Culture

I Started A Global Viral Movement; Here’s What I Hope From #IllRideWithYou

"Although this has risen from the events in Martin Place, it is a sentiment that does not stop at Muslims."

On Monday afternoon, as Australia was fixed to their screens hoping for the safety of 17 hostages still being held by gunpoint in Martin Place, Sydney content editor Tessa Kum saw a Facebook status from a young Brisbane woman, Rachael Jacobs. On a train, Jacobs had watched a woman sitting next to her silently remove her hijab; she ran after her at the station, and encouraged her to put it back on: “I’ll walk with you”.

Inspired by the story, Tessa posted to Twitter:

By Monday evening, there were over 120,000 tweets using the #illridewithyou hashtag; overnight, it was covered by international press and trended globally, rising to over 600 tweets per minute; in the past three days, it has been affixed to close to 440,000 tweets.

Tessa has become the focal point of a viral movement which is broadly seen as the one positive story to have come from this tragedy. But as she wrote in a blog post yesterday, republished here with her permission, the success of the hashtag has been a mixed blessing.  

The sunrise is too pretty. I haven’t slept, but my adrenal gland is putting in the hard yards, so I still feel mildly lucid.

They asked me if I was surprised by the response to the hashtag. As though anyone but a marketing department could be anything other than bewildered by having an idea go viral. Of course I wanted it to be picked up – why tweet it at all otherwise? – but this is electrifying and not a little alarming.

There is no campaign back here, unless one heartsore woman flapping her chops on twitter is a campaign. This wasn’t planned. The rocket launched and I have no idea how to fly this thing.

To all who have spoken up; it isn’t for me to say, but, thank you.

Hashtags have a life cycle dependent upon attention and constrained by the very platform that gives them such power. It was never my intention to try and maintain any control over the hashtag, but given I was trending globally within hours, and sustained for hours, I must take some responsibility for what is forming.

Nuance is easily lost on twitter, bless those blasted 140 characters. There is much language being used – ‘help them’, ‘protect them’, ‘their safety’ – which is slippery, and this idea was already sitting close to the White Saviour Complex. I think it may have slunk closer in the night.

We need this. So much of what is broadcast in general is hurt and damage and grief, that just to be reminded that other people care is no small thing. When feeling helpless, any tool is better than none, and there is so much to fight.

But this isn’t about feeling better. It’s about respect. There are people who cannot take basic respect from the general public for granted, and so to those who may benefit from it I simply offer the physical reality that they will not be alone for this leg of the bus trip.

Although this has risen from the events in Martin Place, it is a sentiment that does not stop at Muslims, or anyone wearing their religion or culture, or who does not dress according to their expected gender, or who is simply too not-white or not-male to ever take safety for granted. In those terms, I would be included as someone at risk. I’m afraid I’m not particularly intimidating and being a non-white woman it could be argued that I add to target attraction, instead of detracting from it. I suspect this is why I do tend to gravitate toward non-whites in public anyway. Some sort of safety in numbers.

But I have to say, the thought of anyone deciding to approach me in public in order to protect me for my own sake without considering that, like everyone on public transport, I just want to be left alone; that thought rather gets my hackles up.

So many people have reached out to say what this hashtag has meant for them. So many. Whatever grand wild delusion was galloping through my head when I created the hashtag has slunk off dejectedly, being unable to compete with reality. Some of you have already been helped by this, and that is. No words. No words. Thank you.

But keep in mind, please, it is not for anyone to burden their need to help upon others. Respect that while too many are afraid to go out in public, many still walk the streets confidently and comfortably, and need nothing from any of us. If you’re asked to buddy up, that is an amazing honour and sign of trust. That is enough. Don’t expect more.

Don’t let it become a #NotAllMen where the focus fell off the actual issue of misogyny and violence and became entirely about assuring gentlemen they were good people, not bad people. Don’t centre this on yourself. It isn’t about me, or you. The desire to do right is in no way related to actually doing right.

It is important that the offer be made, and equally important that nothing be expected in return.

The people who don’t feel safe; they don’t feel safe. We don’t. I don’t. They may not feel safe enough to tell you your good intentions are lovely but unwanted at this time. The ability to read minds isn’t required for any act of kindness to remain a respectful one. Kindness that is forced upon a person is not kindness.

We need this, but not as a bandaid. We’ve always needed this empathy, and we always will. But not just to make ourselves feel better. To make the world better. And keep it that way.

A hashtag is a flash in a pan, but this will is not. This is a long campaign. Longer than this life. Hold on to that.

Read the rest of Tessa Kum’s post on her blog, Silence Without.

Tessa Kum is a TV content editor from Sydney.

Feature image from Kristen Boschma, on Twitter.