Top Memes 2015

Drum Roll Please...


Top Memes considers memes used or created by our social movements to challenge the status quo, and the mass memes shaping politics and pop culture.

For us, memes spread meaning through story, via symbols and practices and are transmitted through writing, speech, gestures, images, rituals, and phenomena.

So which memes do YOU think made the final cut?

*Top Memes of 2015 writers: Hannah Jones, Saa'un Bell, Yee Won, and CSS Staff.  

The red “Dear [San Francisco]” billboards from AirBnB that popped up across the city were so snarky, outlining how they ‘hoped’ SF would spend their precious tax money, many thought they were a Yes Men-style hoax, pointing out the douchebaggery of AirBnB. Quickly, however, we learned that the passive-aggressive ads were in fact real, and the backlash was swift. Residents replied with #DearAirBnB letters across the internet, showing the company just how (un)grateful folks are for their measly tax money and their gentrifying ways. (You don’t get a cookie for paying your taxes, AirBnB!) Then the day before the election, community groups took over AirBnB Headquarters, delivering red, billboard-reminiscent house-shaped signs decrying AirBnB’s negative effects on the city (ex: “HOMELESSNESS, Love AirBnB”), suspended in the high-ceilinged lobby with helium balloons. Unfortunately, AirBnB’s $8 million campaign against Prop F sealed its defeat, but communities from San Francisco to New York continue the fight.

Remember the moment when you found out about Rachel Dolezal? The "nah, this can't be serious?" moment... While the news cycle around Rachel Dolezal did surface some conversations around "racial passing" and "cultural appropriation," we noticed that it was Rachel's own personal narrative about her identity that sparked the most controversy and outrage from the racial justice community. The reason for this? At CSS, we talk about "how Messengers are often times just as important if not more important than the message." The fact that Rachel Dolezal defended her identity with her record as a career civil-rights advocate, does not make her an authentic representative of the Black community. Her story is an example of how not to reinforce the victimization of marginalized communities, and that our responsibility as social agents in telling our story, is to identify and act against these inconsistencies in representation in order to change the story.  

And… Rachel Dolezal is now naming her baby after Langston Hughes. Sigh. 

What happens when a gay director aims to please a straight audience? The #NotMyStonewall meme happens! According to Stonewall, the movie, Danny, a white cisgender gay guy, threw the brick that sparked Stonewall, the rebellion. Even before the film premiered, the #NotMyStonewall emerged on Twitter and Facebook redirecting people to support transgender causes including “Happy Birthday Marsha”, an independent film about Marsha P. Johnson, the transwomen of color, who was one of the first to resist police harassment at Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall filmmakers’ attempt to rewrite and whitewash history is outright offensive and appalling. So, how do you create a viral and sticky response? By using imagery to show just how ridiculous and insulting, it is to change history just to make it more palatable for some.

This series of memes out of COP21 were all about leading the way toward real solutions for climate justice. It's hard to sum up the kaleidoscope of actions surrounding the Paris COP21 climate negotiations. Every day we saw new images of creative resistance. The striking image of 10,000 shoes left on the Place de la Republique is a great example of “show don’t tell.” It demonstrated mass resistance in spite of the recent protest ban in Paris. The Brandalism campaign laid some narrative groundwork with darkly playful brand-jamming.

Ads all over Paris revealed the corporate influence on the negotiations. This prompts us to ask, “Who are these ‘solutions’ actually benefiting?” From the Indigenous Flotilla Action to the D12 day of action, protests throughout the negotiations offered the next piece of that story. They made it clear that communities on the ground, rather than politicians and corporations, are building the climate solutions we need. 

In the next episode in a long series of (mostly male) politicians taking it upon themselves to decide what women do and don’t need to keep healthy, Planned Parenthood yet again this year faced smear campaigns, government de-funding, and a brutal mass shooting. Women’s health supporters have been forced to remain constantly vigilant to defend Planned Parenthood’s  crucial health services (for men, women, cis and trans, and gender-nonconforming people). In addition to other strategies, a pink “#StandWithPP” meme took social media by storm, with Facebook users adding a special pink StandWithPP overlay on their profile photos, etc., to show the world they stand up against the attacks.



Often serious issues are turned into a list of numbers with facts and figures. This year there was a spotlight on the numbers of refugees leaving Syria headed to any country that would allow them in. A media focus on faceless numbers created a constant narrative of, "But where will they all go?" Then briefly the story around the issue changed when a particular image hit the press of a small lifeless child who had washed ashore. At first the photo was of a soldier who lifted a small body from the sand, a hero of sorts.

But then quickly the frame changed to exclude the soldier and the story was focused on the victim, the sacrifices, the innocence lost, and the fact that no list or argument could explain away or justify the death of this 3-year-old boy named Alan on the shores of Turkey.


It wasn't new that folks across the country demanded a change in narratives about Christopher Columbus, Indigenous Peoples and public celebrations. But what was new is that in 9 cities the demands were met!

Alburquerque, NM, Lawrence, KS, Portland, OR, St. Paul, MN, Oklahoma City, OK, Alpena, MI, Erie County, NY, Olympia, WA, & Bellingham, WA all abolished Columbus Day as a holiday. The work of these dedicated activists not only changed the story this year but for many years to come!

2015 was a big year for climate victories! Strong direct action campaigns demanding “Keep It in the Ground” are responsible for key wins such as Shell Oil backing out of the Arctic, and the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline. Both were long, hard-hitting campaigns including fierce leadership by Indigenous communities across North America, and a range of tactics from symbolic to direct.

The bold #ShellNo bridge action with climbers and “kayaktivists” that blocked the Shell rig’s passage from Portland to the Arctic was a prime example of an action that matched the meme: they made it clear that “Shell shall not pass”. Big ups to everyone who worked hard on these successful campaigns for years!

No we didn't make an editorial mistake. This is the second year in a row that this meme has made it on to our Top Memes List! It seems that 2015 was a central year for issues expanding in their complexities as the intersectionality of our lives really started to surface in the public discourse of meaningful change. For the #FightFor15 campaign that meant a significant look at all the issues that affect the the plight of low wage work and low wage workers. The coalitions across labor that include racial justice, immigrant justice and climate justice are where the power can be found to make sustainable and meaningful change a reality. 

This powerful meme has topped our list for the 3rd year in a row, proving it’s more than a moment, it’s a movement.

A movement that won’t be deterred or dismissed.
The Black Lives Matter narrative has powered itself into a juggernaught of social and political force changing how we talk about Anti-Blackness and racism in America, and putting an end to the myth that racism is a thing of the past. It has opened up space to reframe the narratives and histories of how systemic racism plays out across all institutions: surfacing in the 2016 presidential election, calling attention to the lives of Black and Trans women, to suspicious deaths in police custody, and sparking a student movement across college campuses to address the rampant anti-blackness deeply rooted in education institutions. Black Lives Matter will continue to dominate the national narrative in 2016.