I think 2020 is called that because by September, this year has seemed 2,020 months long. It’s so easy to lose hope. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media, especially since I’m still recuperating after Covid19 and there’s only so much energy, but it seems every time I do go on Facebook or Twitter, there’s someone fighting sadness, anxiety and/or depression who asks for some sign that things can get better.
When I feel that way, I think about 2016-2017. It seemed like a parade of the most hateful people in the world were just partying in the streets. Meanwhile friends who are gay, or non-binary, or non-white, or otherwise in some way didn’t fit what those jerks thought was “acceptable” were being trolled by morons saying that they should die. People were being harassed, injured, killed.
I’d heard about Safe Harbor Pins, safety pins worn to signal that the wearer was safe to approach, especially if you felt threatened and needed someone, even a stranger, to help you feel, or be, safe. There was some controversy — some thought that too many people would congratulate themselves on wearing the pin and not do anything else.
Symbols are powerful things. When you adopt one as part of your identity, you are making a statement about where you stand and what you believe. But then there were reports of white supremacists hijacking the symbol, wearing safety pins as a threat, or to fool others. Artists talked about how to take that symbol back.
So I started making them, and beading them. Adding charms, buttons, all sorts of things. I didn’t think people would really want them, but I went to a local women’s march with a few pins, thinking it would take me hours to give them away, if I even could.
I’m an introvert, and shy, so talking to strangers is not my thing in a big way, but I did approach some people. I’d put single pins on little cards explaining what they were. Withing 15 minutes, I’d given them all away, and people were asking how to make them.
I felt the need to stand and make a statement, and others did, too. One young woman gave me the idea to put two pins on a card, one to keep, one to give away. I took time off from everything else I was doing and, with the help of my husband, made over 2,000 pins in total by the end of the project. I got hand cramps, calluses, and more pin pricks that I can count.
We visited San Francisco during the anniversary of the Summer of Love. We visited Los Angeles. We talked to people from around the world and around the U.S., including people from every political party. We talked to people from many economic backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. This was designed not to be a political project. Over 1,000 people were stopped by a stranger and asked if they would like a pin. The meaning of the pin was explained, and that wearing it was a symbol that you believed all people — including those you don’t understand, those you disagree with, even those you dislike — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
And they did. In overwhelming numbers. Parents talked to their children about respect and how they treat people. Teens talked about why they give respect to some people but not others. Adults talked about their fears for friends, family.
We were hugged fairly often. Kissed once by a tourist from Paris. Offered money (which we declined. A gift is a gift). Some people cried. Too often, we heard from people who had been going through rough experiences, being bullied, hurt and otherwise abused. People told us who their second pin was going to. We were privileged to be included in conversations people had with their kids, friends, significant others about how they choose who to be kind to and why – and that it is a choice.
Now, with so much violence and anger, the threat of a global pandemic and a future that looks even more uncertain than usual, I think about more than 1,000 people, stopped by a stranger, standing up in front of other strangers, talking about freedom, kindness, and the worth of human life, and making a conscious choice to state their belief in the value of every human being.
They walked away taller, beacons of light in the darkness. And they are still out there. THAT is what I reflect on when the world is chaotic and frightening. Over 1,000 people, and the even larger number who contributed to them being who they are.
If you see this and you happen to be one of them. Thank you. You light my way in my dark hours.
Should you want to read short stories from the project, just search for #lovebeads to find stories from our adventures.