As 2014 draws to a close, we are greeted once again by a continuous cycle of rankings and end of the year lists. And as this year was one characterized by political strife, failures of justice, and active protest, this following list recounts the top social justice trends of the past 12 months.
Created by The Representation Project, an organization devoted to combating gender stereotypes in the media, #Notbuyingit takes aim at sexist commercial advertisements. Though used throughout the year, the hashtag gained prominence during the Super Bowl, where viewers would “live tweet” moments of misogyny or degradation during commercial breaks.
After a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Pantaleo over the death of unarmed Eric Garner, activists and onlookers took to Twitter to express anger, grief, and action steps. Emerged from this Twitter discussion was #crimingwhilewhite, a hashtag initiated to highlight the privileges white individuals are granted while interacting with law enforcement officials. Examples included: "I shoplifted when I was 14 and they let me go because my parents came down and we "looked like a nice family."" #crimingwhilewhite. "Arrested for stealing street signs Xmas Eve back in high school. Probation waived as it would interfere with DRAMA CLUB." #crimingwhilewhite.
Taking summer 2014 by storm, the #ALSIcebucketchallenge, featured friends daring friends to donate money to ALS research or dump a bucket of cold water over their heads (or both). The challenge raised an unprecedented $115 million for the ALS Association and unintentionally triggered discussions on the efficacy of social media charity campaigns and online activism.
The fight to raise the minimum wage went mainstream this year, as fast-food workers, retail employees, and even President Obama took action to raise state and federal minimum wage laws. Workers took to the streets to #fightfor15 and protest unjust labor practices.
On April 15th, militant group Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls from their school in Nigeria. Political officials were slow to respond, motivating Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi to create #bringbackourgirls, a campaign designed to bring widespread awareness to the kidnappings. The declaration went viral, and soon everyone from celebrities to President and First Lady Obama began offering their support to bring Boko Haram to justice.
In the spring of 2013, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz reported to school authorities that she was raped by a male student. The claims were brought forth through the University’s adjudication process, and after a long and degrading investigation, the alleged rapist was deemed not responsible and allowed to remain on campus. To protest the University’s response to her case, Sulkowicz began Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, a visual arts piece in which she vowed to carry a dorm-room mattress everywhere she traveled on campus. On October 29th, 2014, the project expanded, as thousands of students across the country carried mattresses or pillows on their campuses to stand in solidarity with Sulkowicz and take aim at unjust university processes. #Carrythatweight served as an anchor to the movement, working to galvanize support and awareness over the issue of rape on college campuses.
The beginning of summer 2014 was marked by the horrific murder of seven individuals in Santa Barbara, CA. The tragedy evoked conversation on gun-control, mental illness, and male entitlement, as the suspect was linked to both a YouTube video and written report detailing his desires to terminate women who had rejected his advances. From these discussion spurred two popular hashtags-one of which focused on the role men can play in advancing equality for women.
The second hashtag that emerged from the events in Santa Barbara was #YesAllWomen, a trend in which girls and women shared experiences of sexism, misogyny, and gender-based violence over social media. The hashtag served to emphasize that even though "not all men" engage in sexist behavior, all women at some point in their lives experience harassment, fear, or inequality on the basis of gender identity.
The lasting memory of 2014 will undoubtedly be on the death of unarmed black individuals at the hands of law enforcement and the subsequent demand to enact fair and equitable policing and justice practices. After the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, John Crawford, and the numerous other black men killed every 28 hours by police officers or vigilantes, individuals took to the streets, social media sites, and city halls to declare, even in a country that profiles and discriminates against people of color, that black lives do indeed matter.
As social media hashtags, these trends originated and largely remained in the electronic world. In what ways then, does so-called "hashtag activism" help social justice causes? Did these trends contribute to the overall progress of social movements in 2014? Do you have any other hashtags to add to the list? Let us know!