Hands Up Gesture Is 'Symbol of the Year' From 2014: Third Annual Vote Conducted by Stanford's Symbolic Systems Program

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Affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University have chosen the hands up ("Don't shoot!") gesture as the Symbol of the Year from 2014, in their third annual vote for notable symbols.

Photo showing protesters using the Hands Up gesture in Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014, from http://interoccupy.net/blog/hands-up-dont-shoot-demands/

Demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, using the hands up gesture on August 18, 2014. (Photo used by permission from InterOccupy.net. Free for reuse with attribution.)

The hands up ('Don't shoot!') gesture symbolized the killing of an unarmed 18 year old black man, Michael Brown, by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014. Witnesses said Brown had his hands raised before being shot.

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Affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program at Stanford University have chosen the hands up ("Don't shoot!") gesture as the Symbol of the Year from 2014, in their third annual vote for notable symbols.

The citation for the Symbol of the Year said: "The hands up ('Don't shoot!') gesture symbolized the killing of an unarmed 18 year old black man, Michael Brown, by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, 2014. Witnesses said Brown had his hands raised before being shot. 'Hands Up Don't Shoot' was widely adopted as a rallying cry against police brutality and racial bias."

Professional athletes and politicians adopted the gesture in the latter weeks of 2014, when grand juries declined to indict Wilson as well as New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who had been investigated in connection with the July 17 death of another African American man, Eric Garner, 43, in Staten Island.

Other Notable Symbols from 2014 as voted by Program affiliates were:

  • The umbrella, which came to symbolize the movement for peaceful revolution and democracy in Hong Kong (tied to Occupy Central with Love and Peace, some of whose members objected to the use of the umbrella as a symbol). Umbrellas were used as a defense against tear gas during protests that drew over 100,000 participants seeking free and fair elections.
  • #BlackLivesMatter, the hashtag associated with the social justice movement Black Lives Matter, which grew out of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. The social media hashtag was widely used in 2014 following the killing of Michael Brown, and is "a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society."
  • The Heartbleed bug logo, created along with the brand name by the Finnish firm Codenomicon for the "Heartbleed" bug after this OpenSSL vulnerability was uncovered in April. Codenomicon called this branding strategy "Bugs 2.0", a new and more effective approach to educating users about security issues.
  • The Biohazard sign, originally developed in 1966 by Dow Chemical Company for use on their containers, which was widely used in media in 2014 in relation to the Ebola virus. West Africa was terrorized by the ongoing epidemic of Ebola throughout 2014, the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
  • The flag of ISIS, a variant of the black standard/banner of Muhammad from Islamic tradition. The black flag, featuring the shahada above a rendering of the seal of Muhammad, is used by jihadist groups including the "Islamic State" (ISIS or ISIL) and Al-Shabaab. ISIS became a target of war by the United States in 2014 following its beheadings of US and UK citizens.
  • The colorized transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus: News outlets used a few different images of Ebola virions as symbols of this deadly disease during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014. A widely used Ebola TEM was a color-enhancement of one of the first images of the Ebola Zaire virus, taken in 1976 by Dr. Frederick Murphy at the Centers for Disease Control.
  • The hashtag character ("#"), which continued to grow in use in 2014 as the prefix symbol for hashtags on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
  • The marijuana leaf, which symbolized changing opinions and ongoing debates about the legalization of marijuana. At the start of the year, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Washington joined during the summer, and Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC voted to do so in November, though legal battles continue.

The recognized symbols were chosen from 23 nominations. Nominations appeared on the ballot in the words of the nominators. Selection indicated only that a symbol had been significant during the year, rather than an endorsement of any point of view associated with it. One hundred and fifteen alumni/ae, students, faculty, and staff affiliated with the Program cast ballots in a system in which each voter could vote for any nominated symbol as Symbol of the Year, Other Notable Symbol, or neither.

The ballot stated that the purpose of the vote was "to recognize the important role that symbols play in our world" ("as affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program").

Previous winners for Symbol of the Year were the percent sign in 2012 and the equal sign in 2013.

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Todd Davies
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