Sabrina Marshall

Can you combine the internet, activism, politics, and art together to make a statement? Twitter user Hank Green attempts to put his money where your tweets are by donating in support of refugees and immigrants for every piece of art tweeted to him.

A month and a half ago, President Donald Trump passed an executive order titled ‘Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States’ that denies entry for people into the U.S. from seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — whether they are refugees or not. Many liberals and more left-wing Americans are against this ban, protesting online and in airports, offering support, and welcoming messages to refugees trying to enter the country. One of the online protestors of the ban is Hank Green, who earned a Master of Science and is a well known musician, editor, producer for multiple online communities, and half of the Vlogbrothers duo on YouTube — a channel he shares with his brother, author John Green.

 “For every reply to this tweet with a hand-drawn message of support for immigrants, Muslims, and/or refugees, I will donate $5 to the ACLU,” Green tweeted on Jan. 28.  after the ban had been announced. The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] is a nonprofit organization whose mission statement reads “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” 

When Trump passed this executive order, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against him on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, two Iraqi men with immigrant visas detained at JFK International Airport. With this lawsuit and mission statement, the ACLU became one of the more popular organizations for protestors of Trump and supporters of refugees to donate to, including Green.

Green’s original post recieved $500 worth of supportive art in under half an hour, according to Twitter timestamps, it kept growing. In 90 minutes, it reached $2,500, and Green set a new rule: “I am going to keep counting for the next 24 hours. Good art or bad, $5 to the ACLU for any hand-made message of support.” This led to an outpouring of love, support, and protest in the form of art. From simple messages or quotes written on sticky notes and index cards to detailed paintings, the possibilities were endless. With an “up to interpretation” guideline as to what “art” means, there was a variety of mediums used: doodles in notebooks, digital creations, even nail art.

Several themes and quotes emerged throughout the next 24 hours. Most common was a quote engraved on a bronze plaque from inside the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor — your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Many of the artists included the sentiment that what Trump’s ban is doing is entirely un-American, going against what this country was built on. Simple phrases like “liberty and justice for all” from our Pledge of Allegiance and “all are welcome” also cropped up numerous times, along with hashtags such as #nobannowall, #resist, and #muslims/refugeeswelcome. 

The hit-musical Hamilton also inspired several pieces of art due to its diverse cast and pro-immigrant nature. “Immigrants, we get the job done,” and “history has its eyes on you,” adaptations of the musical’s signature poster were most commonly featured. In addition to Green’s words of support throughout the campaign, the artists and other supporters shared their thoughts. 

@TheKeyThief submitted one of the most popular pieces — still pinned to Green’s profile as a tweet directed to @realDonaldTrump — of the Statue of Liberty carrying a child wearing what appears to be an Iraqi-flag hijab and holding the statue’s famed torch. “The #MuslimBan goes against everything we stand for in America. To the rest of the world — I’m so sorry. We do not stand for this,” she shared in a tweet along with her hand-drawn art.

At the end of this nearly 25 and a half hour period, Green tallied the art: 2,213 pieces of art totaling $11,065 worth of donations for the ACLU. This is an incredible amount of money for one man to raise and donate on his own, all through Twitter, but he wasn’t done using his celebrity status he had on the internet. Out of all the art created and shared, Green reached out to 17 specific artists — including @TheKeyThief — to try and turn their works into posters, selling them on — a merchandise website used by many YouTubers, where Green is CEO and co-owner — for $12 or less with 100% of the proceeds being donated. “All proceeds will be going to organizations that help refugees set up their new lives in the US,” Green stated in a thread explaining the charity sale. 

The sale lasted the weekend of Feb. 3 - 5 and the art ranged from hand-drawn people of different ethnicities standing together to digital recreations of the Statue of Liberty in many forms. At the time of announcing the sale, $10,000 had already been raised. At the end of the weekend, $71,750 worth of poster sale profit was raised and donated to “help welcome refugees to the US through resettlement organizations,” as Green stated in a tweet on Feb. 8.

While people question the legitimacy of the “power of art” and the usefulness of an artistic career or interest, this act of kindness by Green proves how important art can be. Taking the time out of your day to write a simple quote on a sticky note or spending hours digitally recreating the Statue of Liberty, Green made use of art as a way to help immigrants and refugees through the ACLU.  

In addition, this shows the level of support those who participated feel. I’ve seen many donation tweets that only require others to retweet or reply with some keyword. While this support and action is still important, what Green has done or has asked makes supporters physically donate their time and effort — even if for a minute to doodle on an index card — in order to show their support. 

“I was just staggered by the quality and power of some of the art I saw,” said Green in a tweet a week later. That’s what art should be: it should display good quality but also be powerful, provoke conversation, and hold a strong message. Hats off to Green for giving the voiceless and homeless a warm, supportive welcome through the power of art.