Countering anti-Muslim hate around the U.S.

June 13, 2017

Danny Katch rounds up reports of counterdemonstrations against the Islamophobes.

THE HATE group "ACT for America" held "anti-Sharia law" protests in over 20 cities on June 10. But the Islamophobes were met with counterprotests that vastly outnumbered them in many places--and in a couple locations, they were forced to pack up and leave early.

Like the protests against a far-right "free speech" rally in Portland earlier this month, the wave of counterprotests last Saturday marked an important step forward for a U.S. left that needs to figure out how to counter the alarming growth of a new fascist movement looking to recruit among Trump supporters.

"The far right is emboldened right now because their bigotry is championed by the president," said Sumaya of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), speaking at one of the counterprotests in New York City. "That's why it's extremely important for us to be out here today."

Predictably, the bigots with ACT for America complained that counterdemonstrators were violating their right to free speech.

Pax Hart, who organized the right-wing rally in New York, advised Muslim women who feel unsafe "walking around in a hijab [to] try being a conservative on a college campus. We're here protecting their rights, and they're trying to shut us down! It's insane!"

Opponents of Islamophobia challenge the right wing in San Jose
Opponents of Islamophobia challenge the right wing in San Jose (Luke Pickrell)

Hart was claiming to stand for civil liberties at the very moment that fellow ACT for America protesters were showing up with guns to a mosque in Richardson, Texas, to interfere with families trying to attend prayers.

ACT for America's claims to be defending women and LGBTQ people were also belied by the many sexist and homophobic slurs hurled toward counterprotesters across the country on June 10.

The right-wing Oath Keepers militia was present at most protests--often armed--to "defend" the anti-Muslim rally from the dreaded counterprotesters, even though organizers like Hart are boastful about how much support they have from local police.

Our side has a long way to go to confront this growing menace, but the June 10 counterprotests showed that across the country, it's possible to confront the bigots with larger numbers that prove they are a loathed minority.

In New York City, around 500 people turned up to counter the ACT for America rally in Manhattan's Foley Square, whose 100 attendees donned everything from Trump caps to a "Kekistan" flag to the red and white cross of the Ku Klux Klan.

The counterprotesters were split into two evenly sized rallies. There was a "noise rally" organized by anarchists and other radicals across the street from Foley Square to try to drown out the bigots, and there was a "NYC Loves Muslims" gathering a few blocks away at City Hall Park.

The NYC Loves Muslims rally was organized by the Council on American Islamic Relations and New York City Immigration Coalition, along with a number of more left-wing groups, including Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

"We have to say no to war," said Yasmine Kamel of Bay Ridge for Social Justice, "because it's justified with Islamophobia. We have to say we are not afraid of Muslims here in New York or Muslims across the Atlantic from us. We will stand against killing Muslims over there and detaining and deporting Muslims over here.

Some of the NYC Loves Muslim rally organizers tried to keep the message apolitical and discourage attendees from joining the other counter-protest at the end of the rally. "This rally is about love over hate, not confrontation," declared the emcee at the outset.

The rally was supposed to end with a march in the opposite direction of both the Islamophobes and our allies protesting them. Instead, however, more than half of the attendees ended up marching over to the noise rally to directly confront the cancer of anti-Muslim bigotry.

In Chicago, 200 pro-refugee, pro-Muslim, anti-hate counterprotesters showed up and drove out a fragmented and small group of 30 anti-Muslim bigots, right-wingers and Nazis.

ACT for America had called a protest to begin at 10 a.m. on a street corner near Trump Tower in downtown Chicago, but counterprotesters showed up early and occupied their planned spot. By the time the bigots arrived, they were confused, outnumbered by 10 to 1, and--after whining to police--were forced to set up across the street.

The mood was celebratory amid the 90-degreee heat, with the crowd united in strong chants of "Racists out, Muslims in," "Racists go home!" and "ACT for America--facts don't work for ya!" along with messages that Muslims, refugees and immigrants are welcome here.

As the morning wore on, more anti-Muslim bigots began to appear, including some openly making Nazi salutes and wearing T-shirts praising Chilean dictator August Pinochet's death squads.

Despite Act for America's false claim that its anti-Muslim hate is out of concern for LGBTQ people, many of its supporters hurled homophobic language at the counterprotest. Their small group stood flanked by a line of police standing in front of them to defend them. The bigots were clearly fragmented and unorganized.

The larger group of counterprotesters moved across the street to block out and drive off the bigots, but not without interference from the cops, who shoved, threatened and attempted to prevent us from moving off the sidewalk. We were able to make it across the street safely and chant strongly against both the bigots and the cops defending them, telling the racists to go home and asking the cops, "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?"

The volume of the crowd protesting the hate completely drowned out the attempts of ACT for America supporters to try to speak, and their hateful rhetoric was lost in the din. In less than an hour, the bigots left defeated, and the electrifying energy on our side erupted in victory chants, dancing and a short speakout.

In Seattle, nearly 1,000 people marched and protested against the bigots of ACT for America, chanting, "We are many, they are few! Stop the hate, it's up to you!" and "Say it loud, say it clear! Muslims are welcome here!"

As Leela Yellesetty of the ISO told the rally crowd:

The far right claims they are in favor of "free speech," but in fact, they aim to intimidate us into silence. Well, they're free to speak, but so are we, and we must stand up and proclaim loudly that we are many, and they are few...Only by bringing together the widest possible forces and standing in solidarity with each other's struggles can we hope to push back the tide of reaction and win true democratic and human rights for all people.

After about two hours of chanting and the presence of a noise demo, the bigots packed up two hours early. It was a huge victory for anti-racists in Seattle.

In San Jose, California, some 900 anti-racists marched against 40 people who showed up for the anti-Muslim rally--including at least one Oath Keeper. Spirits were high among counterprotesters, who included people of all ages and several faith-based groups.

Signs and chants ranged from "All you need is love" and "United we stand" to "Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and White...unite, unite, unite to fight the right" and "No borders, no nations! Stop deportations!"

In Lansing, Michigan, more than 200 people rallied for the "No Islamophobes in Lansing" counterprotest against ACT for America. About 50 bigots took part in the "anti-Sharia" march. Some were armed with weapons and wearing body armor, while others gave Nazi salutes and screamed anti-Black and anti-Semitic rhetoric, in addition to their Islamophobia.

The bigots had originally planned to march through a predominately Muslim neighborhood in Lansing, but were met and held near their staging point by counterprotesters chanting, "We love our Muslim neighbors!" and "No hate! No fear! Muslims are welcome here!"

Organizers of the counterprotest had sought to mobilize as many people as possible, while taking steps to ensure safety. Peacekeepers and legal observers were present, and counterprotesters were urged to be disciplined and avoid escalating the confrontation.

After a tense two-hour standoff, the counterprotesters withdrew in an organized fashion and marched to their own staging area outside the neighborhood they were defending. The ACT for America marchers didn't follow, and dispersed soon after.

Afterward, a man from the Lansing Muslim community spoke to the crowd, saying that he'd originally been opposed to the idea of the counterprotest, "but I changed my mind after seeing you today, and all the love and support for us."

It was a hopeful note for building stronger links between the left and the Muslim community after successfully challenging Islamophobic bigots.

In Austin, Texas, three columns of state troopers armed in riot gear protected 50 ACT for America bigots positioned on the outskirts of the Capitol grounds from 150 to 200 anti-racist counterdemonstrators chanting, "Say it loud, say it clear! Muslims are welcome here!" and "From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!"

Surrounded, outnumbered and unable to hear themselves, the Islamophobes made no speeches and were ultimately forced to call off their planned march after only four hours. During the demonstration, other squadrons of police in turn surrounded the anti-racists, who carried signs with messages of solidarity and large placards honoring Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, Ricky John Best and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, who were stabbed after confronting an Islamophobe on a Portland train in May.

Nearby, a Muslim Solidarity ATX press conference drew a diverse crowd of around 75 people. "We're here to combat hate and build community," declared Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, the press conference emcee. "We've had enough of transphobia, homophobia and xenophobia."

Speakers for LGBTQ rights, Palestinian liberation and other issues called for mutual respect for diversity. Austin Mayor Steve Adler expressed hope that the city would be successful in fighting anti-immigrant attacks in the state legislature.

-- In Syracuse, New York, over 50 right-wingers converged to spew hatred for their Islamophobic national day of action. Their demonstration was surrounded by the right-wing Oath Keepers militia in an attempt to intimidate anti-racist resistance.

Nonetheless, around 120 activists from Syracuse and the surrounding area assembled across the street from the "anti-Sharia" rally. Anarchists and socialists mobilized networks of solidarity to stifle the growth of right-wing extremism. With superior numbers, their anti-racist chants drowned out their bigotry.

While ACT for America pretends to care for the well-being of women, the counterdemonstrators were quick to remind them, "You don't give a shit about women." As the last herd of bigots retreated from the protest, it was clear that our ability to win came from having a larger number of people.

Brian Bean, Cindy Beringer, Brandon Daniels, Moira Geary, Luke Pickrell, Joel Reinstein, Dan Trocolli and Seth Uzman contributed to this article.

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