Last night, something profound happened at CAIR-Chicago’s office that had me betting, without a shadow of a doubt, on America once again.
100 Americans we had never met before, filled our Azima Gallery room for a volunteer induction and teach-in. People who reached out to us, people we never asked for help.
They all showed up.
And man, what a vibe!
It was a sliver of America: Latinos, Jews, Asians, African-Americans, members of the LGBTQ community, and a whole lot of White people!
In our main discussion, I started by warmly thanking them, and then asked:
“Why did you make this very personal decision to disrupt your week on a warm November Thursday, to give up your time, and be here with us, entirely unsolicited?”
“I grew up in an intolerant right wing home,” said one girl, “I owe this.”
“Me too!” said another, “a FAR right home! The things I heard growing up were horrible, and then I met Muslims and none of it was true. I want to fight the lies.”
“I am Jewish,” said another girl, “When I hear about special registration for Muslims, as a Jew, I can’t sit it out.”
“Same here” said another Jewish girl.
“I am Jewish too,” said a third guy, “I am a union organizer and I just had to be here, I need to be here, to help.”
“I am Japanese-American,” said one man, “My grandparents’ generation lived through the painful internment camp that ripped into our communities, and I can’t look away from targeting vulnerable communities once again.”
“I am a white woman who has had it pretty easy,” said a young lawyer, “I am here to help your legal team, because I have had white privilege all my life.”
“I am a shrink,” said one gay woman, “I specialize in working with the traumatized victims of hate crimes, and I have a network of shrinks who want to make sure no victim suffers without help and care.”
“I am a Christian pastor,” said one African-American man. “I follow and love this organization. We need it. And am there if you need me. We can only do this together!”
Later, In a side chat by the water cooler, one White man suddenly broke into tears, “I served in the US Navy,” he told me. “I am really scared for my country. But this right here, gives me hope.”
And so it was. The sign-up list included an eclectic mix of backgrounds: lawyer, Cardiac rhythmic analyst, Psychologist, Professor, Truck driver, Union organizer, Preacher, Veteran, Student. and even Actress.
I gave a pep talk, my colleagues took turns briefing them on areas of our work, our resident researcher gave a talk about Islamophobia, we had a brainstorming session, and then broke out into 5 task-oriented groups led by each staff member to start getting to ACTION.
In my decade-plus experience in this line of work, this was a very special night. One of the most special.
It was like the Brown line train had stopped right at our office, the doors slid open and 100 people, a cross section of America poured out of the train and into our office, and said “we’re here for you, how can we help.”
The past two weeks have seen a certain uptick in hate crimes, assaults, and harassment against our community and others.
But last night, the other face of America showed up big, and ready to go. Americans who are genuinely outraged, and who refuse to sit idly by. Who are ready to stand and fight with us, as if they were Muslim too.
I only wish more of our fellow Americans could have seen what we saw and experienced last night. While Trump’s America was dominating the headlines, another vision of America was playing out in one room. Though, I invited an ABC camera to capture a few seconds of the vibe for the evening news, in hopes of inspiring more examples of this around the country, I wish the whole thing could have been a CNN special. America needs this, not just Muslims.
I could not be more proud of my colleagues for making this happen (and there are 100 more new volunteers lined up to bring the tally to 200!)
For us, this is just the beginning. The challenges are huge, but so are the opportunities. We will expand our tent and more Americans will join and help lead the Muslim aspect of the American civil rights movement, because it is our collective movement. All aboard.
Which America will you work for?
That night, I stepped into our yard to take a deep breath of the uncharacteristic warm night before I went to bed. It was dark , but I could not help but notice the big bright moon.