This past August, you couldn’t scroll down a Facebook feed without coming across a few friends pouring ice water on themselves, a few others making fun of those friends, and one person sanctimoniously calling attention to the waste of water. It was all for a good cause, though:
vanity ALS a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s disease. Looking back now, this form of activism seems almost quaint compared to all the protesting in the wake of separate grand juries choosing not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. It was also a form of activism popular with celebrities, which is why the message spread so far. Samuel L. Jackson recently made a video urging his famous friends to do for unchecked police violence what they did for ALS.
“All you celebrities out there who poured ice water on your head, here’s a chance to do something else,” Jackson says at the top of the video on his Facebook page. “I challenge you to sing the ‘We Ain’t Gonna Stop Until People Are Free’ song.” Next, the actor sings a brief tune that invokes the last words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe,” which he said 11 times as an officer choked the life out of him. “I can’t breathe” has since become an important mantra in the movement.
“I can hear my neighbor crying, ‘I can’t breathe.’
Now I’m in the struggle and I can’t leave.
Calling out the violence of the racist police.
We ain’t gonna stop until people are free.
We ain’t gonna stop until people are free.”
The activism that’s sprung out of the Garner and Brown decisions has lead people to generate actual traffic by shutting down bridges, rather than making frigid water videos. Despite many well-publicized protests, Jackson’s efforts call out the disparity in how celebrities are willing to insert themselves into a cause. The blatant racial overtones of this one–not just police violence, but specifically police violence against unarmed black men and women–make it a more divisive issue than bravely coming out against Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Jackson issued his call to vocal arms over the weekend, and many on Facebook are already making their own videos in response. Perhaps some celebrities will try to top each other with tastefully interesting remixes until everyone on your feed is either reposting them or making their own.