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With a pin and a prayer

“The KKK-endorsed president-elect of the United States just appointed a white nationalist to his cabinet and has promised to deport or incarcerate two to three million undocumented immigrants as soon as he’s inaugurated, but here’s what the left is arguing about: safety pins.” — Heather Dockray, Mashable


Pin display.

On Sunday I did something I haven’t done in almost a decade. I intentionally avoided Twitter for 24 hours because it was starting to feel like what a witty colleague refers to as a “circular firing squad.”

A year ago almost to the day, after blocking two alt-righters whose racist comments I didn’t want to read,  I had experienced being showered with hundreds of virulent Tweets. But even that didn’t drive me off Twitter, even though the anti-Semitism, which I had never experienced before, was particularly disturbing (the rest was pro forma: ugly, dyke, etc.).

No, what drove me off Twitter to focus on other parts of my life for a day was a series of tweets from various people scoffing at the appropriateness of wearing safety pins in a show of solidarity with people made more vulnerable by the election of He Who Shall Not Be Named and setting higher and higher bars for what an appropriate response looks like.

Never mind that such well-respected groups as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which just might know a thing or two about activism, had promoted the idea, or that the safety pin idea has honorable origins, coming  from England in the wake of Brexit as a gesture toward their immigrant populations. Never mind that I have spent four years conducting doctoral-level research into the significance of signaling sexual identity, so maybe, just maybe I know something about the value of representation, just a tiny bit?

Losing feels awful, particularly this loss, but it should not become our Donner Pass.

The previous afternoon, I had been moved to tears when I realized the local crafts and sewing store was almost out of safety pins. As I put two packets of #3 safety pins in my basket (safety pins have standard sizes, it turns out, and #3 is, by gum, the largest), I saw a couple conferring quietly in the aisle, and realized they were on the same errand. It doesn’t matter if I was wrong about the reason for the rush on safety pins, though I’ve been sewing for almost 50 years, and I’ve never seen a notions section cleaned out like that before. What matters is the first law of motion and how anything, however small, even the size of a pin, can be the unbalancing force that sets us into action.

All of us need to find that unbalancing force. For me, the safety pin is a lot like prayer (or, insert your favorite means of meditation). People sometimes say “prayer changes things” as if there were some trickster God who could magically reverse tragedy if you asked the right way. I believe that the true power of prayer is that it changes me and my relationship to the world. Prayer humbles me and it gives me strength and perspective. It reminds me that we are all responsible for one another. It is preparation. It is why Sandy and I say grace at every meal, however briefly.

When I woke up November 9, I made one tiny prayer: “get me through this day.” As prayers go, that was more like a #1 safety pin, but (echoing a beautiful story shared on Facebook by Sarah Einstein) sometimes that tiny pin is exactly what we need. Then I dried my eyes and blew my nose, got up, made my cuppa joe, went to work early, and before 9 am had sent a message to my library, which you can read at the end of this post.

All day I heard from people: “That was beautiful.” “That was important.” “I needed that.” Just yesterday, a woman in another department leaned forward and said, “thank you.” Because there are things I am good at and things I am not good at, but as a writer, one of my strengths is speaking into a terrible silence.

I am not saying this message is nearly enough. But it was one small important thing I could do, and if I could do this one thing, I could do other things. Nobody says safety pins are “enough,” in the same way that nobody with any lick of common sense would substitute prayer for professional healthcare. Nobody says starting with kindness is enough (to bring up another idea I saw belittled). But horrible things happen in a world without it.

Yesterday there was yet another boatload of scary and sad news. First I heard of a white nationalist appointed to a key position in the White House, surely the monitory canary of the effluvia about to spew from that mine. Then there was the death of Gwen Ifill, one of the class acts of our era. Next I read a memo cautioning DACA students about overseas travel that scared the bejeezus out of me on behalf of these kids.

I walked around all day with my Number 3 Safety Pin on my lapel, and no one noticed. Nobody except me. It felt like a small prayer on my chest, across from my beating heart.

Memo sent to all-library, 8:59 am, November 9, 2016

I spent early morning today wrapping my head around what to say, because not saying anything in this historic moment feels like a lapse in leadership, and yet what I say needs to be framed in what we do as a library, not political positions.
I came to this profession decades ago with an activist agenda, believing that information changes lives, and I do not believe libraries operate from positions of neutrality. As a white person, able-bodied, with full citizenship, I know privilege and live it every day. As a woman, a lesbian, and someone of Jewish heritage, I have seen the other side of that coin. I operate in that dual world, one of privilege and one of other-ness, and it drives my leadership agenda.
I believe in advocating for all libraries—including ours—because libraries change lives.  I know we make a difference for our users, and I appreciate every one of you who take every opportunity to be a voice for the role our library plays in helping our users succeed and in creating lifelong learners. I remember with pride the strong stances we have taken—from exhibiting the politically powerful photography of John LeBaron, to the Amache exhibit and the reception where I watched students listening to Dr. Sakaki speak truth to power and share her own history. I marveled at the turnout we have seen for our Pan y Cafes and how thrilled our Latino/a communities were to have their identities embraced and upheld. I have watched books fly off our special displays for GLBT Month, the Sonoma County Reads display, and the Latino/a display. So much we have done, so much we will do.
As we look toward the future, I ask us to recommit to taking care of one another, to do everything within our power to preserve the dignity of ourselves and our users, and to provide refuge and support social justice. Let us keep building OUR wall, our activist agenda of information, knowledge, and empowerment. Help our library continue to be a citadel defending our users against ignorance and hate, and providing hope and support for the undocumented, the different, and the oppressed.
In 1980 I listened to a concession speech. The stakes were not as high as this election, but I still felt sad and defeated. Then the candidate spoke words I committed to memory. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
I am doubling down on my leadership of this library. I feel a commitment as I have never felt before. I celebrate what we do, our users, our history, our services, and yes, especially, our future. 
In the meantime, at the [front desk], find donut holes for all: those of us in the library, and those who walk through our doors. Let their sweetness stand for all we do for everyone. Let their whimsy stand for regaining our optimism. Let their abundance stand for our radical hospitality.  Let their ephemeral nature help us move past this morning, and onward.
Yes we can! Sí, se pueda!


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