When I first read about hateful anti-Muslim ads being put up in New York City, I was surprised and saddened. Seriously, who does that? Then when a crop of similar ads went up on San Francisco city buses, I was outraged. As a San Francisco resident, I felt like I had to do something about it, something more than sharing my rage and complaining on Facebook or Twitter.
Outrage to Action
Is hate really the best we can do with our extraordinary First Amendment? And just because others have the right to hate doesn't mean we have any obligation to tolerate it. I decided to take on the challenge using Louder, a 'crowd-promotion' platform I co-founded with Colin Mutchler. Thousands of people have used Louder to promote everything from TV ads for Occupy Wall Street to a billboard in Times Square promoting Greek tourism.
Through the Tech LadyMafia community, I was able to connect with New York-based producer Ateqah Khaki around the idea of crowdfunding a response that represented the true accepting spirit of San Francisco. Working through other online networks of activists, technologists, and creatives, we found an amazing organizing team: Aaron Perry-Zucker from The Creative Action Network, Zahra Billoo, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations' Bay Area chapter, and Akiva Freidlin, who had organized a similar campaign in NYC. Collaborating with this team—everyone volunteering, and almost entirely over email—was one of the more meaningful experiences of my life.
Crowd Power Rising
Donations came in from all over the country (and even some from abroad). Upworthy curator Femi Oke posted the campaign with the headline, "This is What Happens When Bigots Put Ads on Buses." A whole bunch of likes, shares, retweets, and emails later, 100 people had chipped in mostly $25 or $50 to reach our $3,000 goal, and last week our billboard went up! The corner of 10th and Howard in San Francisco's SoMA neighborhood now sends a message that we don't tolerate hate in this town.
Small Money, Big Voices
In an era where big money seems to run both our politics and our commercial media industry, it was empowering to know that only 100 people putting our money where our values are could buy a billboard, and get our voices heard.
We even had a billboard party (yes, that's a thing) that included local residents, the designer of the billboard, and advocates who had been active on Middle East peace issues for decades—even the sales rep from CBS Outdoor who helped us get the billboard up. The experience of coming together in real life, standing in front of the billboard and making a message of acceptance louder than hate reaffirmed my faith in the internet's awesomeness.
An Amplification Engine for Diversity & Acceptance
The billboard is reaching more than 200,000 people per week. So along with the articles and shares about our story online, ultimately 100 of us "amplifiers" will have helped reached nearly one million people with this message.
As Louder continues to build out their platform to give regular citizens the ability to amplify messages online and offline, I wonder what will be possible when we have 100,000 amplifiers and 100,000 diverse messages that matter?
If this campaign is any indication, we will completely transform the relationship between citizens and advertising and fill our public culture with diversity, acceptance, and a whole lotta love.