From Mohamed Bouazizi To Trayvon Martin: Millennials & The Fight For Human Dignity

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“It began in Tunisia, where the dictator’s power grabbing and high living crossed a line of shamelessness, and a commonplace bit of government callousness against an ordinary citizen — a 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi — became the final straw.”

- Time Magazine, The Protester 

January 14th, 2011 – Tunisian President Toppled

January 25th – Dissent Spreads to Egypt

February 11th – Mubarak Steps Down

February 14th – Protests in Bahrain

February 15th – Unrest in Libya

March 16th – Syrians Rise Up

In Tunis, in Alexandria and Cairo; in Madrid and Athens and London and Tel Aviv; in Mexico and India and Chile; in New York and Moscow what followed was an extraordinary year as pro-democracy rebellions erupted across the Middle East and mass protests emerged in different forms throughout the globe. And, as they say, the rest… is history.

A year later, on February 26th, 2012, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy is shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain who claims he acted in self-defense. Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law, the culprit is released.

March 8th – Kevin Cunningham, a social media coordinator, reads the story on a Howard University fraternity e-mail list, and creates the “Prosecute the killer of our son” petition on change.org, and later transfers administrative rights to the Martin family.

March 16th – Police release 911 tapes revealing Zimmerman making a call about a suspicious looking teen in a hoodie just prior to the incident. Zimmerman confirms he is following the teen, to which the 911 operator replies, “We do not need you to do that.”

March 19th – Michael Skolnik, Co-President of GlobalGrind.com releases, “White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious,” an article describing his perspective as a white male, and what he believes is a privilege of never looking suspicious. The article goes viral.

Also on Monday, March 19th, I listen to those 911 tapes. I’m so outraged that I write a blog post, I record a YouTube video, and I create a Facebook event calling for A Million Hoodies to rise-up—online and offline—on behalf of justice for Trayvon Martin. 

By Tuesday, #MillionHoodies had turned into a trending topic on Twitter.

By Wednesday, over 5,000 people had gathered in Union Square carrying posters designed in under 20 minutes, by my good friend Tim LeNoir (aka, the next Shepard Fairey).

By Thursday, the protest had made the front page of the New York Times.

By Friday, President Obama had made his first public remarks on the story. And, as they say, the rest…is history.

Now, does it matter who did what when? No. For the purposes of our discussion, what matters are the unifying threads of both experiences.  And what we find in both cases, are three things:

1) It began with Millennials (without much encouragement from or endorsement by existing political parties or institutions).

2) It was given scale by the web and social media.

3) It was about our right to basic human dignity.

Sure, the stakes are very different: fairness in the West, freedom in the Arab world.

But at the end of the day, what it all comes down to is the pursuit of human dignity.

“Mohamed suffered a lot, his mother said. “He worked hard. But when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity.” “In Tunisia,” added her 16-year-old daughter Basma, “dignity is more important than bread.” 

And so I say to all Millennials: You are all members of a great generation—a generation that will not accept injustice anywhere, and, more importantly, a generation that will not hesitate to act when our institutions and our leaders fail to do so. Each of you is a maker of history. Be bold. Be brave. Be fair. And most importantly, be informed.

-Daniel Maree

Daniel Maree is a Digital Strategist with a passion for storytelling, emerging media, and social business development. Maree is the latest addition to McCann’s flagship Digital Strategy Practice, which is focused on redefining the agency by creatively and strategically embedding digital and social media into the fabric of all McCann’s client work. 

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