Social media became the de facto platform for celebrities pushing for justice for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old high school student from Florida who was shot by George Zimmerman, 28, who claimed he shooting was in self-defense. After a "not guilty" verdict was handed down to Zimmerman on Saturday, the man behind the Million Hoodies protests urges celebs and people to keep fighting.
"My vision for Million Hoodies is really for us to be what the Truth Campaign was for big tobacco," says Million Hoodies founder Daniel Maree. "That's what we want to be against the gun lobby and against racial profiling."
Maree, a digital strategist, first founded Million Hoodies in March of 2012, a month after Martin was found shot and killed, Zimmerman standing over him with a handgun. Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles, wearing a hoodie.
"The big impetus for Million Hoodies for me was reading about the Trayvon Martin case and noticing that there was no national news coverage of the story, noticing that the police hadn't arrested George Zimmerman and feeling that I have been in that situation before," Maree told MTV News. "I spent two years in Gainesville, Florida, as a high schooler, and I personally had experiences walking home from school sometimes. I would get stopped by the police for no reason other than I was an African American in a predominantly white neighborhood."
Maree also noted that Martin's hoodie was the inspiration for his campaign, recalling experiences he's had in New York City while wearing that article of clothing. "People, because of the color of my skin, feel a little paranoid around me," he said. "They cross the street or they clutch their purse a little closer thinking that I'm up to no good or that I'm going to harm them in some way. It was really those two experiences that made me want to do something.
Leveraging his skills as a social media strategist, Maree launched a website and campaign that would take the fight online and off. Zimmerman had yet to be arrested for Martin's death at this juncture. "That's all we wanted — for justice to be done at this point," he said.
Online, Maree asked people in send in photos of themselves in hoodies and to tweet using the hashtag #millionhoodies. He also asked people to sign a petition launched by Martin's parents calling for Zimmerman's arrest.
"We were able to collect more than 2 million petition signatures at that point and it became the fastest growing petition in the history of the Internet," Maree said.
Stars ranging from Janelle Monae to MC Hammer took up the cause at that point, tweeting links to the petition. Artists like Nelly, Diddy and athletes from the Miami Heat also pitched in support, tweeting their own hoodie-bearing pics.
The campaign also included a Million Hoodie March in New York on March 21, 2012 — as well a series of other marches across the country. Martin's parents contacted Maree about the New York event and showed up to speak at the march.
When Zimmerman was arrested on April 11, 2012, Maree said that he credits a Million Hoodies as playing a critical part in that course of action.
Now that the final word is in on the case, however, and Zimmerman has walked away with a "not guilty" verdict, one might imagine that Maree plans to hang up his million hoodies and call it a day. Not so.
"There are a Million Hoodies rallies happening all over the country," Maree said. "More than 100 happening this week."
The new petition on MoveOn.org was launched by the NAACP asking the justice department to launch a civil rights campaign against Zimmerman, and as a member of the MoveOn.org Progress Partnership, a Million Hoodies supports it.
So far the only celeb to have signed and/or promoted the petition that Maree is aware of is MC Hammer, although he hopes that those artists, athletes and actors who were so supportive of the first petition will return to fight for the cause.
Help Sign the petition of Civil Rights Prosecution of George Zimmerman by United States Department of J... http://t.co/ogE2tb2KjX— MC HAMMER (@MCHammer) July 14, 2013
Still, Maree hopes the campaign will go beyond just the Martin case. "We've always said that this is a much larger issue. It's a matter of institutional racism and structural violence in this country, which has a long history."
Million Hoodies, which is nominated for a Do Something Award, is calling for a national plan of action on racial discrimination, and aims to keep doing rallies and protests around that issue over the next year.
"We really trying to take the necessary steps to keep this momentum going," Maree said, adding, "We're hoping that more celebrities will continue supporting the cause."