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'Pass the Hat': The viral TikTok campaign that has influencers talking about Palestine

Erin Hattamer’s viral campaign prompted big names to start discussions about Palestine online and help raise funds for families seeking to flee the war
Comedian Erin Hattamer talks about the "Pass the Hat" campaign (Screengrab/Tiktok).

Chances are, you’ve come across dozens of crowdfunding campaigns on social media in recent weeks that aim to help Palestinian families secure funds to escape Israel's ongoing war on Gaza.

Content creators on TikTok and beyond are posting videos of themselves baking bread, playing with their pet cats, getting ready for school or work, while introducing their followers to families in the besieged strip and sharing links to platforms like GoFundMe and JustGiving.

This isn't an accident.

It's part of an ongoing campaign called “Pass the Hat” launched by writer and comedian Erin Hattamer, which pairs up content creators, influencers and celebrities with Palestinian families caught up in the relentless Israeli bombardment for whom paying exorbitant fees offers the only route out.

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Since the start of Israel’s military assault on Gaza, the Chicago-based improv comedian began switching up her content, interspersing the comedic sketches with stitches to raise awareness of the toll of Israel's war, which has killed over 35,000 Palestinians and injured tens of thousands more.

“As a person with a platform, I was getting a lot of messages from families asking me to talk about their individual GoFundMes or their individual stories,” Hattamer shared on her Tiktok earlier this month, explaining how the movement came about.

“And the truth is, I don't have the time or algorithm power to post about all of them effectively and I was panicking.”

@erinhattamer #passthehat ♬ original sound - Erin Hattamer

After reaching out to her followers and brainstorming how they could all support awareness and fundraising initiatives, the project “Pass the Hat” was born.

In it, content creators fill out a form and are then assigned a Palestinian family in need of support in order to amplify their stories and fundraise for them by calling for donations, monetising their videos, or calling for the videos to be shared.

“I liked the name 'pass the hat' because I liked the concept of paying it forward. We’re passing the hat of human compassion and responsibility,” Hattamer added, crediting a follower for the campaign's name.

As the campaign quickly grew, with many signing up, volunteers who had already been working to raise awareness and support those in Gaza reached out to streamline the efforts.

A digital volunteer effort, Operation Olive Branch, had already been collecting and verifying mutual aid campaigns for months, including campaigns from families for “medical aid, food supplies, evacuation fees, or to rebuild their homes."

By integrating her campaign into Operation Olive Branch, Hattamer was able to utilise the existing list and connect content creators with families already identified by the collective initiative. 

Hattamer’s efforts have seen big-name creators with millions of followers - including authors Hank and John Green, and internet personalities and influencers Chris Olsen and Drew Afualo - amplify the work of Operation Olive Branch.

“For every influencer saying, ‘I’m just one person, what can I do?’ - this is 100% because of Erin Hattamer,” one Tiktoker shared, stitching a video with Hank Green joining the campaign. “She’s just one person. She’s a comedian - this is not what she does.”

“Yuval posted because of Erin and Pass the Hat, his fundraiser was complete in less than 24 hours!!! $200,000 raised,” commented another user in reference to another TikTok user with 2.7 million followers.

While expressing joy at the campaign's great reception, Hattamer also pointed out that many content creators of colour had already been posting about Palestine for months.

“I’m so happy Pass the Hat has taken off. I’m so happy we can highlight OOB,” she said in a TikTok. “But did you know that OOB was a bunch of volunteers that are folks of colour that have been posting about this for months? And it took me posting about it obsessively for people to start getting on board.”

“Whether you know it or not, voices of colour are being erased.” 

'Seven months too late'

Some on social media questioned the sudden popularity of the Pass the Hat campaign amongst celebrities and influencers during a widespread blocking spree known as “Operation Blockout.” 

The campaign targets celebrities and influencers who have not used their platform to speak up on the situation in Gaza.

Initially triggered by the Met Gala taking place at a time when Palestinians were facing "full-blown famine" and heavy bombardment, the campaign has since grown. 

“Creators on tiktok kicking off #BlockOut2024 at the SAME TIME "Pass The Hat" started taking off has the potential for MASS change in how influencers and celebs present themselves online,” shared one. 

“It’s been 7 months…MONTHS,” commented one user on an influencer’s ‘Pass the Hat video. 

Others, however, have highlighted that the aim of such initiatives is to spark conversations and have urged people to refocus on Rafah and the latest Israeli offensive, which has already forced more than 800,000 displaced Palestinians to flee once again. 

“Ever since the blockout, a lot of influencers have suddenly started to speak up + join the pass the hat initiative; artists like Lizzo and Cardi B have spoken up,” commented one user, arguing that one should not be dismissive of the impact. 

“The whole point of the blocklist is to pressure people into talking about Palestine... so why are some people shaming the ones they want to speak up,” questioned another. 

“This is what holding people accountable does,” commented one user, thanking Hank Green for speaking up.

“Better late than never,” commented another user, thanking the influencer for using their platform.

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