'Boston Strong': Has the motto run its course?

After the bombings last year, 'Boston Strong' first surfaced in a tweet from Cleveland, on a jersey in the Red Sox dugout, then on T-shirts everywhere. But some say it's time to live strong, not talk so much about it.

Bill Sikes/AP
People photograph a banner reading "Boston Strong" as it hangs at Rowes Wharf on the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Boston.

Within hours of the twin bombing attacks on the Boston Marathon last year on April 15, the phrase “Boston Strong” began popping up all over the city – scrawled in sidewalk chalk, stenciled in spray paint, and, later, screen-printed on T-shirts.

In the days and months that followed, the motto became a message of solidarity for people all over the country wishing to express their support for the city. And it was a vehicle to raise money for the One Fund, a charity established by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and Thomas Menino, then mayor of Boston, the day after the attack.

A year later, the motto has become so ubiquitous that some residents are wondering if enough is enough.

The motto’s origins are most likely a case of "multiple independent discovery" – a phenomenon that occurs when several people simultaneously come up with the same idea.

The first tweet featuring #BostonStrong originated more than 500 miles away in Cleveland. Just two hours after the explosions, Curtis Clough tweeted, “Thoughts and prayers to Boston marathon victims. Hoping for the best. #bostonstrong.”

Boston Red Sox players, who were on their way to Boston’s Logan Airport for a flight to Ohio when the bombs went off, had a similar idea while at dinner after their arrival in Cleveland. The next day, they hung a jersey with the words "Boston Strong" and the city area code 617 in the dugout. That jersey hung in the dugout for every game of the season.

Back in Boston, in an Emerson College dorm room less than a mile from the finish line, three students had the idea to sell T-shirts printed with the slogan to raise money for bombing victims.

Nicholas Reynolds, Christopher Dobens, and Lane Brenner gave themselves a week to sell 110 T-shirts to fellow students and vowed to contribute the entire net proceeds to victims of the tragedy, Ms. Brenner says.

“We hoped that maybe our friends and family would buy a shirt and we could make a small contribution to whatever charity would be set up in the next few days for the victims,” she says. “By the next morning, we had surpassed our goal,” she continues. “By the end of the week, we had sold about $500,000 worth of T-shirts.”

A year later, the trio has raised more than $1 million for the One Fund.

She says she is thrilled to see people proudly wearing the Boston Strong motto emblazoned across their chest, but at the same time says she has been disappointed to see others selling the same shirt for profit. (The original shirts are available only online through the Milwaukee custom T-shirt company Ink to the People.)

“We give all of our net proceeds right to the One Fund, while these other places who are knocking off our shirts, they give almost nothing, sometimes absolutely nothing,” she says. “We personally believe nobody should profit from this event. Nobody should ever profit from a terrorist attack.”

While Brenner and her fellow students at Emerson were the first to put this particular slogan on a T-shirt, they do not hold any copyright over the motto. In fact, no one does. The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected nine separate applications from businesses attempting to trademark the phrase: "because consumers are accustomed to seeing this slogan or motto commonly used in everyday speech by many different sources ... the mark fails to function as a trademark," ESPN Boston reported.

Inventory manager Make Nash, a resident of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, is among those who have heard enough of the rallying cry.

“Forget ‘Boston Strong.’ Be strong!” he says.

He’s not unsympathetic to the families of the three people killed in the bombings – he knew Krystle Campbell, one of the fatalities – or to the survivors still recovering from their wounds, he says.

However, “the more we dwell on the sadness, the harder it is to grow and move on,” he says.

Freelance journalist R. Brock Olson disputed the idea that a hashtag slogan can hold the capacity to heal in a post titled “We are not #BostonStrong” on his "View From Boston" blog this week, which was republished on Salon on Friday.

“The #BostonStrong meme betrays our insecurities. If we were strong, we would not need to remind ourselves,” he wrote.

“We ought to show our strength to each other, if strength is to be of any use, by including one another not in a moniker but in life,” he continued. “Strength is not a t-shirt any more than love is a bumper sticker.”

However, others have found strength in the slogan.

Mery Daniel, who lost a leg and suffered numerous other injuries in the bombing, identifies so much with "Boston Strong" that she refused to allow Boston’s WBUR public radio station to photograph her without the shirt.

“I love Boston. And even the marathon itself, it’s like the fabric of this town, and to have something like that happen during the marathon, it’s like it’s trying to break all the mesh work of the people of this town,” Ms. Daniel told WBUR last year. “And ‘Boston Strong’ just reminds you this is not going to happen. We are strong, we are here, and we are going to fight this. We’re going to stand together, we’re going to help each other as much as we can.”

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