Los Angeles Times
Protest rally for digital age
Crowdfunding brings people’s money and causes together
When an Indiana pizza joint said it wouldn’t cater a gay wedding, supporters took to social media and raised more than $ 840,000 to help the shop. When a Florida baker was threatened after she said she wouldn’t bake an anti- gay cake, she raised nearly $ 15,000 in one month.
Two online fundraisers popped up when Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson was put on leave for fatally shooting Michael Brown. The pages earned more than $ 400,000 in donations.
Originally created with small entrepreneurs and passion projects in mind, crowdfunding, through websites such as GoFundMe, has become away for people to express their anger and dismay, aswell as a means to support social issues without pouring into the streets or staging sit- ins.
“It’s easy to go give 5 bucks online to a cause of your choice,” said Daren Brabham, a communications professor and an expert in crowdfunding at USC. “It’s just a simple way to symbolically showyou support one cause or the other.”
Ben Howe, who works for the conservative news program “The Dana Show” and was part of the teamthat put together the fundraiser for Memories Pizza in Indiana, said the group decided on crowdfunding because it wanted to help the owners “weather the storm.”
“The initial goalwas $ 25,000 ... and it just took off,” Howe said. “Certainly therewas no feeling among us that thiswas going to raise almost a million dollars.”
The pizza shop landed in the center of a national debate over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in April, when owner Crystal O’Connor told a television reporter her family would refuse requests to cater a same- sex wedding reception because it conflicted with their faith.
The comments quickly gained national attention, as activists said the Walkerton pizzeria highlighted concerns that Indiana’s legislation allowed blanket protections for businesses that engaged in discriminatory practices.
Online fundraising speaks to a digital culture, Howe said, and crowdfunding is an avenue for people to “support a person or situation who may feel they don’t have support.”
“The world we live in now is just so different,” he said. “My co- workers live in other cities or states. American life is online now.”
As a result, an old- fashioned rally wouldn’t be as successful in a short amount of time, he said.
“Within an hour of deciding, we had set up a campaign and raised thousands of dollars,” Howe said. “Other ways still have value, but this makes the idea of supporting people more accessible. We nowhave access to everybody on Earth immediately.”
Brabham sees the rash of politically charged GoFundMe campaigns as “the cable new sification of political fundraising,” something of an “‘ American Idol’ vote for your cause.”
“On cable news you have people who just kind of talk and say some controversial things and use it to get attention,” he explained. “I think that’s where we are headed with this funding.”
Brabham said online crowdfunding is an “amaz- ing systemthat gives people direct access,” but it’s removed from “real debates” and has less impact than traditional donations.
“If you really are opposed to gay marriage, don’t give your money to a pizza shop,” he said. “Give your money to a family values coalition.”
Sometimes more than one crowdfunding page is created for a cause. Sometimes they compete. And sometimes, they are taken downwhen the intended recipient ends up facing criminal charges.
GoFundMe, for example, shut down a campaign raising money for the six Baltimore police officers charged in death of Freddie Gray. GoFundMe said the page— launched by the Baltimore police union— was removed because it violated company policy.
“GoFundMe cannot be used to benefit those who are charged with serious violations of the law,” said public relations manager Kelsea Little. “The campaign clearly stated that the money raised would be used to assist the officers with their legal fees, which is a direct violation of GoFundMe’s terms.”
Thewebsite specifically bars campaigns “in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts.”
GoFundMe also shut downa campaign for MichaelT. Slager, the former South Carolina police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man.
That didn’t stop the page’s organizer from raising money on Slager’s behalf. Aseparate crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, hosted a campaign shortly after. That page was later removed because the campaign “did not meet” the standards of Indiegogo’s trust and safety team.
An Oregon bakery that shut down after its owners refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple on religious grounds also started a GoFundMe page, but that fundraiser ended for the same reasons as Slager’s.
Owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa were ordered to pay $ 135,000 in damages to the couple they wouldn’t serve “for emotional and mental suffering resulting fromthe denial of service,” court documents fromthe Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries show.
The bakery’s supporters found another way to raise the money, and the business broke the record lastweek for a Christian crowdfunding site, Continue to Give. That page raised more than $ 370,000.
A baker in Longwood, Fla., received hateful phone calls in April after she told a caller she wouldn’t design a cake with an anti- gay message.
Sharon Haller said she received threats and negative online reviews after the caller, Arizona evangelist Joshua Feuerstein, posted a video of the initial conversation online. The controversy birthed a GoFundMe for Cut the Cake bakery.
The rise in back- andforth crowdfunding is worrisome, Brabham said.
“Say I have an ice cream parlor and I’m tanking. I’m going to rush to anger somebody to get money,” Brabham said. “It’s like the celebrity who puts out the sex tape when their career is on the decline. This political landscape is turning into a reality show.”