When Kevin Cunningham, who describes himself as “Super Irish,” heard the news about the shooting of 17 year old unarmed Trayvon Martin in Florida, he knew he had to do something to help. Cunningham looked to social media as a platform for helping the effort to see George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s assailant, be prosecuted.
MSNBC’s Miranda Leitsinger spoke with Cunningham and learned how the lawyer’s small effort garnered huge results. Using Change.org to create a petition which demands Zimmerman be prosecuted for the shooting of Martin, Cunningham utlizied social media to helped the petition go viral and ultimately receive more than 2 million signatures.
“I decided to take the skills that I’ve been working on … and apply them to the situation and see how well it would work out, and it just went crazy on me,” said Cunningham. Currently, Cunningham works as a social media coordinator for a Palestinian children’s charity, KinderUSA. He notes that he “fell in love” with social media during the Egyptian revolution.
“What I’ve learned through social media, you don’t have to go through institutions anymore…Any individual with any idea can make it work if they have (a) connection to the Internet.”
Cunningham, a former Howard University law student, first learned of Trayvon Martin’s death when he received a listserv from Men of Howard, an informal but secretive fraternity he joined during his years at Howard. Cunningham then proposed starting a petition, which was reportedly met with both support and skepticism.
“At Howard, they tell us as soon as you get there, ‘If you’re going to be a lawyer, you’re either a social engineer or a parasite on the society,’” said Cunningham. “ … that’s how I think about life … is to be a social engineer, and that’s what my parents were always trying to be.” Cunningham notes that his parents were also activists.
After Cunningham launched the petition on Change.org, his fraternity members were quick to post it it to their social media sites, triggering an “avalanche” of support. On the first day alone, Cunningham believes the petition gained 100 signatures calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman.
The early signatures came from places around the country including California, Martin’s home state of Florida, and beyond. Some of the signatures indicated that the signee was a friend or family member of Martin.
It was evident that Cunningham’s petition was quickly gaining momentum.
After only a few days of being live, Cunningham’s petition had garnered 10,000 signatures. It was then that Change.org contacted Cunningham and suggested that he transfer the petition to Trayvon Martin’s parents to continue on as they were quickly becoming the faces of the case.
Transferring a petition is extremely rare for Change.org to suggest, according to the organization’s spokesperson Megan Lubin. She added that nearly 100,000 petitions have been created since the organization’s conception in 2007.
With nearly 15,000 petitions created a month on Change.org, Lubin noted how impressive it was that Cunningham’s grew so rapidly. Not surprisingly, the petition has become the biggest in Change.org’s history - topping out the previous largest petition that called for reform in the wake of the Casey Anthony trial last year.