Activist Linked To #IllRideWithYou Sparks Viral Hashtag Condemning Refugee Policy


If you don’t know lawyer, writer and advocate Mariam Veiszadeh by name, you’ll know of her by the hashtag to which she had strong links: #illridewithyou.
The Sydney-based Muslim woman took two total strangers up on their offer for a lift home in the wake of last December’s Sydney Siege in what was one of first documented incidences of the hashtag-spawned campaign in action. 

#illridewithyou resonated with people around the world (it racked up 120,00+ Twitter mentions in a matter of hours) because it served as a powerful, and positive, reminder – that the number of people with good, kind, open hearts still vastly outweighs the evil in this world.
Barack Obama even called PM Tony Abbott to personally congratulate him on Australia’s show of solidarity. 
In a statement, the White House said:
“Noting the Australian public’s embrace of #Illridewithyou and the Muslim leaders who have disavowed the actions of the hostage taker, the President also praised Australia’s rejection of any violence taken in the name of religion and the fear this violence seeks to stoke.”
There are no pats on the back in the wake of the latest tragedy to grip our nation, and the world: the death of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, who drowned while escaping war-torn Syria with his family (his brother and mother also perished).

Deeply distressing photos of his tiny, lifeless body washed up on the shore of a 
Turkish beach prompted a widespread outcry, that whatever we’re doing to help solve the humanitarian crisis, we need to do more

Yet that message sailed over Abbott’s head completely; he used the tragedy as an opportunity to publicly push his ‘Stop The Boats’ agenda. 

“If you want to stop the deaths, if you want to stop the drownings you have got to stop the boats. We saw yesterday on our screens a very sad, poignant image of children tragically dead at sea in illegal migration. Thankfully, we have stopped that in Australia because we have stopped the illegal boats. We have said to the people smugglers: ‘Your trade is closed down.’ If you want to keep people safe, you have got to stop illegal migration and that’s what we have done.”

No mention of Nauru being declared unsafe by a parliamentary inquiry, or reports of the hundreds of refugees, nor the disturbing rise of distressed women and children attempting to commit suicide in detention centres, some on 24-hour suicide watch.

Veiszadeh was so disgusted by the inadequacy of Abbott’s response, and the tragedy as a whole, that it prompted her to fire of a tweet with the hashtag #WeCanDoBetter.

And then:

The hashtag has gained huge traction online in the past 24 hours, 
trending nationally as people gravitate – once again, though this time for a very different reason – to a phrase that encompasses the hurt/dismay/anger they’re feeling.

Though she fired off the initial tweet in a cab on the way to the airport (she flew from Sydney to Melbourne to give a keynote address on diversity at Monash University), Veiszadeh put a great deal of thought into the wording of the hashtag.

In an interview with P.TV, she said: 

“I don’t want to be accused of slacktivism but social media campaigns can be an incredibly powerful way of engaging the masses and getting people thinking about vital public policy, and so I wanted to come up with a hashtag that resonate with as many people as possible. 

Initially I thought it should be #WeMustDoBetter, but I didn’t want to dictate what people should think or feel about this tragedy, so I went with #WeCouldBeBetter. It’s a recognition that we’ve failed – failed poor little Aylan and failed the 200,000 other Syrian refugees who continue to remain faceless and nameless.

From our contribution on an international scale, to our domestic asylum seeker policy, in every regard we can do better. Much better.”
She’s not surprised it’s struck the chord it has.
“Everyone is outraged [by Aylan’s death] and devastated and they’re channeling those feelings into one place, one turn of phrase.” 
Now Veiszadeh is calling on people to join forces in sending Abbott a message – that something needs to change and now.

She has one final message for us all:

“Never underestimate people power.”

Image via Getty.