It starts with a safety pin.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential win, millions of people are scared. And their fears won’t be eased by reports that, after the election, potentially related racist and anti-Semitic abuse and vandalism is happening across the country.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a school is investigating graffiti scrawled on a bathroom door that reads “whites only” and “fuck niggers.” At Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater, two Trump supporters harassed students and were escorted off the campus by security. Two Muslim women — one at San Diego State University and another at the University of Louisiana — say they were victims of pro-Trump, anti-Muslim harassment and robbery (Update: since the article was written, police now say the student at the University of Louisiana has fabricated the story). Pro-Nazi graffiti has been spotted in Philadelphia and at the University of New Mexico.
This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list of such occurrences; reports and anecdotes of harassment and attacks have emerged from all pockets of the United States. It’s also unclear, at this point, if there’s an actual uptick, or if these sorts of events have received more attention because of the election.
But the presence of this abuse is hardly a surprise, given how heavily Trump’s campaign leaned on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric. With his election, it’s easy to trace a line between Trump’s win and Trump supporters being more emboldened to act out on these campaign cornerstones.
These bigoted attacks and harassment — carried out against Americans by Americans — are not unlike the attacks that many British people and immigrants suffered at the hands of other Brits in the wake of the Brexit earlier this year. In June, after the National Police Chiefs’ Council concluded that it had seen a 57 percent rise in reported incidents, Prime Minister David Cameron had to address MPs and the British public to state that the vote was not an excuse to commit xenophobic abuse.
That was also when Brits realized the power of a simple safety pin.
During the height of these attacks, many people wanted to show solidarity, support, and offer safety to one another but didn’t know how. And an American woman named Allison (who didn’t want her last name revealed in the Guardian) living in Britain at the time decided that she wanted to change that:
I’d like to come up with something that can be made by anybody anywhere to pin on their jacket or coat to signify that they are an ally.
— miss pommery 1926 (@cheeahs) June 26, 2016
I quite like the idea of just putting a safety pin, empty of anything else, on your coat. A literal SAFETY pin!
— miss pommery 1926 (@cheeahs) June 26, 2016
In a big city like London, or even in someplace smaller like a grocery store, or a coffee shop, we’re all just strangers to one another. It can be difficult for all of us to either reach out for help or offer help. A symbol as simple as a safety pin can be an important first step in showing solidarity and support for people who are scared and upset at this time.
After Allison shared her idea, a #safetypin hashtag began trending, and Brits began posting selfies of themselves wearing safety pins on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram as a way to raise awareness.
The “safety pin” symbol was inspired by the 2014 #illridewithyou movement in Sydney, Australia. where people offered to sit next to Muslims who felt threatened on their commutes — at the time, there was fear of an Islamophobic backlash after a terrorist attack in Sydney left two hostages and the gunman dead (one of the hostages was killed by a bullet ricochet). And its spirit is in line with a guide to stopping Islamophobia that recently went viral and offers solutions to bystanders and witnesses.
There’s now a burgeoning effort in the United States for people to start wearing the safety pin stateside in the face of post-election attacks and harassment. Having to adopt a symbol of anti-violence and anti-bigotry is not exactly what any of us thought we’d be doing in the wake of a presidential election taking place in 2016, but it could be one small way to signal that you’re an ally (regardless of who you voted for) to someone who probably didn’t think they’d be in this vitriolic and volatile situation either.
Update: The article cited a report from a student from the University of Louisiana who alleged that she was a victim of anti-Islamic harassment after the election. Since the article was written, police have now determined that the student has fabricated the story.