By Najiyah Maxfield
After a brief respite to put my feet up and catch my breath after the Women’s March, which I attended with two of my daughters and three granddaughters, I’m standing back up this morning and venturing out to become involved in the real work of building a supportive, just and sustainable community. To take the atmosphere of the march home and make it into reality. In other words, I’m going out to do what we all should have been doing all along.
I’m a Muslim from Kansas, and I must admit that we American Muslims have been guilty of being a bit insular. When the immigrants of the 70s and 80s arrived in the States, they found a country that was teeming with things they perceived as both prejudicial and immoral. Instead of seeing themselves portrayed as noble and intelligent, they saw stereotypes like swarthy terrorists and their fanatic helpmates or self-absorbed sheikhs with gauze-draped haram denizens as their backup singers. Instead of modesty and decorum in relations between the sexes, they saw breasts in beer ads and sexual harassment at work. Instead of hearing the call to prayer from every corner, they heard Reaganomics and the first Gulf War on every TV.
Their natural reaction, like the reaction of most immigrant communities during such times, was to turn inward. To regard the larger society with wariness. To found private schools and educate their kids there. To direct all their good works toward each other or toward helping their families back home. But while they were circling their wagons, Americans were also watching exoticized movies and the reports from Desert Storm. They were being conditioned, as Westerners long have, to view Muslims as “other”.
And then came 9/11.
Muslims began to realize after that tragic day that we had protected ourselves at our own peril. We began to reach out to our neighbors, help in our communities and create networks of friends and neighbors who knew us as Muslims and knew our good natures and better works. We began to be ourselves in public. But we were behind the eight-ball. There was still lots of fertile, ignorant ground in which the post 9/11 fear-mongers could plant their seeds.
So plant them they did, and today we are seeing the fruit of those seeds inn the white supremacy movements and their increasing audacity, in the Islamophobic rhetoric of fringe nut-jobs who are now considered “experts”, and in the proposals of bans and registries for Muslims that hearken back to our darkest hours.
Furthermore, the ignorance and fear isn’t just Muslim-specific. It seems it has become a common worldview – a new way of being that sees everyone who isn’t a clone as a threat; that wants to deny the world the beauty, magic, and example of a real, pluralistic democracy.
One for all and all for one.
So it is we – the Muslims, the environmentalists, the Latin American immigrants, the social justice community, civil rights activists, Jews, climate scientists, the black community, Christians of conscience, gender activists, multiculturalists, feminists, and just plain PEOPLE – who have been silent (or complacent or afraid) and have let our community ties weaken, it is we who need to march right out our front doors and link arms to form a wall of our own. A wall of united Americans who refuse to allow anyone to be discriminated against; who are willing to reach out and build strong, grassroots communities where support, justice and sustainability thrive on a small scale, so they can grow and connect and become what we envision.
Because as Benjamin Todd Jealous said,
“In a democracy there are only two types of power: there’s organized people and organized money, and organized money only wins when people aren’t organized.”
So one for all and all for one – let’s rededicate ourselves to making Lady Liberty proud and making America ever greater – together.
Saturday we talked the talk. Now let’s walk the walk
Ways you can network, organize and strengthen your community:
- Be informed and stay abreast of current events and how they affect others in your community. A good dose of history brush up wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Have a neighborhood tea party, ice cream social, or other seasonal event.
- Start a Nextdoor account for your neighborhood.
- Take treats to your neighbors, along with a card.
- Join or found an interfaith action group that does community volunteering once a month.
- Start a book club and read your way around the world. Or the country. Or sports. Whatever your interested in.
- Volunteer to help refugees or other immigrants with their English or life skills.
- Join Big Brothers or Big Sisters.
- Have an open house at your church or mosque, and invite people from other places of worship.
- Organize a bike ride or walk or game-a-thon against hate.
- Join a demonstration that focuses on another group of people or an issue that you don’t normally work for. Get to know the people there and cross-connect.
- Be conscious of what you purchase – both of its origins and its end. Don’t unwittingly support sweat shops or fill landfills.
- Read a novel written by an author from another culture.
- Read diverse kid-lit to the young people in your life
- Patronize local farmers and businesses – and get to know them while you’re at it.
- Join a community knitting, quilting or crochet effort – baby hats, afghans for refugees, prayer shawls or in memoriam quilts.
- Speak at your local school, library or civic organization about your passion or your group. Shake the people’s hands and join them for coffee afterward.
- Write a book!
- Join your community band – even if you haven’t played your instrument since high school.
- Go to an art show and meet the artist – and his or her important issues.
- Become a volunteer polling place official.
- Join your caucus if your state does them.
Najiyah Maxfield is the author of the young adult novel Sophia’s Journal, which set in her native Kansas. She is also the Editorial Director of Daybreak Press, which gives rise to women’s voices in order to create positive cultural change.