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January 27, 2017

Panel Explores Rise of Hate in the United States

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 6.10.45 PM“One’s well-being cannot be based on the targeting of others,” said Devon J. Crawford, a Humanity in Action senior fellow with the NAACP, at a panel discussion hosted by NIAC Action and Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB) last week.

“We need to prioritize educating ourselves so that we can learn how to value the perspectives of those who are different from us,” he added.

The panel of civil rights activists and community leaders addressed the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on minority and marginalized groups in the United States, and explored ways to push back against the rise of hatred and bigotry following the election.

Karen Monahan, an environmental justice advocate for the Sierra Club, noted that “the internal values of justice and equal rights require that we are not selective about who should be protected by these values.”

Other featured speakers included Yasmine Taeb, legislative representative for human rights and civil liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Ben Shnider, National Political Director for J Street PAC. Andy Shallal, founder and owner of Busboys and Poets, moderated the discussion.

Taeb spoke about her reactions to President Trump’s election, admitting that she, like many, was shocked by the results. She felt depressed and frightened for the future. “But then,” she said, “people who I hadn’t talked to in years started calling and messaging me, asking what they could do to defend their rights and help protect immigrant and minority friends in their communities.”

The swell of grassroots energy was uplifting, Taeb said. But “rallies and protests like the Women’s March need to translate into organization and strategizing at the local level” to impact policymaking.

Civic engagement is equally important, argued Shnider. He said that local governments have “the ability and responsibility to set the example for a just, inclusive, and respectful American community.”

Shnider issued a call to action for individuals who seek progress “to strongly consider running for office to set the tone for change and lead by example,” adding that the House and Senate elections in 2018 “are not far away.”

The Trump campaign appealed to the “ugliest demons” of the American populace and played off the “deep state of anxiety” which grew among the white middle and working classes throughout the Obama administration, Crawford said. This “whitelash” to shifting ethnic demographics and power dynamics, like increasing proportions of minorities in the population, paired with African-Americans in positions of power created a desire among white people to prevent further loss of traditional privileges, Crawford explained

“A vote for Trump and Pence was a vote for the old guard of white privilege, to save the diminishing value of the currency of whiteness upon which this nation was built,” he added.

Monahan agreed, arguing that “this country was built on systems of racial and economic injustice, and Trump simply lifted the veil. We cannot expect to solve the symptoms of these structures if we cannot address the issues at their root.”

Addressing specific actions taken by Trump so far, Crawford identified the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), an “outward opponent of civil rights who prosecuted voter registration activists” as an “existential threat to advocates of political reform and progress.”

The panelists all agreed that it is necessary to build bridges to overcome divisions exposed in the election. Shallal noted that “many Trump supporters have never interacted with a brown or black person or a Muslim outside media representations,” and that “facts alone have never changed hearts and minds.”

He insisted that “we need to have difficult conversations with others and share our stories to really change beliefs.”

One audience member raised the concern that many in the Iranian-American community are fearful of political engagement, given their experiences with the Islamic Revolution. But that should not stop them, argued Taeb and Monahan, the Iranian members of the panel.

“The first step is to validate and empathize with the trauma of our parents’ experiences,” Monahan said. “We have to start with understanding and healing” if we want to encourage greater activism.

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