I have long admired Sheila Ortego. She was the president of Santa Fe Community College for many of the years I taught there. She is a writer and supporter of the literary arts—her published novel is The Road From La Cueva. You can find her on her bead/jewelry blog —www.thebead.net
When I heard of this terrifying incident, I asked her to write it up and share it with readers here.
A Day in my Post-Election Life
It’s no secret that I noodle around on Facebook quite a bit, probably most often reading and appreciating what my more conservative family and friends would label as liberal propaganda. One of the short articles I enjoyed recently was about how in Britain, residents there have taken to wearing small safety pins as a signal to immigrants or minorities who might be under threat that, in a pinch, there is refuge nearby. And indeed, social media has encouraged American citizens to also wear the safety pin, as a symbol of unity with those who are feeling vulnerable right now.
Like many others, I felt horrified and helpless after the election, not knowing what more I could do to begin to help in setting the world aright. The safety pin idea resonated with me, as I am particularly horrified by Trump-inspired racial and religiously motivated harassment and abuse. It’s a small, quiet thing, to wear a safety pin. And it’s very easy, and I believe, may be very powerful. Articles have also been written against the idea of wearing the pin – with themes ranging from warnings about putting yourself in harm’s way, cynical views about how it’s “just a thing to make white people feel better”, and a “way to make you feel ‘better-than’ Trump-supporters. I don’t buy all that. I just want to add to my list of small actions I can take in my everyday life, like making donations to worthy organizations, volunteering, including exhortations for kindness into my writing life –- and now, wearing the safety pin.
I used to feel so overwhelmed by all the troubles in the world, but the teachings of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Jane Goodall and Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandella and Martin Luther King and the other incredible wise ones of the world have taught me — small, humble actions can make an enormous difference, especially when multiplied by many others joined together in such actions.
I put on the pin the very next day after reading the article. Fortunately, I had read a couple of helpful pieces about what to do if you are personally harrassed as a result of wearing a safety pin, or if you truly end up in a situation in which someone needs to be defended and/or helped. I say fortunately, because I wasn’t away from home for more than 10 minutes when a woman started verbally and non-verbally harassing me because I was quietly wearing this pin. In fact, I had just pulled up to the bank , and hadn’t even gotten out of my car.
The tall blonde woman walked up to my passenger window, looked deliberately inside, evidently to assure herself she saw what she thought she saw (the fairly large safety pin I had put on my shirt), and very deliberately gave me a long, slow ‘finger’, and the most hateful look that had ever been directed at me in my entire life. Frankly, the look on her face was vicious and frightening, and it stunned me for a moment. As she finished her gesture and turned to defiantly walk into the bank, I sat in my car and thought about what had just happened. I couldn’t believe it at first, thinking perhaps I had cut her off on the road before we got to the bank or something. But as I reviewed the events and those leading up to them in detail, I realized it was, indeed, just that little symbol of support for the vulnerable that had set her off.
I decided to turn on the video function of my cell phone, as I still needed to go into the bank and I assumed I would run into her again. Ironically, I found myself standing behind her in line, and as our respective ‘turns’ came with the tellers, we were standing about 4 feet apart from each other at the bank windows. I apologized to the teller as I paused to prop my phone on the counter , explaining that I needed to keep the video running. The woman heard this and looked at me then, and turned to her own teller to complain loudly that I had photographed her. I immediately explained that actually, I was video-taping her because she had been harrassing me outside, apparently for the safety pin I was wearing, and I needed to document the situation, in case it re-occurred or continued.
Fortunately, both tellers seemed quite supportive – of me. The woman became even more angered at that point, and said maybe she needed to change banks, and then she worked herself up even more (while I fumbled for my checkbook and other items I needed for my transaction, understandably distracted from the main business at hand) – and proclaimed that maybe she should just move out of the state (New Mexico, which had several significant democratic victories during the election). My response to that was simply “Good” (meaning I would be glad if indeed she were to move out of the state), at which point she stalked out of the bank and left me to complete my business.
In my life, I have dealt with a lot of stressful situations, including very hostile people – most often in times when as an administrator I had to make unpopular decisions or be the bearer of bad news. But never before in my life have I felt myself to be the subject of such pure, raw hatred and hostility. My hands were shaking, and I realized the article about putting yourself in harm’s way was right on target. But I also realized how very important it is to wear that pin, every day, if only to give myself opportunities to explain and demonstrate my position to people who may not understand, or be aware, or those like this woman – who would hate those who simply want to see more kindness in this world.
For those of you who would like to know more about the safety pin “movement”, here are some of the sources I appreciated most.
Many thanks to Miriam for inviting me to do this guest post.