It might seem that the world is full of only terrible news these days, but from post-Brexit U.K. comes a tiny point of light. People around the country are wearing safety pins to show solidarity with immigrants and take a stand against racism.
The road to Brexit, as the U.K. decision to leave the European Union is called, was marked by blatant anti-immigrant rhetoric. And since last week’s vote, in which the Leave side was ultimately victorious, there’s been a significant increase in hate crimes. According to the National Police Chief’s Council, reported hate crimes have jumped by 57 percent since the vote.
In response to the open environment of hatred, people across the U.K. are now wearing safety pins — and tweeting pictures of themselves wearing them — in an act of solidarity with immigrants. The viral campaign was started by an American woman living in the U.K., who told indy100 that as a white woman, she doesn’t often get the same hate as other immigrants.
“I’m always having to remind people I’m an immigrant,” she said. “You know, I’m white and speak English as a first language so I get a pass. They say ‘oh you don’t count, you’re not the kind of person we’re talking about.’”
The idea was inspired by the Ride With Me hashtag, which started in Australia last year after a gunman stormed a Sydney cafe and took hostages. Among his demands was that authorities bring him an ISIS flag, leading to concerns over anti-Muslim backlash. After a woman posted on Facebook about a woman silently remove her hijab on public transit, the hashtags #illridewithyou and #ridewithyou took off and started trending worldwide, with Australian leaders and people all over the world offering to sync their commutes with people who wanted protection.
While the campaign was a bright spot of inclusive push-back online, it was unclear how it translated into real world action. The woman who started the safety pin idea, who goes by the handle @cheeahs on Twitter, said she hopes the safety pins will be a real-world signal to people who may feel threatened that there are allies around.
“It’s just a little signal that shows people facing hate crimes that they’re not alone and their right to be in the UK is supported,” she told indy100. The little signal has now taken off like wildfire.
While most reactions have been positive, others have pointed out online that simply wearing a safety pin might do little in actuality to fight racism and xenophobia, raising specters of “hashtag activism” — which critics argue allows people to feel they’ve done something, without actually doing anything tangible. Others, however, say that social media campaigns are a vital organizing tactic that can spark a real-world effect — which seems to be the approach adherents to #safetypin, including its originator, are hoping for. On its own, she tweeted, the safety pin means “jack shit,” and it needs to be accompanied by both a decision to both actively speak out against public acts of violence, racism, and xenophobia, and also a decision to actively listen to those who have been marginalized.
“The first step is just getting it out in the open. The more people you start a conversation with, the easier it is to combat violence and abuse,” she said.