This Is What Intersectionality Can Look Like

New York City activists understand intersectionality better than many, and that was definitely on display at last night’s rally in Washington Square.

Maybe it’s the City’s historic and ongoing reputation as a place of immigrants: the home of Ellis Island, Nuyoricans, Spanish Harlem, Chinatown, Little Italy…. Maybe it’s the many ways the City has attracted the LGBTQ community: Broadway, Fifth Ave, Stonewall, the Village, SAGE, and the darker side of sex trafficking and LGBTQ homeless communities, too. Maybe it’s the City’s history as a destination for safe abortions. Maybe it’s the City’s prominent communities of the Nation, mainstream Islam, Arab immigrant and refugee populations, and the hard, sometimes controversial, work of activists like Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Debbie Almontaser and, of course, Linda Sarsour.

What I know about New York City is that, although we are far from perfect, we are arguably ahead of the curve–of the moral arc of the universe, if you will.

As news began to filter out yesterday of Donald Trump’s Executive Orders du jour, there was an immediate response by CAIR-NY, the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. By noon, CAIR-NY had announced an Emergency Rally on social media. By afternoon, it was the Emergency Rally for Muslim and Immigrant Rights, already pitching a bigger tent than just the Muslim community that are CAIR’s constituents.

None of this should come as a surprise. CAIR-NY and the Arab American Association of New York have had a long view of coalition building for many years. They are both, for example, members of Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition that has been able to do a lot of good for New York City by recognizing that Black, Muslim, Hispanic, LGBTQ and other community interests are largely aligned, and their power is greatest working together.

Even leaving work early, I missed the first hour of the rally, including most of the City officials who spoke, but the second hour’s speakers covered a lot of ground. There were lawyers offering pro bono legal aid for immigrants, assistant commissioner of Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s Office of Immigrant Affairs Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, Black immigrants, Hispanic immigrants, the Jewish immigrant son of Holocaust survivors, and a contingent of faith leaders who stood together on the stage. A Hindu woman explained why her faith calls her to fight for immigrant justice. Another immigrant faith leader said, to paraphrase, As Buddhists, we don’t just meditate; we fight! A Muslim daughter of Ghanaian immigrants reminded us that Muslims have always been in America, literally built America, as Muslim slaves literally built the White House. We chanted “Black Lives Matter!” as loudly as “Sí, se puede!”

There was a moment of counter-protest that especially stood out for me. From behind the stage, a group began chanting over the speaker, “Water is Life!” When the speaker had finished, CAIR-NY’s emcee came to the mic to say, “We’re here tonight for our Muslim and immigrant brothers and sisters, but we don’t forget that our Native brothers and sisters are under threat, too.” (Is this trans-exclusive language problematic? Absolutely. Did I mention we’re far from perfect?)

There was a great diversity of signage there, too. Some of it was ad hoc, “no ban, no wall” scrawled inside the cover of a Krispie Kreme box. Others were pre-made, “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants are Welcome Here,” or Shepard Fairey’s woman in an American flag hijab drawn for Saturday’s Women’s March. There were also beautiful handmade signs of “I [heart] [woman in hijab]” and “[woman in hijab] welcome here.” And just like the speakers’ words, there were a lot of signs pointing to intersectional identities. This next image is hard to read, but those signs say, “Black / Sudanese / Muslim / Womxn / Try Me!” and “Sudanese / Muslim / Refugee / Arab / Feminist / Black / Womxn” and “Black / Sudanese / Muslim / Womxn / Immigrant / Unapologetic.”

More than 3,000 people attended last night; 8,800 from across the country say they “went” via the Facebook group, and 15,000 more say they were “interested.” These aren’t small numbers for a local rally put together with 12 hours notice. And not a single arrest was made in Washington Park, which says as much about the de Blasio era of policing in New York City as it does about the crowd. There were cops everywhere, on foot, no riot gear. Most of the cops I saw were just chatting amicably with passers-by.

Remember, a quarter of eligible voters elected Donald Trump. They were mostly white, mostly men, mostly Christian, mostly rural, mostly able-bodied, mostly straight, mostly cis-gendered. They all showed up. But friends, we’ve got them outnumbered, if we recognize that we are strongest together. If we show up.

Find a CAIR chapter near you, or another organization that represents your deepest, most righteous anger or despair, and get involved.
Volunteer, give money, show up.
Show up.
Show up for school board meetings. Show up for city council meetings. Show up at your legislators’ offices.


Show up.


And consider showing up for someone else, not just the issues that effect you.
It’s one small step towards intersectionality.

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