Many years ago, when I lived in central Maine and the nation had a president named Clinton, I placed an order with Looney Labs for several niche card games as well as some related merchandise. This included a small white pin-back button showing a wavy, crosshatched peace-sign, a design borrowed from a Fluxx card. I don’t know what I had in mind when I added the pin to my order, and don’t recall doing anything in particular with it for a long time.
Sometime shortly after 9/11, a year into my new life as a Bostonian, I affixed the button to the lapel of the long black coat I wore every day at the time. I didn’t normally wear buttons in such a way, but it suddenly seemed like a good use for this little tchotchke that I had somehow managed to not misplace over several years and an interstate move. The button stayed on my lapel for several years thereafter, until the day I finally did lose it, letting it pop away unnoticed somewhere in the bowels of Boston’s subway system.
While I have no scientific controls to prove the hypothesis, I believe that bearing the button made me seem more approachable for strangers who needed help. This being Boston, this usually meant perplexed visitors seeking directions, either on the streets or down within the aforementioned subway system. I did my best to help them all, and in my admittedly selective memory I especially recall feeling proud about helping people who by all appearance had likely come from far away, from across oceans and continents to find some place or person important to them here in my own city. I will admit it without embarrassment: I felt like an emissary, a tiny tiny one but still effective, providing a single counterexample to my country’s drive to tumble into war and chaos.
Earlier this week, seeing again and again the chart stating that white people constituted the sole American ethnic group who voted more for Trump than for Clinton, I thought back to something else from my own post-9/11 experience. Businesses around me run by immigrants, and the people who owned and worked in them, bedecked themselves in corny Americana. I recall, most especially, the ill-fitting U.S. flag T-shirt that the clerk at the bodega across the street from my apartment wore on the twelfth, and I wonder what lengths he went to find it in a hurry, and what went through his mind while he did so. (And, please, you’ll forgive me for being a taciturn New Englander during the best of times, such that I didn’t think to ask him.)
The message that the clerk and all the others clearly felt desperate to send: We’re one of the good ones. Fifteen years later, that election chart made me feel that it has become my turn to just as desperately prove the same point, somehow. But what would I wear? I wondered out loud about this on Twitter — noting my temporary solution of mindfully putting on my corduroy blazer to look as much like a stereotypical white intellectual as I could afford — when someone else’s post jogged my memory.
Muslims, POC, and LGBT are feeling threatened right now, perhaps with good reason.— Ali Davis (@Ali_Davis) November 9, 2016
We need an easily wearable "I'll walk with you" symbol.
I remember now: for a few years I wore a small peace-sign button on my lapel (until I lost it). I think it did make me more approachable. https://t.co/K8RHt9IgQk— Jason McIntosh (@JmacDotOrg) November 9, 2016
And so that’s why I yesterday ordered a couple of peace-sign buttons from Amazon, after finding a design that reminded me a little of Andy Looney’s old scratchy-ink drawing. I don’t live in Boston any more, and I have no subway to help guide people through. I don’t know if or whether I’ll feel like a citizen-emissary; the situation isn’t at all the same now as then, for me or for the country. But I nonetheless feel a great desire to present a marker passively identifying me as one who repudiates the evil principles that so many people who look like me voted for.
I note with interest a suggestion to use safety pins in a similar fashion, though I admit some skepticism of their efficacy given their not already serving as a universally recognized symbol. For all that, though, the peace sign button feels oddly personal to me, given my own little history with it. I just hope that fixing it back onto my coat will help siphon away some of the shame I feel today, and let me better focus on moving forward. I don’t suggest it as any sort of movement larger than myself, but if you find yourself moved to join me anyway, you may certainly feel free.