In 2003, I joined a local peace and justice group that met every Friday afternoon to protest the impending US war on Iraq. We stood at a busy street corner with our anti-war signs from five to seven p.m., mostly receiving the one-finger salute and some choice words from drivers-by, but also, occasionally, the supportive, enthusiastic honk. After our vigil, we would line up our signs against a retaining wall as we shared a potluck meal at the nearby park. And, every now and then, someone would join us who had never stood with us at the vigil, saying they noticed our posters, and share our political views.
Obviously we neither prevented nor stopped the war on Iraq. Yet we were certainly more than umbrellas in the Pacific Northwest rain. We were sending a message to everyone who saw us that there was determined opposition to US aggression, and that if anyone felt the same way, they were not alone. The visibility of popular dissent, and the community we built, over the years (yes, years) that we stood at that street corner, remain with us even after we finally disbanded.
It is a solidarity that sustains us today, as we continue to be bombarded by political developments. We have moved on, most of us have moved away, but we know we are not alone. And today, as fascist attacks on our diverse communities increase, we come together with other progressives to present a united front against hate.
Nationally, Muslim leaders are denouncing anti-Jewish attacks, and progressive Jews are denouncing Islamophobia. Muslims raised over $160.000 to repair vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery in 2017, and Jewish Voice for Peace issued a statement unequivocally opposing Zionism as a settler-colonial project that seeks to establish an apartheid state in historic Palestine. The many “intersectional” and/or interfaith gatherings, dinners, vigils, and panels we organize, and the Open Letters we draft and circulate, are not merely “feel good” moments for the participants, they send a message that we are united, and understand we have a common enemy. But also, as we gather and express support for the latest victims of “organized harassment,” be it the attempt to cancel the panel of outspoken Palestine rights activists at the University of Massachusetts, or the rally in support of Ilhan Omar in Washington DC, where leading black women activists, from Angela Davis to Black Lives matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, formed a “force field of support” around the young congresswoman, or the letter in support of the New York University department that voted to end its study abroad in Israel program, we experience first-hand the strength of community, as we realize, yet again, that we are the majority. Even as the various hate groups are emboldened by a White House administration that lacks any moral integrity, our coming together sends a clear message that we are not cowered, we are certainly not “divided,” and yes, we are organized, and mobilized. We help each other heal, and rebuild.
In this extremely hostile environment, where death threats must be taken seriously, because white nationalists are armed, and have gone on rampages in synagogues, Black churches, and mosques, we need to express our solidarity with the targeted communities, we need to tell the most vulnerable that we have their backs. Everywhere we look, we see fierce organizers, intellectuals, and yes, even politicians, putting their lives and safety on the line for a cause we believe in. Here in Seattle for example, Maru Mora-Villalpando, herself undocumented, and targeted by ICE, has nevertheless founded La Resistancia, a latinx advocacy organization. Marc Lamont-Hill, fired from his job as a CNN commentator, continues to speak out. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has received multiple death threats, is not backing down in her advocacy for housing, the environment, and of course Palestine. The courageous NYU students who persuaded their department’s faculty to end Study Abroad in Israel, knowing they will likely end up on a black list such as Canary Mission, nevertheless successfully organized to end the academic whitewashing of apartheid. Representative Betty McCollum has reintroduced the first bill in Congress to specifically name Palestinians as victims of Israeli brutality, and hold Israel accountable for its violations of the human rights of Palestinian children.
Throughout the history of this country, progressive change has come from the grassroots, against the reactionary few–albeit in positions of oppressive power. Now, as at other critical historical junctures, from the abolition of slavery to the decriminalization of interracial and gay love, progressives must show that we have each other’s backs, and that we are many. We need to make it clear to those coming under attack for their political and moral integrity that we will mobilize for them. As hate is emboldened, we need to send an unambiguous message: we are still the majority, they are the fringe.
When activists are putting their lives on the line, our silence is not only complicity, it is betrayal.