“So what is this about again?” The boy was maybe 10 or 11, trying to piece together why about 60 earnest strangers were sitting in the lobby of his mosque on Route 2 in Latham. “It’s about us showing support for you guys,” said the woman he was talking to. “Ah. Most people just think we’re terrorists,” he replied, matter of factly. “Well, we’re here to say we know you’re not,” she answered, and turned away with tears in her eyes.
The event last Thursday—a candlelight vigil of solidarity, observing a prayer service, and time for fellowship in which the visitors sang—was organized by Saratoga Peace Week, but attended by people from all across the Capital Region. Many wore shirts that read “Today, I am a Muslim.”
The group left behind a sign that read “First they came for the Muslims, and we said ‘Not this time!’” with individual signatures of the visitors on it. I’ve seen that sign/slogan (usually, with the much more satisfying ending of “Not this time, fuckers”) at various rallies and around social media in the past couple weeks, and I find it one of the most heartening things I’ve seen in this dark time.
It is at once unapologetic and compassionate. It declares a willingness to believe that past horrors do not have to be repeated, and a willingness to take on personal risk to realize to make sure they aren’t. At least it does in the context of widespread commitments being made to flood any attempt to register people by religion. As our local poet Elizabeth Gordon wrote, “If they come for the Jews, we gotta all be Jews. If they come for the Muslims, we gotta all be Muslims.” Knowing so many people who were willing to say they would do that was one of the few lights in the days after this election, and I honor everyone who has made that commitment in their hearts.
But the next thing I realized is that it would be dangerous to feel like having crossed the mountain of confirming for myself that I would take that step means that I have done what I need to do.
If we were to come to a place where such a registry were being implemented, we will have already lost so much ground. Signing up would be a last ditch effort that may not actually help. We may not even be able to volunteer; it seems likely that the first step will be a resurrection of a Bush II-era registry of immigrants from majority Muslim countries.
We need to stop it from happening. That will likely require active resistance, non-compliance, civil disobedience, and stepping in to protect people under attack. Remember, the Danish non-Jews who chose to wear yellow stars also did things like help Jews escape the country in fishing boats.
It is also true that many other folks are at risk—and have been at risk—in ways that don’t involve registries. Of the hate incidents tabulated by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the 10 days post election, 6 percent were anti-Muslim, 23 percent were anti-Black, 32 percent were anti-immigrant, and 12 percent each anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT. Police violence directed at Black folk has not suddenly ended. Deportations and detentions of immigrants are ongoing.
My point is not at all to compare or elevate one of these problems above another. Solidarity across all these issues is going to be the only way through. What’s going on isn’t new with this election, though it’s certainly gotten worse for many. But that also means important organizing efforts are have long been underway that we can tap into and build upon.
For example, here’s a first step that is very relevant right now—the New Sanctuary for Immigrants campaign to get our local leaders to declare that city and county law enforcement will not collaborate with federal immigration law enforcement to arrest or detain immigrants and will refuse to comply with a registry of Muslims or immigrants of any kind.
Right now there is a petition focusing on Albany, the signing of which will also allow you to hear about next steps. I’m sure that efforts will be forming in our neighboring counties soon (perhaps through you?). I would suggest that you also reach out to your municipal and especially county elected officials directly on this, especially if you reside in the more suburban and rural parts of the county.
If you are part of a congregation that might be willing to become a “sanctuary congregation,” contact Joe Paparone at the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State to find out more, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are involved with a university, you can join the #sanctuarycampus movement.
Not this time, fuckers. Let’s mean it.