Coalition rallies with Muslims against ‘KKK Presidency’
ALBANY — The signs were homemade and the messages were heartfelt.
Hundreds of people — young and old, black and white and Asian, gay and straight, Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis, Muslims, and a Quaker poet — gathered in Albany on Saturday at the base of a monument to the Spanish American War, in a small triangle of a park where Western and Washington avenues meet.
The rally was hosted by the Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia and was scheduled, in protest, on the same day as a victory rally held by the KKK in North Carolina, according to organizer Fazana Saleem-Ismail.
Saleem-Ismail, who lives in Guilderland, told The Enterprise beforehand, “As a group, we stand strongly against all forms of hate. That we have a president-elect who was endorsed by a [former leader] of the Ku Klux Klan is frightening, and so is having white supremacists among his appointments….We believe our strength comes from our diversity.”
Scores of groups and individuals endorsed the rally, which took place Saturday afternoon, a blustery cold day. Many of the dozen who spoke talked about the rally as the beginning of a movement.
“Can you feel the love?” asked Saleem-Ismail at the start of the rally, clipboard in hand.
“Yeah!” roared the crowd in return.
“We today are building a movement…to work against the forces of hate,” she said.
Barbara Smith took to the steps at the base of the war statue next, giving a history of the KKK, which she said was formed by Confederate soldiers after the Civil War and had lynched 4,000 African-Americans.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a resurgence of the KKK, she said, along with the Jim Crow laws, a period that she said African Americans refer to as “the nadir.”
“We are facing another nadir,” said Smith, an African-American activist and feminist. David Duke, a former “grand wizard” of the KKK endorsed Trump, she said, and Trump did not immediately rescind the endorsement..
“We are the majority,” she told the crowd, “and know the truth…We are defiant…We have each other’s backs. If we keep on doing this, we will win. No KKK president!” she concluded to cheers from the crowd.
Larry Wittner of Peace Action told the crowd that the money spent on the military could be better spent on needed things, ranging from food stamps to the environment. He called Trump “a mentally unstable egomaniac” and asked the crowd, “Do you want more hatred and war?”
“No!” came the response.
“Or do you want a peaceful world with freedom and justice for all?”
“Yeah,” roared the crowd.
Michael Rice, an elderly man with a gentle voice said he was on the last refugee boat out of Germany in April 1941. “My Jewish schoolmates…all died in Nazi concentration camps,” he said.
Rice said that America was returning to slavery in the form of mass incarceration of non-whites. He also said, “To protect our children and grandchildren and even Florida” climate change has to be dealt with.
Fazana Saleem-Ismail of Guilderland speaks to the crowd Saturday at the end of the march she helped organize.
Albany’s mayor, Kathy Sheehan, said from the steps that she had fought hard for Hillary Clinton to be president, describing Clinton as “the most qualified candidate to be president in my lifetime.”
Sheehan went on, about Trump’s campaign, “Eighty percent of the people who live in this city were marginalized and mocked.”
Sheehan also said, “I’m a woman…I’m not an object, someone you can just grope if you feel like it.”
When concerns were raised about “acts against Muslim people,” Sheehan said, “I said, ‘What can we do?...We opened up City Hall to celebrate Eid,” she said, referencing a Muslim festival.
“This is a city with an equity agenda,” said Sheehan, who is white. “We are a sanctuary city,” she said, meaning Albany has a policy of not prosecuting undocumented immigrants solely for violating federal immigration laws.
Sheehan credited Barbara Smith with the city’s passage of a resolution in 2008 welcoming immigrants. Smith at the time was a member of Albany’s Common Council.
“We need to fight now more than ever,” concluded Sheehan.
Deb Riitano, executive director of the Capital Area Council of Churches, in an apparent reference to Trump calling his nomination for secretary of defense “Mad Dog Mattis,” told the crowd, “I’m Yellow Dog Riitano.”
She read a long statement from her council saying it was “keenly aware of an increase in hate crimes” and stressing, “We condemn all acts of violence rooted in bigotry and hate.”
“We will stand together...,” said Riitano. “The faith community joins with the activists.”
“Come to the Pride Center…and hold one another,” urged James Shultis, the center’s director of programs, from the steps of the statue.
“Horses!” Two kids are pulled back from danger by a man with a shirt that says “Love” and a sign that says “Ride the peace train” at the start of a march in Albany on Saturday.
Doug Bullock spoke as a labor leader and as an Albany County legislator. “I just came from a picket line,” he said, reviling “scabs” — “that’s what you are when you take someone’s job,” he said.
He next referred to a resolution that backed up with statistics the claim that “Albany is a city of immigrants.”
Bullock finished off his comments by getting the crowd to shout, “Muslim busting — it’s disgusting!”
Two serious young men followed Bullock’s performance. Omar Alrifai, a Guilderland High School graduate, now a University at Albany student, told the life story of the man he stood beside, Asaad Hussein, a junior at Albany High School who came from Aleppo.
“I witnessed the bomb that killed my aunt,” said Alrifai, speaking for his friendHussein. His cousins were wounded from the bomb. He lost his best friend to torture.
He said of citizens of war-torn Syria, “When they try to escape, many drown in the sea.”
Hisussein’s own family fled to Lebanon, spending their life savings on the trip, where they had to pay off government soldiers at each checkpoint. The camp in Lebanon was disease ridden. Ultimately, his family came to America.
“My personal dream is to become an electrical engineer and support my family,” Alrifai concluded his friendHussein’s life story.
“Thank you,” said the young man from Aleppo to great applause.
Mari Matsuo was the next to speak, reading the words of George Takei, an American actor, author, and activist of Japanese descent.
He recalled how, during the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, two soldiers ordered his family out of their house; they went to an unpleasant camp in Arkansas. His parents were both American citizens. When he hears Donald Trump saying there was no harm done, “I remember the tears falling down my mother’s face.”
Matsuo concluded, reading Takei’s words, “We cannot allow our country to be led down that dark path again.”
Mark Emanatian spoke next, recalling an interview where Malcolm X, not long before his death, was asked: Are you trying to wake people up to their oppression? He answered, “I’m trying to wake them up to their worth.”
Ruth Pelham, known for her Music Mobile bringing song to generations of Albany kids, played her guitar and led the crowd in a song she had written in the 1980s.
“I look forward to when we don’t have to sing it anymore,” she said.
“We have the power to persevere,” she sang with the crowd. “Love trumps hate, love trumps fear.”
The marchers then readied themselves for their walk — those with the biggest banners in front. They practiced a few chants and were off as Albany Police, mounted on horses, kept the traffic at bay.
A few drivers honked their horns in solidarity. Several pedestrians along Lark Street stopped to look or take pictures on their phones as the marchers walked to Dana Park.
“Join us,” urged a marcher, gesturing to a man and his son on the curb.
“No fascist USA! No Trump! No KKK!” they chanted.
At the end of the march, there was more song, and Saleem-Ismail urged the marchers to come to her group’s next meeting. The Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia meets on Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Masjid As-Salaam Mosque on Central Avenue in Albany.
The last words were spoken by a Quaker poet, Elizabeth Gordon.
She started with the famous sentiment of Martin Neimoller, a Protestant pastor who was an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler and ended up in a concentration camp: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Gordon told the marchers of the legend that, when the Nazis came to Denmark, the Danish king said, if they forced the Jews to wear the yellow Star of David, the king and his family would wear the stars, too.
“Neighbor hid neighbor,” said Gordon.
She listed the European countries taken over by the Nazis and, for each country, she listed the tens of thousands of Jews who perished there. Denmark, she said, lost 51 people out of 150,000.
“Denmark saved its humanity,” said Gordon.
If the Trump administration makes up a registry of Muslims, said Gordon, “I’m switching to Islam the very next day…I’ve got my Qur’an…When they come for the Muslims, we have to all be Muslim.”