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Let's Talk About It: The Safety Pin


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Editor's note: This is one in a series of opinion pieces solicited by the Journal. In the immediate aftermath of Nov. 8, it became very clear that people need safe spaces to discuss their ideas and feelings, and generally process what was the ugliest and most vitriolic presidential contest in generations. To that end, we reached out to a variety of community stakeholders, people who we felt could help starts this community dialogue. The response was overwhelming, and a full list of submissions complete with links can be found at the bottom of this post. We hope you'll also join the conversation by commenting online, writing letters to the editor and talking to each other.

I am a woman, an immigrant, a Palestinian, an Arab, and I come from a Muslim culture. Thus, I'm scared. I teach at a public university, where about half our students are first generation students of color. They, too, are filled with anxiety; many express feeling unsafe in their community and at their university. I'm horrified by the reinvigoration of racism, misogyny and xenophobia that has recently escalated in quantity and severity. Since Trump's election, an LGBTQ man was attacked in California hours after Trump's victory; Muslims are being accosted throughout the U.S.; black students at the University of Pennsylvania were added to a "GroupMe" account to harass students en masse with racial slurs and threats; swastikas were painted on schools and in public spaces; the Ku Klux Klan has announced plans to hold a victory rally in North Carolina; and there have been hundreds of additional reports of racist attacks.

Public expressions of racist and undemocratic attitudes have taken a cue from the rhetoric and policies expressed by President-elect Trump and his allies. And this hate is not simply a residue of the rhetoric of a nasty campaign, now over and soon to be extinguished. For Trump has restated his goal of forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and he continues his anti-immigrant discourse whilst his proposed cabinet looks to undermine core civil rights: Newt Gingrich seeks to reestablish the House Un-American Activities Committee and Rudy Giuliani continues to legitimize his legacy of unrestrained (racist) state policies.

To add insult to injury, Democrats have not protected the vulnerable and soon-to-be-disenfranchised masses. Rather than stand by Americans who have been, and continue to be, attacked by Trump and his allies, leading Democrats rushed to placate, calling for bipartisanism and "reaching across the aisle." In her concession speech, Secretary Clinton offered to support Trump "on behalf of our country." President Obama called for support for Trump, stating that "ultimately we're all on the same team." For many of those who are scared for their lives, freedom and jobs, this feels like a betrayal. Where do immigrants, women and people of color stand in Trump's America? After Trump's hate-mongering campaign, and eight years of Republican obstruction of Obama's policies to the point where our government literally shut down, talk of compromise is a slap to our face. Filmmaker Michael Moore's response refuses the platitudes of reconciliation and captures the urgency of the moment: "Any Democratic member of Congress who didn't wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama ... must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping ... the madness that's about to begin."

Where our highest leaders failed us, our friends and colleagues are leading the way. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the street to state that Trump doesn't stand for us. Professors, students, and administrations on campuses across the country are supporting vulnerable communities, insisting on making their institutions safe spaces. Here at Humboldt State University, a student group held a gathering at the quad to offer members of the campus community a supportive space for a traumatized collective. Donations have flooded civil rights organizations. American women have organized a massive post-inauguration march in D.C. Many have volunteered to escort vulnerable people to work and school. Inspired by the British after Brexit, the safety pin is being used as a symbol to protest Trump and to identify "safe allies" who will protect those who feel threatened because of their gender, sexuality, race, religion or disability.

This is where I hold my hope: the knowledge that so many of us chose to stand up to racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. The knowledge that so many of us are committed to protecting those targeted by Trump and his supporters. We are eager to reclaim our democratic space and reestablish a progressive movement that will safeguard our rights.

We do this because many have struggled long and hard for decades to gain those rights. In mobilization of groups such as the Abolitionist movement, women's suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, labor unions and many more, hundreds of thousands have sacrificed to gain and protect freedoms, civil rights, economic equity, reproductive rights, gender equality, freedom of choice and more. All these rights and securities are in danger.

We do all this also because history has taught us that if we stand idly by, we are in danger of enabling the rise of a reign of terror in our country. Just as with lynching in the American South, the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, Stalin's terror, and Pinochet's murderous regime, people's failure to stand up firmly to evil led to human catastrophes of unimaginable scale. If you think I'm over-dramatizing, ponder Pastor Martin Niemöller's words in the aftermath of the Holocaust: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist ... Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew ... Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

I am committed to speaking out, to challenging Trump's rhetoric and unconstitutional policies, to curbing his supporters' violence and to protecting those who need protection. I invite you to speak out with me to protect our friends, our neighbors, our community, and to realize the potential of democracy!

Leena Dallesheh is an assistant professor of history at Humboldt State University.

Submissions from NAACP of Eureka First Vice President Liz Smith, local attorney and U.S. Army reservist Allan Dollison, North Coast People's Alliance Steering Committee Member Tamara McFarland, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee Chair Bob Service, local programmer and freelance writer Mitch Trachtenberg, Humboldt County Green Party Chair Dana Silvernale, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Humboldt State University assistant professor of history Leena Dallesheh, Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Scott Greacen and League of Women Voters Humboldt County President Rollin Richmond can be found by clicking their names.



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