After a week where many neighbors expressed fear over the presidential election results, Kensington’s Bangladeshi community leaders and city officials gathered at the Avenue C Plaza on Friday to discuss how to move beyond ‘hateful’ rhetoric and potential threats to immigrant communities.
Though rallies and protests sprouted up all over the city this week, angry demonstrations against Trump’s victory, this event was different — it was fueled by the desire to talk, learn, and listen; and a resounding call to action: Know your rights and support your neighbors.
“We have to accept the results of this election — that’s the way democracy works. But we don’t have to accept policies that violate core American ideals,” said Council Member Brad Lander, who organized the event along with Bangladeshi leaders. “We will not let this country forget its immigrant heritage, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression,” he said.
Friday’s speakers included Lander, Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a representative from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, President of the Bangladeshi Muslim Center, community leaders Mamnun Haq, Mian Quadry, Hasiba Haq, and Naimul Islam; attorneys from the Brooklyn Defense League and CUNY law school, Rabbi Rachel Timoner, and more.
After citing many neighbors who lost sleep this week over their future, now in the hands of a man whose campaign was ‘filled with so much hate’, speakers pivoted to emotional and practical tips for moving forward as a community.
“How can we get out of this fear?” said Mamnun Haq. “Tell our elected officials in NYC and Washington ‘we supported, trusted, and voted for you. Restore our safety, respect and dignity.’ And to my community: You voted. Many Bangladeshi men and women came to the polls on Tuesday. Voting is your power and your right.”
Many speakers were motivated by optimism and strength at Friday’s public meeting, with many neighbors talking candidly about transforming their fear into productive action.
“So many of my friends who were apathetic about politics before the election began texting me and messaging me, saying they want to work with Planned Parenthood, they want to reach out to neighbors and organize. It’s a wake-up call for all of us,” said activist Hasiba Haq. “I’m proud to be a feminist today. I’ve never been more confident to be a woman, and I’m ready to break every glass ceiling and more,” she said.
“I implore you to come out and be involved in events going on this neighborhood, with Arts and Democracy and programs from Brad’s office. Working with local officials is so important, it’s the easiest way for you to have influence in your government every day. I don’t want to hear anyone say they can’t do it,” she said.
Other religious leaders expressed empathy and support. “I need you to know that the Jewish community is crying right now,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner from Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope. “We know it’s upon us to never give up. We stand with you.”
City officials and legal resource providers said that this event was only the beginning of support services to come.
“If law enforcement comes to your door and knocks, tell them you will not talk to them without an attorney. We will be your attorney,” said a rep from Cuny Law School’s C.L.E.A.R (Creating Law Enforcement And Responsibility) project, a group that works with Muslims who are approached by law enforcement on the basis of religion.
Piyali Basak, a senior staff attorney from Brooklyn Defense Services, spoke to the audience in Bangla, promising to return for ‘Know Your Rights’ training, immigration assistance, and interpretation services. “Language access is the biggest problem in the community,” she said, leading to rampant misunderstanding and miscommunication. When officials come to the door, “many times parents ask kids to be the interpreter, which is often problematic,” Basak told us.
At the end of the planned speaker roster, Lander and youth activist Naimul Islam invited the kids to speak their mind.
“I think that everyone deserves a second chance. No one gets to get thrown away, everyone is united,” shouted one girl into the microphone. The crowd erupted in cheers.
“We’re all here today because we feel the same pain. Our future generation needs us more than ever, having this gathering is an action but we must continue to be consistent in our fight for equality,” said Islam.
“When people want to see what the American dream looks like, this [Kensington] is where they come, said Council Member Brad Lander. “We are going to find ways to show that we stand with this community, both personally and with the legal protections we can provide.”