Of Safety Pins and Paperclips

I’m conflicted about the whole safety pin thing. It’s an easy gesture and I’m afraid that it will provide comfort only to the people who wear it, not to those actually in need of comfort. I’m afraid that the people who wear it will think their work is done because they put on their safety pin, when it should be just the beginning. I’m skeptical because we’ve made these gestures before and not followed through, not finished the work, and we’ve abandoned those in need because our attention spans are short, and there’s always a shiny new cause to support that makes us feel better about ourselves.

I wanted to find out more about its origins and found an article about the Norwegian version – the paperclip.

Like a safety pin, the paperclip works as a symbol because it binds things together. Like the safety pin in the Netherlands, wearing a paperclip became a crime; there was real risk in wearing one.

The thing that struck me from the story was in the “bonus facts” below. The paperclip was just the beginning. Ordered to teach Naziism in school, 12,000 Norwegian teachers went on strike. Many were sent to prison camps. The Nazis realized having kids out of school hurt more than the teachers not promoting their cause, so they relented.

The clergy was ordered to teach obedience to the “leader and the state”. When every bishop and 90% of the clergy in the country resigned, the Nazis again relented.

More than 1,000 Jews were smuggled into Sweden by the resistance.

The Dutch were no slouches either. They carried out repeated demonstrations and non-violent strikes against the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands. No other country had as may strikes and protests as the Dutch – and they faced harsh reprisals from the Nazis each time.

The Dutch had a massive underground press with over 1,100 different titles, some of which are still around and are major papers in the country. They set up underground financing and had a massive social services network that provided financial, medical and other support to the Dutch people.

All of that is to say, they didn’t just wear safety pins and paperclips. They got to work and did what they could, under terrible conditions and at great personal risk.

I like the idea of the safety pin, because it’s meant to be temporary until you actually repair the damage.

I think donating, and setting up a recurring donation, to national non-profits is a great thing to do. The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Human Rights Campaign and others will be kept really busy for the next four years, as we can expect the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department to be gutted like it was during the Bush years or worse (probably worse). But, while you’re donating, please look for a local non-profit to donate money and time to.

I’ll elaborate… This election came as a shock to a lot of us who thought we were farther along as a country than we really are. It was easy to call ourselves progressive and cheer on those doing the work from the sidelines, post to social media about the issue of the day, and feel like we’d done something of value. It turns out, no one was listening, and we didn’t change any minds.

Before anyone still reading this post and starts tutting… I accept the results of the election:

  • Two very unpopular people were the two major parties’ nominees for president.
  • One of them got over two million more votes and lost to a man who (this is a partial list) called immigrants racists, criminals and terrorists, called for the banning of an entire religion from the country, denied knowing anything about David Duke or the KKK, openly mocked a disabled reporter, called for protestors to be beaten, has said (and probably done) terrible things about women, and that almost seventy percent of the country feel is unfit to be President.
  • A lot of people stayed home because they couldn’t decide between two people they didn’t trust.

That result is real, and it’s not going to change. Me being sad about it will not change it. Me being angry will not change it. Me trying to decide who’s to blame for the result will not change it. All I can do is decide what I do about it after accepting that I can’t change it.

For me, this is a wake up call. If I sit on the sidelines now, and assume someone else will do the work, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror or call myself a progressive.

I could shake my tiny fist at the sky and lament what’s happening in Washington, but that won’t change anything. So, I’ll be watching them, but I’m going to act locally. My neighbors will be affected by the policies enacted in the next four years. Many of them are afraid and a lot of them are already being targeted by hate.

I wasn’t doing nothing before, but that no longer feels like enough.

There are already great non-profits in Savannah working on things I care about: poverty, education, technology literacy. There are probably great non-profits working in your community too. I’m trying to resist the urge to start something new – because that’s alway my first instinct. Starting things is exciting because I can design it from scratch, and I don’t have to understand an existing dynamic – but it’s a waste of time. Starting things is expensive, both in time and resources, and we don’t have enough of either. So, I’ll pick something (or a few things) with the biggest overlap in the Venn diagram of things I care about, things I can help with, and what will have the biggest impact.

Because we won’t make this country a better place by having another comment duel on Facebook, favoriting a tweet, posting a pithy meme, or by standing on the sidelines of democracy or of our communities and watching people do the work. The world has enough cheerleaders and more than enough pundits. The world needs more people to roll up their sleeves and serve; there’s a lot to do.

I don’t think I’ll wear a safety pin on my collar… I’m going to learn how to sew.

Interest and Concern

I’m still processing what happened last night and how I got it so very very wrong (it’s really no consolation that almost everyone else also got it wrong). I was looking for something to cheer me up this morning, and I found this quote from FDR (emphasis mine).

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens – a substantial part of its whole population – who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life… I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. But, it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope – because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, propose to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt

I don’t know how to fix any of this or how to help, but I think it starts with conversations: in person and across divides. If we can at least show “interest and concern” for each other in our communities, we can make some progress.

Running Unopposed

Looking at my sample ballot for November, and I’m depressed at how many people are running unopposed. Out of 14 races, 8 incumbents are running without competition. They don’t have to debate. They don’t have to defend their records. That’s now how democracy is supposed to work.

We need to figure out how to get more people involved at the local and state level so people can get the experience to effectively serve at the national level. I’ve done some research and it’s economically impossible for most people to run for local or state office, or serve in even “part time” elected positions because of the time requirements and lack of pay. That means that only those who can afford to serve get the opportunity, which then means our government doesn’t represent all of us.

This is how we get ineffective, unrepresentative, unstatesmanlike, and uncompromising behavior from our elected officials – we don’t hold them to account. We don’t run against them. We don’t do anything but complain on social media or claim a “rigged” system, when we don’t even involve ourselves in it beyond cheering on our favorite team.

How do we “fix” this? We all need to look at how we’re participating in government at all levels, and pay more attention. We need to encourage qualified people to run. We need to make sure that our elected officials know we’re paying attention. We need to respectfully (and with actual facts) call them to account when they’re wrong. We need to state our cases for the issues using persuasive language, and not threats of violence or intimidation.

We get the system we let develop. If you don’t pay attention, it will be built and run by the people that are. Want something else? You gotta work for it. You have to do more than complain. You have to build a coalition of people who agree with you and provide actual solutions.

Voting is literally the least we can do to change things. It’s time we all took a long hard look at how we got here, how we’ve behaved this election, and what we’re going to do about it.

Stop Spreading Hate

When you share ignorant myths about trans people, minorities, share racist, sexist, xenophobic memes, support politicians who advocate (and sometimes pass) legislation to push already-marginalized people out of public life, you’re encouraging people with just slightly less self control than you to hurt other people.

When you support bullies, strongmen, and bigots, you’re continuing the cycle that ends up in people getting hurt and killed.

Stop and think about the people affected by this stuff. They’re actual real human beings with families and friends who will miss them if they’re gone.

I’m tired of losing friends and having friends afraid to go out in public as themselves because some asshole might kill them just for being who they are.

These people are fighting for their rights to be seen as full members of society. You’re fighting for your right to continue to keep them in the closet (which isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, one that we should all be willing to give up so others can enjoy the same rights we do), and to not have your precious beliefs challenged. There is a huge difference.

History is not on your side, nor will it be kind.

Letters to My Congressman

My local congressman, Buddy Carter, sends out a weekly newsletter and this week’s was a doozy. I don’t normally write to him, because I’m not sure it does any good, but I had to in this case.

Here’s what I wrote. Feel free to use it and write to your representatives.


In your latest newsletter you say the following: “I believe committing this horrific act removes all civil liberties and they should be investigated in whatever way is necessary. This is now an issue of national security and it is ridiculous that Apple is not participating in the investigation of known murderers and terrorists.”

This paragraph shows an amazing lack of understanding of the Constitution and our fundamental civil rights, and a failure to grasp the most basic facts of not just what the FBI is asking Apple to do, but the FBI’s own actions that led to where we are right now.

I’ll leave the constitutional questions to someone else, but the technical ones are simple:

  1. Creating a backdoor, ANY backdoor, for the FBI means that Apple will have to give that backdoor to any government in any country they do business in. Submitting to this request of our government means that they have to give that back door to repressive regimes in China, the middle east, etc.
  2. Creating a back door, ANY back door, in encryption or security means that back door can be exploited by any one – good guys, bad guys, terrorists, etc.
  3. The FBI wouldn’t be in this situation if they hadn’t asked local law enforcement to change the suspects’ Apple ID password. If they’d left it as is, Apple could have gotten into their account and given the FBI whatever they wanted – as they have done in many many cases.

This isn’t a simple case, but just demanding that Apple do what the FBI asks denies the complexity of the issues and weakens security for everyone.

We need strong encryption, unfettered by ill-informed and ill-advised government demands, for ALL of us to be safer. Any weakness at all can be exploited by the bad guys just as easily as the good – and like people are so fond of using the 2nd amendment as a “check against unchecked tyranny” – strong encryption is an even better check against that tyranny, and not just in the US.

I ask that the government get smarter, that our representatives gets smarter, about thinking about how to perform their duties and catching criminals than asking the innovative companies that drive our economy to get dumber.

Thank you for your time,

Kevin Lawver

On Manly Men

I’m tired of what scared man-children are doing to my industry, to social media, to my country and to women. It’s self-defeating. It’s wrong. It’s violent and it’s cowardly.

SO… Men. Stop being cowards. Stop treating people like crap. Stop threatening them. Stop lashing out like toddlers having tantrums because you’re afraid for no reason. Stop making up reasons to be scared and start living.

Look at your behavior. If you really think that threatening women, doxing them, swatting them, demeaning them, pushing them out of your communities because you’re threatened by them… if you REALLY think that makes you a manly man – you’re an idiot.

Being a manly man means being comfortable with yourself and not being threatened when someone else wants the same.

Being a manly man means being courteous, debating on the merits and not throwing tantrums when someone else wants a turn to speak. It also means admitting when you’re wrong.

Being a manly man means not being afraid of people who are different just because they’re different. It means being curious and adventurous – and not afraid to treat people like you want to be treated – or better, how they wish to be treated.

Bullies aren’t manly men. Bullies, at their core, are afraid and have to use intimidation and violence to project power. But, they have no power. Once a bully is outnumbered, he’s just a coward again.

Be a manly man and welcome everyone into your communities. You’ll find you’ll have more fun, learn more, and your community will be stronger for it.

Let’s make stories like this one a thing of the past.

And in case you’re confused, there’s nothing wrong with being a man. There is something wrong with thinking that your gender means you’re somehow entitled to affection, attention, recognition or leadership. If you really believe in a meritocracy, you’ll judge people by their results and not by what they look like, how they worship or where they’re from – and that means untangling centuries of bullshit about ability, the meaningless signifiers of “success” (for example, all our presidents have been men, therefore to be a good president, you have to be a man – or the funny bit of trivia that almost all Fortune 500 CEOs are white men over 6 feet tall). Just because historically, someone hasn’t been allowed to do something doesn’t mean they can’t. And just because this is how we’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean that’s the best way going forward – especially if it’s a cultural affectation that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the outcome.

So, being a man – it’s not bad. But, it’s not the only thing. Being kind is more important than your gender.

We’ll Never Understand

So far, I’ve seen statements from at least 3 politicians, who have no problem expressing strong opinions about people outside their religion and race; who never let their own ignorance keep them from pronouncing judgement on others, say today that we’ll “never understand the motivations” of the monster who killed 9 people last night in Charleston.

Why reserve your whip-smart judgement now? Why be so “sensitive” and offer your “prayers”? Could it be because your ignorant ramblings maybe inspired this guy?

Media figures and politicians demonize entire races and religions all the time, saying, like Glenn Beck did, that people are “willing to lay down their lives” for whatever batshit crazy cause they’re spouting off about. And then, when some crazed lunatic actually DOES WHAT THEY SO SLYLY SUGGEST, they clasp their hands and say they’re praying for the victims and say we’ll never understand what drove them to do such a horrible thing.

We know. They were inspired by parents, by the talk radio hosts they listen to, by the politicians that pander to any loony zealot who will vote for them (or give them money), by the mentally unhinged bastards who say we’re at war with everybody.

So, maybe instead of just praying for the victims, we should stop being such assholes and preach the religion we say we follow? Preach peace. Preach understanding. Preach forgiveness and humility. Teach your kids not to be racist. Teach your kids to love their neighbors (no matter who they are).

These tragedies are avoidable, and praying for the victims is the least you can do. Condemn violence. Condemn racism. Condemn those who make targets out of innocent people. And if you are one of those people, stop it already. You’re the problem. Be a part of the solution.

Question Authority!

I watched the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition about the LDS Church’s involvement in getting California’s Prop 8 passed. It was depressing as hell, no lie, and I felt like I had just watched a movie about the holocaust. I encourage you all to watch it too.
Non-LDS should watch, and then speak out about the church’s tax-exempt status. They clearly overstepped the lines in this case and it’s disappointing that more people aren’t outraged.
LDS should also watch and ask their leaders for an explanation about the backroom shenanigans. I don’t care about what the LDS Church preaches to its own members or the reported strong-arm tactics of getting people to donate money, but all that sneaking around and manipulating and outright lying to the voting public is inexcusable. That is not the way any organization purporting itself to be of God should behave.