Monday, January 23, 2017

Protests and Pink Hats and Safety Pins...Oh, My!

Given the events of the past few days, I suppose that it's entirely understandable that I'm thinking about various Women's Marches and the reasons for them.  I'm also thinking a bit about something that may seem a bit frivolous at first look—those pink "pussy hats" that so many people have been creating and wearing as a form of sartorial protest.

I've been reading a fair amount of criticism directed at those hats lately, just as there was criticism directed at the wearers of safety pins a few months ago (Can it really be that long?) when they were adopted as a sign that the wearer is a safe person for people who belong to marginalized groups to be around.  The general thought seems to be that visual signs and symbols like this are useless and perhaps even a bit insulting, since there's no guarantee that the people who make use of them are sincere; also, these symbols seem to take up too much space, physically and mentally, without actually giving a direct reference to the things that they're supposed to signify (especially when the people who adopt them most widely tend to be white and therefore they put people of my race front-and-centre when perhaps we shouldn't be).  And of course there's the risk that the visual references will overshadow the very things that they're supposed to represent, which is counterproductive and also kind of horrible.

I admit that these are valid criticisms, but I also have to think...what if the safety pins and the pink hats and the more theatrical aspects of peaceful protests can also serve a useful purpose?

When I see someone wearing a safety pin or a pink "pussy hat," or when I see people getting involved in a march or singing songs or chanting protest slogans with or without a drum circle, I see someone whose ideology is most likely at least compatible with mine, though we may well differ on the specifics.  It's the same when I see someone wearing a pentacle or a cross (or a crucifix—I do come from a Catholic background, after all) or a seven-pointed star.  There's value in that.  Seeing people openly wear a symbol of protest or safety gives me hope.  It reminds me that there are in fact quite a lot of people who disapprove of the direction that things have been going in lately, and I can see one of them standing right in front of me.  I know that regardless of any other differences we might have, we can support each other in this particular issue, at least.

While the symbol and any accompanying protest actions should by no means take the place of the things that people are trying to say and to accomplish in the first place, I do think that they have their uses.  They energize people; they remind us that things are not all inevitably going to be horrible.  They give a bit of hope to people who may be frantically trying to tell themselves, "it's pretty scary now, but maybe it will someday be okay."  They can help to fire up people's enthusiasm, sometimes more than solemn repetitions of the reasons why Things Are Disastrously Wrong can.

As anyone who's been reading this blog for long enough knows, I have had problems with depression and anxiety in the past.  (There is a point to referencing this, I promise.)  Sometimes my mental health can still be surprisingly shaky, and I have several friends to thank for the stability I do have, especially my best friend.  And frankly, it isn't very helpful to always be hearing a ceaseless commentary about the terrifying state of the world and the great evils that everyone must be willing to fight until we have no fight left in us.  Enough of that talk, and I become too discouraged and afraid even to leave my bed, never mind the house.  Since a lot of people think that the only real way to make a difference is to lead loud public protests, shove petitions into people's faces, and generally be a pain in the ass to the Powers That Be, that's...not useful, really.

I need some of that joy, some of that hope, some of that public group enthusiasm to remind me of precisely why we need change.  I need to see that there are like-minded people out there who are willing to do things—maybe not great and extremely visible things, perhaps just "small things with great love," and I'm sure that I'm going to be writing another rant about the way that activists assume that they're the only ones who work to make changes, but that's a topic for another day—to make this world less frightening and depressing.  And I'm sure that I'm hardly alone in that.  As long as these symbolic and fun things don't take over, and as long as they're not the only things that people do to accomplish what they say they believe in, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

They shouldn't take over, of course, but they should have some kind of place.  Not everyone is able to keep things totally serious and solemn and perfect all the time.  Nor should they have to.

As for me?  I'm not an activist; I'm a subversive.  I do small things and hope that they can help in some way.  And after I'm finished crocheting my grandmother's birthday present (a bright pink blanket to help brighten up her new home), well, perhaps I'll have enough yarn left to make a cute pink hat of my own.  It's not really my colour, but I think I can deal with that.

After all, it's not the only thing I'm doing, and who knows?  Perhaps someone needing encouragement, perhaps someone who is of a more activist bent than I, may see me and be glad to know that they are not alone.  That somebody has their back.

There's value in that.