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‘It’s Activism Or Fascism’: Packed Community Meeting Addresses ‘Trump’s America’

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Full video of Let’s Get Organized, Tuesday, November 15, 2016. (Courtesy of the office of Brad Lander)

The stained glass windows which surround the interior of Congregation Beth Elohim did not betray the concern evident on the faces of many of those in attendance on Tuesday evening. However, this was not a normal gathering at the Park Slope synagogue.

Let’s Get Organized: Preparing to resist threats to our ideals was the name of the event led by Council Member Brad Lander, a gathering to address the shock, fear, and next steps for community members after Donald Trump became President-elect last week.

“[W]e also have an obligation to roll up our sleeves and get to work: to do all we can to defend the things we know are right,” wrote Lander in his announcement about the gathering. “To protect those who are vulnerable, to stand together in focused resistance, and to fight for the future we believe in.”

The community responded by packing every seat at CBE, with more sitting in the aisles and ringing the walls of the sanctuary.

And this was at 6:30pm.

For a meeting which was to begin at 7pm, the early attendance already told the story of the high stakes involved in the evening.

Let’s Get Organized: Preparing to resist threats to our ideals
Over a thousand attended ‘Let’s Get Organized: Preparing to resist threats to our ideals’ at Congregation Beth Elohim on Tuesday, November 15, 2016. (Photo by Donny Levit / BKLYNER)

“Hundreds of people have come here to cry,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner, Senior Rabbi of CBE. “Shabbat [the weekly Jewish sabbath which begins on Friday nights]  is usually a joyous time for Jewish people, but it felt more like a funeral. It has felt very much like a death.”

Timoner referenced that it had been seven days since Trump was elected, and connected that to the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva,” the ritual of mourning the death of a loved one.

“What Jews do at the end of shiva is get up,” said Rabbi Timoner. “It’s time to get up and leave our house of mourning.”

And as she finished her comments, she asked the audience a question: “How are you moving from grief to action?” The inquiry framed the rest of the evening — a thorough meeting which lasted almost two-and-a-half hours.

Council Member Brad Lander
Council Member Brad Lander. (Photo still via YouTube)

“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!,” Council Member Brad Lander said, quoting social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. “There is no acceptance here,” he later said, as the audience interrupted his remarks with applause.

In particular, Lander spoke of the appointment by President-elect Donald Trump of Steve Bannon as chief strategist in the White House. Bannon, a KKK sympathizer, anti-Semite, and homo/transphobe is also the executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News, an agency linked to the alt-right movement.

“We will not sit comfortably with a white supremacist in the White House,” Lander said.

“I’m appreciative that Brad Lander organized the event and was able to speak personally and candidly about the election and how committed he, and we are, to preserve the things that make our communities what they are,” said attendee Amy Holiday.

Christina Chang
Christina Chang, VP of Government Affairs, Planned Parenthood NYC spoke at the event. (Photo by Donny Levit / BKLYNER)

Speakers included Christina Chang, VP of Government Affairs of Planned Parenthood NYC, Mayra Aldass-Deckert, Community Engagement Manager of NY Immigration Coalition, Mimi Bluestone of 350Brooklyn, Jon Green of Take on Wall Street campaign at Americans for Financial Reform,  Mark Winston Griffith, Executive Director of Brooklyn Movement Center, and Amy Rutkin, Chief of Staff for Congressman Jerry Nadler

All expressed deep concerns over the effects of a Trump administration and how it would affect abortion rights, immigrants, and regulations on Wall Street. In addition, the President-elect, who has called climate change a “Chinese hoax,” has brought in a climate denier to lead the EPA transition.

“We don’t need to turn to CNN anymore, we need to turn to each other,” said Mark Winston Griffith of the Brooklyn Movement Center.

Let's get organized
Photo by Donny Levit / BKLYNER

Upstanding — or the act of an individual standing against and taking action when they witness intolerance or injustice — was addressed during the event, including a discussion of tactics one can take during these incidents.

Various tactics and scenarios were discussed by Faiza Ali Community Liaison at the NYC Council Speaker’s Office, Virginia Goggin, Director of Legal Services at Anti-Violence Project, and Rashida Richardson, Legislative Counsel at New York Civil Liberties Union.

Meeting attendee Dina Rabiner detailed the value in the simplicity of asking “Are you ok?” if someone is being verbally attacked, with the goal of drawing focus away from the attacker. “There are different ways to act depending on the situation,” she said. “But it’s important to not let bullying just happen.”

Other tactics included offering to get off at a subway stop with the individual who is being attacked. “Your offer to help may put them on the defensive,” added Rabiner. “You have to respect the individual.”

Kate Griem
13-year-old Kate Griem. (Photo still via YouTube)

One highlight of the event involved 13-year-old Kate Griem. She spoke about her reaction when she learned of Trump’s victory:

“How could I, a young woman, who will grow up during the years of Trump’s presidency, ever begin to feel that the world looks at me as a powerful, independent person, capable of anything, when the president — the person that people look up to as a role model — treats women in a disgusting and condescending way?” [To view Griem’s full talk, begin the video at 1:51:44]

Her mother, Jai Maitra Griem, spoke about her concern for her daughter growing up during a Trump presidency.

“I am grateful to this very supportive community we live in for making her feel comfortable and welcomed in sharing her opinions,” said Griem. “And I am equally sad that she has been forced to grow up so fast by the ugly discourse generated by our President-elect and confront the racism, sexism, homophobia […] that exists in parts of our country. I do wish I could protect her from this knowledge for just a bit longer.”

“It was good to be here, but it also felt daunting,” said Rabiner. She referenced a discussion about what people say on Facebook, and other social media. “There’s a possibility that the actions of a person online can be used against them.”

Other information was available to those attending, including how to launch a Direct Action campaign to demand that Trump rescinds Bannon’s appointment. A list of steps to #STOPBANNON are listed here.

During a brief pause in the event, two women standing next to each other in the back of the sanctuary introduced themselves. “I feel frozen. Absolutely frozen,” said one. The other woman touched her shoulder gently. “We have no choice but to be here. It’s either activism or fascism,” she said.

  • The NYS Division of Human Rights has launched a toll-free hotline for New Yorkers who wish to report bias or discrimination. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, at 888-392-3644. Read more about bias action here.
  • The New York Anti-Violence Project has a 24-hour bilingual (English/Spanish) hotline. Call 212-714-1141 or report online at avp.org.
  • You can tag #getorganizedbk to reference this meeting and future events and activism.

Additional reporting by Dina Rabiner.

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