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Vicky Mochama: The voice of Metro News.

The Safety Pin Box: Activism that fights for radical change

Signalling one’s politics for a profit isn’t revolutionary. But to do so in a way that deepens and continues the fight for radical change is.

When George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin, I was furious. Not at the verdict, but at the people around me.

(The verdict seemed oddly foretold; black people’s weariness and skepticism of the justice system isn’t a matter of cultural indifference, but of evidence-based policy.)

The people around me at the time — most of them white — were silent and remained so while I embarked on a reckoning. Twitter, where I had been following the trial, became my classroom. Black people became my teachers.

Black women, especially, gave colour and context to experiences I had dealt with my whole life.

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But my white friends — smart, kind, humane people — had been left behind. Which is why I was intrigued by the premise of Safety Pin Box. Created by two Black Lives Matter activists from Seattle, Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription service that is trying to develop true allies out of white people. Building on the idea that safety pins could be worn as symbols of safety and allyship, the company wants to turn away from symbolic gestures and towards real actions toward cultural change.

I spoke to Marissa Johnson, one of the company’s founders. “It’s not policy that drives social change,” she said. “It’s culture. What we’re really trying to do is change the culture and change the social norms around white.”

The company’s creators have taken from their activism — Johnson once disrupted a Bernie Sanders speech to speak out against police brutality — and woven it into the fabric of Safety Pin box.

Each month, subscribers receive a series of tasks and questions designed around a theme related to black political life. One example Johnson gave was of an elderly black women. By asking questions — “Where are older black women in your community? Where do they spend time?” — they highlighted an often overlooked contingent of the black activist community. As a result, Johnson said one subscriber, an Uber driver, now offered free rides to elderly black women when he could.

Safety Pin box isn’t the only company to form around activist ideas. Noir Reads is a recently launched subscription service that delivers books by black authors from across the globe. Signalling one’s politics for a profit isn’t revolutionary: let she who did not wear a Che Guevara shirt throughout high school cast the first stone. But to do so in a way that deepens and continues the fight for radical change is.

As Johnson says, “White guilt is good when it motivates you to do better.”

To learn more about The Safety Pin Box, visit their website.

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