After British citizens voted to leave the European Union in June, the nation experienced a 57 percent rise in reported xenophobic incidents. An American woman living in Britain tweeted a suggestion that people wear safety pins to show support to those experiencing abuse. Two days later, #safetypin was trending on Twitter.
Don’t make me look for your symbol of support. Show it in your words and deeds.
Safety pin-wearing became an American symbol for solidarity with minorities shortly after Donald Trump’s election. It was also criticized as self-congratulatory and an empty gesture. The discovery of a $335 gold safety pin necklace on Etsy represented, for some, the worst of the safety pin movement. Etsy sellers are 86 percent women, and the site — headquartered in bougie Dumbo, Brooklyn, with a staff that is 78.6 percent white — is stereotyped as a haven for white suburban moms and white urban hipsters. For some, the necklace was a symbol of profit-seeking and vanity, not solidarity, and a reminder of how white women as a whole voted 53 percent for Trump, undermining their credibility as allies.
Since then, many Trump opponents have made gestures of opposition, including marching, donating to the ACLU, wearing t-shirts, and deleting Uber. The safety pins are still going, however, despite the backlash. Kerry Washington wore one last week at the SAG awards.
There are more than 1,300 items on Etsy tagged with “safety pin solidarity.” While mostly jewelry, you can also buy safety pin-themed shirts, flags, and car decals. Etsy declined to give sales numbers for these items, so I contacted sellers to ask how many they’ve sold and why they’re doing this.
Answers have been condensed and edited.
SAFETY PIN SOLIDARITY DECAL - $3 to $10, depending on size
I first made myself one and decided I wanted others to have the opportunity to share in the movement. I was the first on Etsy to offer a safety pin decal with the word “solidarity” welded in it.
I've sold around 600 total. Most people purchase multiples in a single order, and I tend to give two or three extras in an order so they can give them to a friend or display them in multiple places.
— Dani Taapken
Once I finally got the decals listed under my Etsy and Amazon Handmade sites, I instantly received orders. In fact, within the first 20 minutes of the listing being active under my Amazon Handmade site, I received an order. Since then, I've received about two dozen orders.
I love seeing the various sizes customers have ordered from me. At first I figured I would sell 4-6 inch ones, but I have actually sold a lot that are much larger, such as 10 inches. That shows me that people not only support the movement, but that they want everyone to know what they stand for, and they aren’t afraid to show it. And I hope this continues to make an impact.
I have actually sold a lot that are much larger, such as 10 inches.
For anyone who thinks this is an empty gesture, I strongly disagree. We need to come together right now as a country, and what better way than by showing it with a movement such as this.
— Tenisha Proctor
Unique Handmade Solidarity Safety Pins - $9 to $15, depending on design
I have been an activist all my life from the time I went door to door with my Mom to get signatures from our neighbors to get our street paved, through sit-ins and marches in college to organizing groups for change in my professional career. It’s what I do. Now that I’m retired, I still needed to be involved in social activism.
I have only sold five pins since I started in mid-January, 2017. I am new to Etsy and have not figured out all the nuances of the site. I get a lot of favorites on my pins. I have given away most of my pins to friends and family.
I am a older black woman. When I see someone wearing a safety pin, I do feel a connection with the wearer.
I am a older black woman. When I see someone wearing a safety pin, I do feel a connection with the wearer. I don’t wear it to feel safe. I wear it — an open heart pin — to show compassion for others and resistance to hate.
There are many solidarity pin sellers. Many are very nice, and some are just plain tacky. I try to appeal to the “better angels” buyers — the ones who really want to stand up and change things. That’s why my pins are specific to causes or groups, not just fashion.
— Jenny Phelps
It just went completely viral that some outrageous woman in Santa Monica was charging $335 for this quote, unquote “solidarity necklace.”
There are plenty of people on Etsy and other places who have a positive message or a political message on a t-shirt or a hat or whatever. It’s not really anything new for somebody to sell something to make a profit.
It’s not really anything new for somebody to sell something to make a profit.
It’s jewelry. I’m not profiting off the suffering of anybody. I’m a single mother who is working a couple different careers right now. Gold is $1,200 to $1,700 an ounce. If I produce a gold necklace, it costs me a lot of money.
— Rebecca Cullen
We actually have not sold much. Roughly around 100 pieces? We’ve actually had quite a few customers who told us to “stay away from politics.”
We knew it wasn’t going to significantly generate sales. It could have easily been just a fad, and we initially thought people would stop buying them, maybe after a couple days, or a couple weeks the most. But it’s really inspiring to see how our customers are still buying them to this day.
Actions do speak louder than accessories. And I cannot agree more. I do believe that we shouldn’t feel like we’ve done our share just by wearing a safety pin. That’s not what it’s for.
We’ve actually had quite a few customers who told us to “stay away from politics.”
I’ve also heard a lot of critics say that safety pins are only there to help white people feel less guilty. And that people of color don’t really appreciate it. But if we are going to criticize white people for wearing safety pins saying that they’re doing it only to “look like” they are not racists, that’s a discrimination in itself. And this very tendency to assume bigotry is exactly why I see the need for safety pins even more. And I have faith that this symbolic gesture can grow enough awareness to make a substantial impact.
— Dohee Lee
I’ve sold around 75. I felt (and still do) it was a way to say, “I don’t want any part of the Trump hate speech; and if you see this pin, you know you have a friend in me.” Sounds corny, I know, but it’s my own small way of rebelling, and letting others know I’m here to help if I can.
— Laurie Williams
Handcrafted Safety Pin Brooch in Sterling Silver - $12 to $18 depending on design
[I’ve sold] around 200 total — the pin with a heart emblem is by far the most popular.
I believe there is power in knowing that you aren’t alone in your beliefs and feelings, that other citizens around you are working toward tolerance and inclusion. I hope that’s the message the pins send, and I think they do make an impact on the world. I also donate a portion of the revenue from pin sales to different charitable organizations that represent the same message.
— Erin Kleymann
Solid 14k gold tiny SAFETY PIN hoop earrings - 14k yellow, white, rose gold - punk jewelry, everyday earrings - $130 to $150 depending on size
I've been selling these safety pin jewelry since 2008. It’s been a popular line, but not until last November did people start to buy them as “solidarity pins.” I think (or I hope) it’s making a tiny impact on the world, especially for those who are emotionally affected by the result of the election (I happen to be one of them).
— Mu-Yin Chen
I asked friends on Facebook if they’d buy safety pins I made over the weekend if I donated my time. They would each choose their purchase price, and the proceeds would go to whatever nonprofit we agreed to. So many said yes that I couldn’t make enough pins that weekend. People paid as little as zero in one case and as much as $50 in another, and we raised $208 for Southern Poverty Law. Not much, I know, but it beat watching football over the weekend.
So I created the Etsy listing for friends who had wanted to be in on the fundraiser. After those people ordered, I kept getting a steady trickle of orders, so for now I’ve left it up. The sales raise a little donation money, $5 per pin. Also, I send out with each pin a letter sketching my thoughts about systemic hate. I’m a writer by profession. I believe in the power of words. Words backed by a symbol can be even more powerful. Which sort of gets to your question about making an impact on the world. No, wearing a pin is not going to change anything. My company’s tiny donations aren’t either, and if donation was the point, my customers would be far better off donating $29 to a good cause than buying a pin from me so I can donate $5. But if I hand somebody the right symbol — right being a symbol that works for them — linked to the right words, at the right time, it’s hard to say what impact THAT PERSON might go on to have.
No, wearing a pin is not going to change anything.
Best guess, 45 is my total. In December when the only safety pin jewelry available on Etsy looked slapped together, my artisan designs had no real competition, and I received more orders than I wanted. In January I received only four, which was perfect for me.
— Jo Deurbrouck
It does seem like buying a bespoke piece of safety pin jewelry is sort of missing the point. In theory, part of the appeal of the symbol is that everyone probably already has one lying at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. Unless you’re going for a specific cause, buying a fancy safety pin just seems like a fashion statement.
That’s more on the buyers than the sellers, though, who are a lot more self-aware than you might expect. (“Please, please don’t make this a referendum on passive activism,” one seller implored me.) Many of them are donating proceeds to charities that support vulnerable populations.
While you could argue that the buyers should send all that money directly to the ACLU, and perhaps stop spending money on fashion altogether and send all that money to the ACLU, you could also argue that everyone should drink a glass of water before breakfast. Although it’s true (try it!), only monks are committed enough to do it.