I am a reluctant activist. It isn’t something that has come easily to me. I’ve never marched in protest. I never put antiwar bumper stickers on my car even though I was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I rarely donate money to organizations doing justice work. I will occasionally sign a petition, but I have to really care about it because I don’t want the constant e-mails asking me for . . . more. I’ve never given much thought to what it means to actually stand with those on the margins. Even though my life has, on occasion, bumped up against those margins.
There are certain issues I care very deeply about. LGBT rights, gun control, women’s rights. These are my priorities because they’ve affected me personally.
With this election, I’m coming face-to-face with my own selfishness and blindness. It gets very overwhelming very fast. My community has a significant and vibrant Somali community. I know next to nothing about them, except that they experience prejudice daily. Over the past few years, stories of black men and boys and women being shot, beaten, and/or killed have gained prominence in the news. We’re hearing over and over and over again about the inexcusable and unjust treatment of people of color. I’m only now beginning to see that I need to care about this too.
We have people trying to protect their water and sacred ground in North Dakota. The peaceful and unarmed protesters have been met with military tactics that have caused great harm. This has been going on for months, and I’ve mostly ignored the news about it. And there is news about it, contrary to the notion that it’s not being reported. It’s a matter of me not looking hard enough to find it. But now? I need to be looking because this matters greatly.
Catholics have a great vein of social involvement called Catholic Social Teaching. It’s something I’ve been aware of for many years, but I’ve never delved into it. I, like many Catholics, have treated it as a fringe concept, something to take or leave. But it’s not that simple. If we truly want to live the call of Jesus, if we are truly transformed by our experience of Eucharist, we are called not merely to bump against the margins but to step over them and be with.
On the Friday after the election, I added a safety pin to the necklace I wear every day. The use of safety pins to signify “safe people” started after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and since the election here, people have been wearing them to show their solidarity with marginalized people. I want to be a safe person for those around me—people I know and people I don’t know. The safety pins have drummed up a bit of controversy, of course. Those who wear them have been accused of “slactivism” and of wearing them only to make themselves feel better. I suppose I’m guilty of that myself. But I wear it for a different reason: to remind myself that I can’t afford the selfishness I’ve allowed myself for years. This election has shaken me significantly. The safety pin is a sign to others that I am safe, yes. But it is also a sign to myself that I cannot sit idly by while others suffer and feel unsafe.
As I grapple with what to do in the wake of this election, I wear the safety pin so I don’t forget that I’m being called to something here, not simply to have an opinion and share it with a few chosen friends. I am being called to action, even though I’m not quite sure what that action is yet. It will become clear, but for now, I’ll keep wearing my necklace.