Jessica Hardesty Norris, who graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Wildlife in 1997, went from despair to action within the space of week. Now she's using data gathering skills gleaned from her time at HSU to play a massive prank on former White House chief strategist and Breitbart founder Steve Bannon and his followers.
"Basically, two pieces of news crossed my desk," she told the Journal
in a phone call. The first piece of news was that a shelter for pregnant teenagers — Florence Crittenton Programs — had lost crucial state funding. The second was that Bannon was coming to town on Friday, Nov. 10 to speak before a student group and a local Republican organization.
"I saw the attention he was getting and got mad that we would spend so much effort on that," she told the Journal
as she prepared to go hang banners inviting attendees of Bannon's speech to "park that hate
." While Charleston police prepare to shut down the blocks surrounding Johnson Hagood Stadium in anticipation of protests and possible violence, Norris and others intend to be on site with banners and balloons welcoming Bannon supporters.
Why? Norris had recently watched a video by The Guardian
in which a group called Right Against Right pranked a neo-Nazi organization by turning a march by right-wing extremists in Germany into an unwitting walkathon fundraiser for a program that helps people leave extremist groups. Donations were made for every meter the extremists walked, and volunteers put up banners to encourage them to continue. Norris decided a similar prank might be effective in Charleston so she got in touch with Right Against Right, and its American branch, called Hate Xchange, jumped on the idea.
“Irony, absurdity and humor are often the best resources to change a narrative for the better,” says Fabian Wichmann in a press release. Wichmann came up with the original walkathon idea.
So this Friday, as Bannon's supporters pull into the stadium parking lot, scientists will be analyzing drone footage to count the cars. The methodology is being drawn from research Norris did as a Wildlife major counting elk near Orick by helicopter. (She adds that she is still trying to recruit an additional scientist — one with a Twitter account — to help.) People from all over the world are joining in to donate a set amount per car, with the money being divided between three different causes: the Human Rights Watch, Life After Hate and Charleston-area charities. Life After Hate works with people trying to leave hate groups, and the Charleston-area charities include the teen shelter whose defunding originally alarmed Norris.
Campaign organizers are using the hashtag #DonatetheHate to spread the word. Norris promises a very funny reveal of the ultimate numbers of cars and money raised via Twitter on Friday at around 3:15 p.m. Pacific Time.
For more information, see the press release below.
Editor's note: This post was updated to correct information about the Charleston-area charities that will benefit from this fundraiser.
DONATE THE HATE Activists launch elaborate prank on Steve Bannon & supporters
Charleston, South Carolina/National Event. 6:15pm November 10th, 2017
“Irony, absurdity, and humor are often the best resources to change a narrative for the better,” says Fabian Wichmann, the idea man behind the brilliant campaign that pranked neo-Nazis by turning their own march into an involuntary anti-nazi Walk-a-thon.
On November 10th, activists of the absurd in Charleston, SC will be taking a page from Germany’s play book when Steve Bannon speaks at the Citadel Republican Society’s Patriot Dinner. Protest organizers are inviting people to contribute to the Charleston Parks the Hate Park-a-Thon. Park-a-Thon participants pledge and encourage others to pledge funds based on the total number of cars coming to see Bannon speak, which will be counted at the event. Pledged funds will go to hateXchange, the official US-counterpart of the Wichmann’s German organization, Hass Hilft. hateXchange will redistribute the donations to Human Rights Watch, Life After Hate, and local charities in Charleston through their #DonatetheHate program.
A highly visual story, the event will feature balloons, silly banners, bad puns, and happy fundraisers cheering on attendees and their support for a divisive political climate. This form of protest offers a response that avoids violent conflicts like the tragedy of Charlottesville.
At 6:15PM, when Bannon takes the stage, Dr Stuart Pimm of Duke University will lead a prestigious team of satirical scientists to finalize the estimate of cars based on aerial images of the parking lot and data from people counting cars on the ground. Results will be announced live via twitter #donatethehate.
While the event will be light-hearted, there is nothing funny about Charleston’s fraught racial history, which reaches back over centuries and carries through the present day. Two years ago an extremist murdered nine people at prayer at Mother Emanuel AME Church; two weeks ago, local white college students dressed up as unarmed black men who died in police custody “as a joke.”
Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, Senior Pastor at Charleston’s Circular Congregational Church, is on the local steering committee. “We are drawing on the example of people who are turning to creative forms of protest. We want to take the negative energy visitors might bring and channel it into constructive work for the common good,” says Rutledge. “Put another way, we want to turn hate into love.”