Just a fortnight after his inauguration, President Donald Trump had already fulfilled some of his most controversial campaign promises, by signing executive orders to defund sanctuary cities, initiating the construction of a border wall, and barring entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.
The public reaction was swift and considerable. Mass protests erupted in airports, schools and parks across the country. The ACLU and other legal organizations have to date filed more than 50 lawsuits against Trump and his administration over both his policies and business dealings. On Feb. 3, some at New York University also took a stance against the president by inviting a host of youth activists from local organizations to discuss the complexities of the immigrant experience and suggest productive methods to counter Trump’s anti-immigration measures.
Held at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life, the series of panel discussions, “Organizing to Resist: Take Action and Make Change,” took up topics from immigration rights to economic inequality to environmental justice.
One panel explored the ways in which divisive policies of surveillance and control have fanned Islamophobia since 9/11. Debbie Almontaser, board director of the Muslim Community Network, said that the media’s reluctance to call an attack “terrorism” unless the perpetrator is Muslim reinforces the false notion that “terrorism is only defined in the Muslim context.” To rally people against Trump’s Islamophobic policies, Almontaser said, activists must first break the link between terrorists and peace-loving Muslims.
Iram Ali, campaign director of MoveOn.org, a public policy advocacy group, urged students to donate to grassroots organizations as well as to national organizations such as the ACLU. The former, she said, can more directly address the struggles of refugees, Muslim immigrants and undocumented citizens. Though deeply concerned about the next four years, Ali found hope in the mass mobilization of young people on college campuses like NYU, saying, “We wouldn’t be seeing this level of energy had Clinton won.”
NYU junior Richa Lagu, 20, said that the discussion illuminated the importance of grassroots organizations in defending the Muslim community and deflecting executive orders. “Protests are good for solidarity,” she said, “but these panel discussions are more productive because they actually inform me of ways I can help protect our community.”
Financially strapped, Lagu said she cannot donate to MCN and MoveOn but will encourage her parents to contribute. She is, however, looking to join or found a club at NYU to foster dialogue on Islamophobia and educate students unfamiliar with the religion.
Another panel focused on threats of deportation. Panelists Luba Cortes and Thais Marquez, both of them so-called Dreamers — undocumented young people shielded from deportation by DACA, Obama’s deferred action initiative – said the Dreamer narrative, while well-intentioned, is misleading in that it primarily focuses on the educated, law-abiding youth at the expense of those not covered by DACA.
“When you push those narratives, you’re saying that other people — the elderly, those with criminal records — don’t meet these standards, don’t deserve the same amount of protection and relief,” said Marquez, a youth organizer for Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement.
Immigration rights organizations have a responsibility to talk about all 11 million undocumented citizens, including those who don’t fit into neater narratives, Marquez said. Political education is crucial in understanding the full immigrant experience, said Cortes, an organizer for city-based Make the Road, an immigrants’ rights organization.
“People are not bargaining chips. I also have deferred action. My mom has no relief. We need to protect DACA recipients as well as criminals and sex workers.”
Both speakers called for the establishment of sanctuary campuses as a means to build infrastructure for a larger movement that would include mass walkouts and days-long strikes. “We need students like you to lead the resistance that will ultimately win us permanent protection,” Marquez said.