New York City pulsed as rallies in Kensington, Brooklyn, Washington Square Park, and Jackson Heights, Queens took place last night after President Donald Trump moved forward with efforts to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, as well as plans to locate and deport unauthorized immigrants, bar Syrian refugees from entering the country, and suspend immigration from primarily Muslim countries for at least a 30-day timeframe.
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order which would “halt funding to municipalities that did not cooperate with federal immigration officials,” The New York Times reported.
In ethnically diverse Kensington, community leaders, activists, politicians, and neighbors gathered at Avenue C Plaza (at McDonald Avenue) to form a grass roots movement to launch a “Hate-Free Zone” in the neighborhood.
The activist group DRUM, or Desis Rising Up & Moving, estimate nearly 600 attendees assembled for the rally in an area which is home to South Asian communities, Muslim families, working-class immigrants, Latino, Jewish, and LGBTQ neighbors, among others.
A DRUM representative said the group first established a hate-free zone in Jackson Heights last month with the idea of building a “line of defense against the Trump administration policies of xenophobia, racism, and bigotry.”
The Kensington event began with a series of chants which attendees gamely engaged in a vibrant call-and-response such as “Here to stay! Here to fight!” and “No ban! No wall! Kensington stands tall!”
“My family escaped the last registration and we saw the consequences on those who did register. We will not stand by and watch again,” said DRUM board member Syeda Parvin Akter who was entangled in the last “Muslim Registry” or NSEERS – National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. “We will not allow another Muslim registration to happen in the first place. Our commitment in the Kensington Hate Free Zone is to make sure that is exactly what happens.”
DRUM’s plans for Hate-Free Zone include bystander intervention training, or “upstanding,” self-defense classes, and response plans should raids take place.
Mirna Haider echoed Akter’s fear of policy repetition. “We have to remind ourselves that this is not new – this country is where it is today because of anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-native, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies,” said Haider, who is an activist with MASGD (Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity). “The difference is that today it is more visible to all of us. This is a change that impacts our allies who can finally see what we have been going through and are yet to face.”
The Nation cites statistics based on NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s report: “There are 3.3 million immigrants in the city—40 percent of the city’s population. Those immigrants contribute $8 billion in city and state income tax every year. They are also job creators, owning 51 percent of all of the city’s businesses.”
Local business leaders on hand were ready to take a stand. “Small businesses know that we are successful only because of our workers, our customers, our communities,” said Spectrum Print Shop (489 McDonald Avenue) owner Abdul Rob Chowdhury. “As a business owner I am proud to declare my business as a Hate Free Zone!”
In addition to the speakers, spontaneous social activism took place — and all ages were involved.
Parents Rachel Dauss and Kate Chumley helped out their daughters while they made protest signs with crayons. And their kids were already veterans of the anti-Trump movement.
“I brought my daughter to the Women’s March,” said Dauss. “We did a diaper change on the bench.”
Council Member Brad Lander, who has been extremely engaged in grassroots community activism since Trump’s election, was on hand to affirm his support. “This is a dark day for our country, as xenophobia became the official policy of the White House,” he said. “But it was still a beautiful night in Kensington, as we stood together behind DRUM and our Muslim neighbors, to help launch the Kensington Hate Free Zone.”
Lander is the primary organizer for the #getorganizedbk movement, which I reported on for BKLYNER in November.
The Hate-Free Zone includes over 50 co-sponsors and almost 70 endorsing activist collectives, community groups, and politicians. And within these organizations, individuals made it clear they identified with many of the groups who will be targeted by Trump’s policies.
“I’m a third-generation New Yorker, atheist, leftist, a Jew and the daughter of a Hindu immigrant,” said Dania Rajendra of JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice). “What makes our city great is the mix we are; as a multi-racial and multi-ethnic community of Jews, we’ve learned from our history of oppression that what makes us safe is the love and care we manifest, the way we lift up one another.”
While Avenue C Plaza brimmed with enthusiasm, the gathering drew onlookers who stood quietly on curbs surrounding the event, either caught off guard by the hundreds of attendees or simply unsure what to make of the speeches and cheering.
A Hasidic man stood at the corner of Avenue C and East 2nd Street observing the busy plaza. When I asked him what he thought, he paused for a long time and looked down at the sidewalk. Soon, a subtle smile became evident under his white beard.
“I don’t know. But I like it.”