Aside from the universe itself, there is nothing quite as expansive as the Internet. There, you can find a life-long partner, buy groceries without leaving your apartment, and serve as launchpads for major activist movements, to more mundane things like being named Alex and working at Target to tweeting like a dog.
That the criteria for achieving Internet fame now include civic engagement should surprise no one paying attention to our current political climate. On Wednesday, July 7, #GreenShirtGuy started trending on Twitter, thanks to a video from a Tucson City Council meeting in which two people sang a folk song, someone played a banjo, and activist Zaira Emiliana Livier gave an impassioned speech about the importance of sanctuary cities during tumultuous times in the country. But when two people clad in Trump gear began shouting about immigrants “staying home,” a man in a now-famous green polo could not control his laughter. He went viral, and I suddenly realized where I knew him from: Five years ago, we had matched on Tinder.
It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. Again, the Internet is a great equalizer in many ways, and there is no way to definitively guess who is destined to be the next viral star. That means everyone from your mom to your third-grade teacher’s second cousin’s dog has a nearly equal chance at their 15 minutes; it is only fair those odds factor in people from dating apps. That was when the dread set in: I, who have made most of my career being a Writer Online, was going to DM some 28-year-old dude I met on a dating app half a decade ago for an interview.
So, being the professional I am, I DMed four very calm and professional messages to Alex Kack, an organizer with The Peoples' Defense Initiative — ”GREEN” “SHIRT” “GUY” “?????????” — and asked him for an interview.
Christianna Silva, MTV News: Do you remember how we met?
Alex Kack: Kind of loosely. We met on Tinder.
MTV News: Yeah, we did. It feels like the epitome of the Internet, because we met on Tinder and vaguely kept in contact over the past four years because we're both in political circles. And now you're a meme on Twitter. So, how else has the Internet shaped you or shaped political activism for you?
Kack: I was never involved with organizing when I decided to protest and I must've been like 16, 15, at the time. It was in response to the Westboro Baptist church in Phoenix, Arizona. Some of the people I knew decided we would post a bunch of stuff on MySpace and just try to get it out there. We thought maybe 20 people would show up. And it just went off like a bomb within a couple of days. Then we had a giant parking lot full of human bodies carrying picket signs. I think that was my first run-in with how the Internet was changing and shaping how we communicate and how we organize well. It's been interesting to watch how it evolves. People tried, I think kind of largely failed, in the ’90s to utilize it as an effective organizing tool.
The whole thing about being a millennial is that we were born right before the technology was really readily available and prevalent, and got to watch it develop and kind of pioneer it and test those waters ourselves… It quite literally changed the world, changed the geopolitical landscape.
MTV News: The Internet can also simplify things. People talk about you as the #greenshirtguy. Do you think political memes run the risk of devaluing the sentiment of the movement, which for you, right now, is creating a sanctuary city in Tucson?
Kack: Not at all. It's political cartooning for this century. I see no difference between a 21-year-old with a Facebook page making statements and some guy cartooning for the New Yorker half-a-century ago.
MTV News: Can you tell me about the push to make Tucson a sanctuary city?
Kack: The way the process works out here, they have a citizen-led initiative. It's actually the first citizen-led initiative for sanctuary city status in the country's history, which is kind of a fun, unique thing. And I think also really a statement about the values of this city. But basically any normal guy here in Tucson, any normal group of folks can get together, have an idea, get an initiative law drafted, and then collect the necessary signatures to put it up for a public vote.
What was happening at city council meeting is that we had gotten well over the number of signatures that we needed to get this on the ballot, and they just have to go through the formality of formally placing it on the ballot. There was no discussion or opportunity for there to be a nay vote or anything in that sense. It was really just this process going through this formality. And there were speeches made, and my boss [Zaira Emiliana Livier] gave a phenomenal speech. It was very serious. It was somber and it was angry. The mood was not that light before the yelling started, but once [the pro-Trump protestors] did, I think everyone in that room reacted differently. And truth be told, I don't think I was the only person laughing. I think I just happened to be sitting in the front row.
MTV News: What made you laugh at that protester? I know that you’re a stand-up comic. Are you still, and do you think that played into your reaction?
Kack: Yeah, maybe that couple years of writing jokes taught me to kind of look at hateful and aggravating things in a slightly different light than maybe what other people's reactions to it were. It was just crazy behavior in a public setting by members of a hate group. What are you really going to do and that situation but laugh? It seemed clear that it wasn't escalating into violence, at least at that moment. It was just this bizarre kind of surreal thing happening less than a foot from me.
MTV News: People on the Internet found the antics of that specific city council meeting to be absurd, but that was such a Tucson thing.
Kack: This is not the weirdest city council meeting I've been to here. Tucson's a quirky place. That's why I think those of us, people who choose to live here, we don't fit in maybe necessarily anywhere else. So we come live in the desert. Trying to hope that a snake or the heat doesn't kill us.
MTV News: Why is it important for Tucson specifically, this quirky, fun place to become a sanctuary city?
Kack: Well, a few points there. Tucson is a quirky, fun place, but it's also a large metropolitan area. We're quirky and fun, and I think those are values that we hold dear. But we're also incredibly compassionate. It's a statement of our values. It's important that we take a stand and enshrine into law values that most of the people who live here already hold inside themselves: Values that people deserve to feel safe here, regardless of where they're from, or how they came to live here. That they have the ability to seek things like medical assistance or to go to a house of worship and pray and worship and the way that they choose to without fear of detention or deportation. They should be able to interact with civic employees and first responders without fear when they're in a time of crisis. It makes our community safer, not just for undocumented folks living here, but for everyone. And I think it's obviously something that Tucson should do, I think this is something that everywhere should do.
MTV News: So you went into the city council with a very serious thing to talk about it, and then it's become this...
MTV News: Circus, yeah. I saw "green shirt guy" was trending and I was like, “I went on a Tinder date with someone who is now trending on the Internet.” When did you realize that you were going viral?
Kack: I’ll be happy to tell you, but how did you feel when you saw that?
MTV News: It took a minute because you didn't used to have a mustache.
Kack: Yeah, I moved back to Arizona and I had to really lean into it. Grow a mustache, buy turquoise jewelry.
MTV News: But it must've been way weirder for you to realize that you were going viral on Twitter than for me to realize I made a good career decision five years ago.
Kack: It’s uniquely bizarre. The night of the meeting, we grabbed food, and somebody said, "Hey, is this you in the corner?" I think there was like 30 comments on it at the time. The next morning I woke up and it was a GIF. I had a bunch of missed calls and text messages. I had thousands of Twitter followers.
MTV News: Lots of famous people have talked about you. Chrissy Teigen tweeted about you. What was one of the weirdest things that's come out of this?
Kack: Seeing myself on Colbert was crazy. I've been watching Colbert since he was on The Daily Show and Strangers With Candy and things like that. That's getting close to well over 15 years now that I've been a fan of this guy and then he's making jokes about the fact that I have a goofy laugh. I mean, that is as good as it gets.
MTV News: For me, it felt like the epitome of the Internet, being reminded of people you meet on dating apps through a trending topic on Twitter. Do you still have a Tinder? And if you do, are any of your photos of you in a green shirt?
Kack: I fairly recently wound up back in the Tinder pool, within the last few months. None of them are of me in a green shirt, but I did get a Hinge message from somebody saying, "Are you ‘green shirt guy?’"
MTV News: So this might land you with a date.
Kack: Yeah, I've been getting marriage proposals on Twitter and have been extremely sexually objectified. Which, for a guy with low self-esteem, has been super cool, actually.
MTV News: The Internet is a wild place.
Kack: Yeah. I got called a "zaddy," which I had to ask someone what it meant.
MTV News: And now, you're bonafide Twitter famous. You have 52,000 followers. Do you know what you're going to do with this platform now?
Kack: Honestly, the only thing I have is to make sure that we continue to address how important sanctuary city status in Tucson is. And if this helps it, it was all worth it.