Racial Justice Advocates Call for Action, Resistance, Solidarity to Protect Vulnerable Groups in 2017

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Racial Justice Advocates Call for Action, Resistance, Solidarity to Protect Vulnerable Groups in 2017

Auditi Guha

With racists and bigots now emboldened to act out, communities and organizations are gearing up to work together to combat the hate.

An older white man in a public park in Florida made an obscene gesture at two women in hijabs; a man in Massachusetts yelled at a 14-year-old boy riding his bike on the same sidewalk where he was walking (because it was dark out), “Hey nigger, next time get off of the bike”; a voicemail left at a Grand Rapids, Michigan, church known for its immigrant community outreach hoped that Trump kicks out “gays” and “all the fricken Mexicans that are illegal that you guys are hiding illegally.”

These are just a few of the 1,094 bias-related incidents since the November 8 election counted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in its latest report. “Overall, anti-immigrant incidents (315) remain the most reported, followed by anti-black (221), anti-Muslim (112), and anti-LGBT (109). Anti-Trump incidents numbered 26 (6 of which were also anti-white in nature, with 2 non-Trump related anti-white incidents reported),” according to the SPLC.

“We are obviously in an interesting, scary political climate,” said Arisha Hatch, managing director of campaigns at Color of Change, a national racial justice organization.

More than a month after the election of a president who has talked about building a wall to keep out Mexicans and creating a Muslim registry, racial justice advocates discussed last week what’s at stake in a virtual town hall discussion, organized by Color of Change, titled “It’s Time to Get in Formation: Changing the Way We Fight and Win.”

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For Cristina Jiménez, co-founder and managing director of the United We Dream Network, the fight is personal because she grew up undocumented in the United States.

“This change of power means that our community will be further criminalized. That’s the fear of millions of immigrants across the country,” she said.

Eighty-two people were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New Jersey last week; Jiménez pointed out that Trump plans to triple ICE’s police force, making it the largest law enforcement agency in the country.

United We Dream asks communities to hold “Here to Stay” events to protect immigrants, share concerns and information, and fight back.

As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Opal Tometi said she is “deeply concerned” about a Trump presidency. Tometi, the executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, said if the voter suppression efforts closing down more than 800 polling places in the South were any indication, the president-elect will use executive power “in disturbing ways” to further curtail the freedoms of Black people, immigrants, and Muslims, as well as women, the aging population, and people with disabilities.

“We have to stay vigilant,” she said.

With racists and bigots now emboldened to act out, communities and organizations are gearing up to work together to combat the hate.

“It’s a hard time but also a really encouraging time with allies from different walks of life coming together,” Tometi said.

For Muslims, a Trump presidency is their “worst nightmare,” said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of the organizing platform MPower Change.

Muslims in the United States have already faced threats since 9/11, but those feelings have been amplified with a new wave of Islamophobia sweeping the country this year.

“The rhetoric we have heard in this campaign seems to be aligned with Trump’s appointments to his cabinet and we are worried about the kind of policies we may see,” said Sarsour, who called for allies to support Muslims and for citizens to pressure the White House into rescinding programs such as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) that unfairly target Muslim residents.

It is time, she said, for all concerned communities to work together to combat the threats posed by the new administration.

“This is really bad and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” predicted moderator Van Jones, founder of the Dream Corps, in terms of criminal justice reform, immigration, environmental impact, and accountability among officials.

The worry is that Trump will reach out to vulnerable groups with incentives that seem attractive but in policy continue to be anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and poverty inducing, he said.

On the other hand, there is hope that the Trump voters who found him “not unbearable,” and who are now finding him distasteful can be won over by movements looking to protect civil rights in the new year.

“We are in the fight of our lives,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. “And we are going to have to do it again tenfold.”

It is time for people to understand the threats and stand up to change the narrative by building a movement, he said. “We have to unite at the local level to change systems and how people live so when the next election comes around we can talk about how people’s lives can be made better by those policies.”

These efforts, and more, are underway, according to Race Forward, a center for racial justice innovation.

“The early stages of the immense work that lies ahead has already begun—from providing support and preparing protection for some of the most vulnerable in our communities, to monitoring policy signs from the forthcoming administration, to driving solutions at the local level. The scale of attacks is not normal, but the foundations for this struggle have been well-established in the vision, values, and dedication of hundreds of organizations, big and small, across the country,” a statement from Race Forward reads.

What this fight means is that everyone needs to “show up at the table to take back our country,” Robinson said. It starts with taking back local communities and local governments.

Most importantly, voting rights have got to be the center of this movement. Whether we intend to affect policy around the economy, criminal justice reform, climate change, or land use, “we cannot win if we cannot vote,” he said.

Social justice advocates said the fight is going to be tough but not impossible. They are calling upon groups and residents to join efforts to hold elected officials accountable, support campaigns and petitions pushing back against hate and discrimination, and organize solidarity events in support of vulnerable groups and create sanctuaries for them in our churches, schools, town halls, and cities.

“We have to stand up and be powerful advocates for what we believe in because that’s what the other side is doing,” Robinson said.

As many groups acknowledged on the call, there is a lot of work to be done. In an effort to start 2017 strong, a collective of reproductive justice organizations—including SisterSong, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, and the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, among others—has three resolutions for the coming year: take action to dismantle white supremacy; volunteer for a group supporting women and families; and speak up about injustice.

We also have to have uncomfortable conversations and get out of our comfort zones to discuss issues with folks other than like-minded friends, said Jiménez. “We have to engage to raise consciousness and create change.”