What's the saddest Disney movie ever? People my age will say Old Yeller, or they'll talk about how traumatized they were as a kid when Bambi's mother was shot by the hunter. My six-year old described Disney's Earth as "horror Disney" when he saw the "circle of life" play out as the killer whale ate the seal. He was speechless at the long shot of the daddy polar bear swimming endlessly, looking for ice floes and food.
For me it's always been this scene from Dumbo.
It gets me every. single. time.
And it came to mind last night as I saw a few more Facebook status updates with the distinctive "Todas somos Habiba" logo.
I've been keeping up with this story through blog posts and Facebook updates for several days now - the Moroccan immigrant woman in Spain who, after experiencing domestic violence left her relationship, picked up her 15-month baby and went to a shelter. There she was told her parenting actions which consisted of breastfeeding on demand, nursing for comfort, co-sleeping and other healthy attachment-parenting practices many of us take for granted, were unhealthy. She was told to wean her baby, even given medicine to dry up her milk, and when she didn't comply her child was taken from her and she was tossed to the streets. Although Spain's major daily newspaper has covered the story, mainstream media in the rest of the world have been slow to pick it up. But social media is fuelling this story and on Wednesday women in Toronto and Montreal and in cities around the world delivered letters and petitions to Spanish embassies and consulates in protest.
Social media has been criticized for generating large volumes of "armchair activism." The way the argument goes, it's pretty easy to sit at home and sign online petitions. It's not that hard to draft letters and send them by email to politicians and embassies. But I've heard it suggested the engagement driven by social media is difficult to translate into real action - into votes. Critics point to the continued low voter turnout at election time and say social media isn't really making a difference.
I don't agree with this. I see social media as a powerful tool of engagement. In our busy world where we can barely keep up with email, motivating someone enough to even sign an online petition can be a challenge. When I see the amazing success of the SlutWalk movement, with marches held across the world including a large one here in Edmonton a few weeks ago, I marvel at the power of social media to engage and connect like-minded people who are motivated to take action.
The story of Habiba is motivating hundreds of like-minded mothers around the world, especially those mothers who are currently breastfeeding and co-sleeping with toddlers the same age as Habiba's baby. The slogan "We are all Habiba" resonates for these women.
Last night became the night of my own engagement on this issue. I went from being a somewhat dispassionate observer, to tears. It was this Vimeo video that did me in.
Lullabies for Alma
Mothers gather nightly to sing lullabies outside the shelter where Habiba's daughter Alma is being kept, a shelter that has a night-time ratio of two caregivers for over 40 children in care. Two weeks ago Alma nursed to sleep each night in the loving arms of her mother. Now she is alone.
I dare you to watch this video and not feel something for this mother, for this child. It starts with Brahms Lullaby, easily recognized although in Spanish. You can hear children still playing in the background, resisting the call to sleep. By the time one of the singers starts a lovely English rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow tears are streaming down my cheeks, and the children are resting in the arms of their mothers.
Disney has had decades of success because Walt understood how to engage an audience. It took me only a few seconds to find that YouTube clip of Dumbo's mother singing a lullaby and swinging her baby through the bars of her prison. It's there with over a million views, resonance that has lasted generations through to a time where it's instantly available to demonstrate it's power to remind us of the pain we all feel when we witness the separation of a child from its parent.
Social media is not a fad, not a trend, not a flash in the pan. Social media is means to engage an audience. And that is where the power lies. Not with the tool, but with its power to engage us. We people. The audience. We've always been the audience, waiting to be engaged, waiting to be motivated, waiting to be moved.
We are all social. We are all Habiba.
There are Spanish and English-language petitions and a Facebook page coordinating action to try to reunite Habiba with her baby Alma. Tonight the Spanish actor's union is holding a vigil. Last night the Facebook page had over 6,000 likers. Does this speak to you? Engage.
Added Friday 1:45 p.m.: This news release was just issued from the North America group supporting Habiba.