“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” croons Andy Williams in his instantly recognizable holiday classic, accompanied by soothing ding-donging and jingle-belling, at the start of Blackout For Human Rights’ recent YouTube video (warning: it’s graphic).
Then the beatings begin.
As Williams sings of “the hap-happiest season of all,” we watch a montage of police brutality. Dash cams and cell phone footage show grainy scenes of men and women of color being pummeled, punched and dragged. The dissonance between the saccharine Christmas tune and the images of violence is intentionally jarring.
It is, after all, the week of Thanksgiving, with all its associated holiday cheer and family togetherness. It is also the week a Grand Jury decided white policeman Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges for the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Activist group Blackout For Human Rights is hoping this video and accompanying social media campaign will encourage Americans to sit out the most rampantly consumerist day of this holiday week, Black Friday, to protest the latest in a long line of unjust killings.
“We have witnessed enough,” reads the campaign’s manifesto. “We mourn the loss of men like Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford and Michael Brown, who met their deaths at the hands of police officers.”
“We mourn the loss of life and the absence of justice for Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Jordan Davis, killed by private citizens, in a climate where police action demonstrates this as acceptable. An affront to any citizen’s human rights threatens the liberty of all. So, we participate in one of the most time honored American traditions: dissent.”
The group was founded in October by Ryan Coogler, award-winning director of Fruitvale Station, an in-depth look at the death of unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant at the hands of a transit officer in Oakland, Calif. in 2008.
His marketing director Michael Latt told Forbes that the boycott is an attempt to challenge the capitalist powers that be, but also to encourage those sick of the status quo to spend their Black Friday doing something more useful than shopping.
In Los Angeles, the group has organized a screening of Fruitvale Station, where the entry fee is a donation of food. In New York, Blackout for Human Rights is holding a screenplay reading of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
“Major retail chains depend on our shopping to keep them afloat, especially during the holiday season,” said Latt. “But the lives of our brothers and sisters are worth more than the dollars we can save on holiday gifts.”
The group’s hashtag #BlackoutBlackFriday had reached about 3 million Twitter TWTR +3.45% users by Tuesday evening, according to analytics tool Hashtracking. Its popularity has been helped along by tweets from prominent African-American users of the social network, like Grey’s Anatomy star and social activist Jesse Williams, who has over 823,000 followers.
“Recognize the stranglehold that corporate money has on the neck of public policy, including the levers of [in]justice. #BlackoutBlackFriday,” he tweeted on Tuesday morning.
Other African-American celebrities lending their voices and considerable platforms to the Blackout For Human Rights’ Black Friday spending boycott include entrepreneur Russell Simmons and The Vampire Diaries star Kat Graham.
A parallel movement born in St. Louis itself will see a silent protest on Black Friday, led by members of the Justice for Mike Brown Leadership, which includes clergy, community leaders, politicians and civil rights advocates.
“Let’s change the meaning of Black Friday,” reads a handout shared online by Missouri’s Fox 2 network. “Instead of shopping walk through malls holding signs and hands up in silence and pray.”
Also in Ferguson on Black Friday will be a screening of the yet-to-be-released historical drama Selma, based on the 1965 voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Filmmaker and activist Dream Hampton helped organize the private showing for 50 young community leaders, with some help from rap mogul Jay-Z, The Roots’ Questlove and African-American youth organizations Color of Change and Dream Defenders.
“It’s about having two hours when they can be off of the streets and have community with one another,” said Ms. Hampton, who has been supporting this Friday’s retail boycott on Twitter.
“What we’re saying is we recognize that economic boycotts have not only worked in the past but they’re often the only thing that a hyper-capitalist economy like ours responds to,” she said. “It’s a deep and cruel irony that Black Friday is even called Black Friday — the idea that to be ‘in the black’ is positive. What we’re saying is, this brutality costs us our lives. We want it to cost you at least the trillion dollars we contribute to this economy.”
Joining Ms. Hampton with a large, powerful platform of her own is writer, activist and publisher Rahiel Tesfamariam, who created the hashtag and accompanying meme #NotOneDime earlier this week.
Ms. Tesfamariam’s online lifestyle magazine Urban Cusp is followed by over 100,000 readers, many of whom shared the message across their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Within 24 hours, celebrities including actor Tyrese Gibson and musician Q-Tip had passed the meme on to their millions of fans, causing it to go viral.
Now, Ms. Tesfamariam hopes Americans who might otherwise spend their Black Friday putting coins in corporate coffers channel their energies elsewhere.
“I’m young, I’m only 33 years old, and I can’t remember a day when the African-American community galvanized in support of an economic boycott,” she said.
She noted that she’s heard others planning to spend Black Friday shopping at African-American-owned businesses, versus big-box retailers and the like.
“My personal recommendation is that we do that every day but Friday,” Ms. Tesfamariam said. “Our actionable item is #NotOneDime on Black Friday, and that should be a unified effort.”
As well as #NotOneDime and #BlackoutBlackFriday, social media users have been referring to this Friday’s boycott with the hashtag #HandsUpDontSpend. The latter is a reference to ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,’ the rallying cry that has come to define the fury and sadness following Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing weeks of protest in Ferguson.