Hashtag activism provides a voice for those who haven’t got one

by | Apr 22, 2019 | News

Elesha Nicholls, Life Reporter B

After the gruesome murder of Loretta Saunders, her cousin Holly Jarret created a voice for the many Indigenous women who have been silenced over the years with a hashtag.

Holly Jarret wanted to make sure the voices of the silenced would be heard.

It was after the 2014 slaying of her cousin, whose body was found along the side of the Trans-Canada Highway near Salisbury, N.B., that Jarrett launched #AmINext, a hashtag campaign to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Her goal was to push the Canadian government into action on how they could protect this vulnerable demographic. The movement gained global coverage and a public inquiry into the missing 1,300 women by the Canadian government. 

Holly Jarrett talks about hashtag activism to students at an Emerge conference in March. She gave her cousin, murdered in 2014, a voice through this form of activism. (Elesha Nicholls)

Hashtag activism is an effective way of getting a serious issue across to the masses who may have had no idea that this was even happening. Hashtags help when local media refuses to report on an issue or doesn’t report on it enough.

A simple hashtag, whether on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, videos, pictures, and dialogue are shared about an issue that wouldn’t normally be dealt with by the media. This is raw and uncut grassroots material people living through this issue upload online.  

And last month, students from Humber College, York University, Father Bressani Catholic Secondary School and Madonna Catholic Secondary School heard from activists and influencers about the effectiveness of hashtag activism at EMERGE 2019: Through Media to Justice.

Events coordinator for EMERGE, Jamie Vergara said the choice to invite high schools to learn more about hashtag activism was based on their generation being more aware of what was taking place online.

“I think that digital activism is something that was birthed out of social media. The media is only focused on the majority. That’s why we don’t see marginalized groups often in primary media,” Vergara said.

She said while selecting hashtag activism for the event theme, high school students were identified as a target audience because this generation is fully ingrained in social media and they understand the platforms.

“We also recognized the need for all of us to learn about the power and capabilities of social media and the hashtag so that we can leverage this knowledge to serve as agents of positive change,” Vergara said. 

Last month’s panel featured Jarrett, founder of Canada’s largest social media campaign #AmINext, Daniella Barreto, a digital activism coordinator for Amnesty International, and Jennifer Flood, a member of the federal committee to end gender-based violence and coordinator for sexual violence prevention at Humber College.

Jennifer Flood, left, and Holly Jarrett spoke about hashtag activism at the Emerge conference in March 2019 at Humber College. (Elesha Nicholls)

“When we’re discussing hashtags like Me-Too the conversation is often centred around white women,” Flood said during the event. “We know who’s being impacted by sexual violence and it’s our survivors that are living in the margins such as our indigenous communities that are being hit the worst.”

She said the Me-Too movement appears to be silent about missing and murdered indigenous women.

“We see this mobilization online of marginalized people coming forward and marginalized communities sharing these powerful stories with us,” Flood said. “But what are we doing moving beyond that?” 

Vergara said in an April 22 interview that as social media evolves and more applications and networks are created, more people are going to get involved and create new hashtags.

Jarret said she created the hashtag #AmINext to ensure the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women, like her cousin, is known by everyone.

“I did not care who listened to it but it needed to be out there,” she told the audience last month.  

“I challenge all of you youth here when you feel like you need to stand up but don’t see anybody doing it, be that person who starts that change,” Jarret said. “Be somebody’s protector. It starts with compassion. It starts with empathy. And it starts with kindness.

“But more importantly it takes bravery,” she said.