part, and it’s not what makes the scenario so implausible. There may indeed be some increased hateful incidents (from both sides); it’s too early to get accurate reports from the FBI. The unlikely part of the story is the part about a bystander jumping to the rescue because he was wearing a safety pin.
If you’ve been on social media the last week (though I can’t say I blame you if you haven’t been), you’ve likely seen the selfies of friends wearing safety pins. It’s the new version of changing your profile picture for a cause. This isn’t slacktivism, though, because they had to go FIND a safety pin, put it on, and then take a selfie. That’s a lot of steps, and it really raised the slacktivism quotient a few notches.
What does the pin symbolize? The safety pin movement isn’t meant to signal a specific action; no, that would be far too much commitment for the hashtag generation (ahem, #BringBackOurGirls). The safety pin pictures are another form of virtue signaling, a specialty for those on the left who want to make perfectly clear what their political allegiances and beliefs are every second of the day.
The pin does not only signal that the wearer is opposed to Donald Trump; it signals a belief that, even before taking office, Trump has made the country a more unsafe place for minorities, Muslims, Jews, and any other group that might want to claim victim status. Why that is an important enough belief to wear around all day every day is unclear; declaring one’s opposition to a candidate that almost half of American voters chose isn’t exactly an action that will bring about political change in a time of high tensions.
Instead of walking around with a meaningless safety pin, what could the frustrated masses do with their energies instead? For starters: Register and vote. Over half of the anti-Trump protestors arrested in Oregon didn’t even vote in the Presidential election. If protestors feel so strongly about the election result, it would have perhaps been a better use of their energies to get out of bed last week and get to the polls to make their voices heard. If protesters are interested in pushing back against a Trump Presidency, their only chance of doing so is maintaining the few seats Democrats have left in the U.S. Senate, some of which are up for grabs in 2018 in an election so daunting Politico called it a “potential disaster.”
If social justice is more their jam, there are any number of service opportunities available. Instead of smashing windows and shutting down roadways (which transport not just commuters, but also ambulances and fire trucks), they could spend their time becoming a court appointed special advocate for children in the system and provide safety for a real human being, or volunteer for any number of other worthy causes.
Many people protesting in the streets of major cities this week are learning several important lessons about living in a republic. There is no participation trophy for losers, nor is there any sympathy for losers who didn’t’ even bother trying to lace up to play. Taking a selfie wearing a safety pin might make the pin wearer feel good, but it’s only as meaningful an act as chanting #NotMyPresident in the streets. If protesters and pin-bearers want to actually do something about President Trump, they might want to try actually doing something for a change.