We want a hate-free city

December 7, 2016

Mehrana Ali reports from the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights on a demonstration of solidarity against hate and bigotry.

THE NEW wave of bigotry since the election of Donald Trump is not going unchallenged.

On December 2, hundreds of residents gathered at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights in Queens to call for their community to be made a "hate-free zone," in response to the recent spike in hate crimes, assaults and incidents against people of oppressed groups. The message of the rally wasn't solely focused on Trump, but on the system that breeds oppression and the need to build solidarity.

Participants gathered at Diversity Plaza for the rally and then marched to 89th Street, where a closing rally was held. Along the way, they chanted, "Here to stay, here to fight!" "When (immigrants/Muslim lives/women/trans folks/queer folks) are under attack, what do we do? Fight back, fight back!" "United we are stronger!" "Un pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!" and more. The chant sheet distributed to marchers was in various languages, including Spanish, Hindi and Bengali.

The rally wasn't just about people coexisting and tolerating each other or a particular oppressed group talking only about that group's issues, but people facing different oppressions coming together to show true solidarity. There was a sense that everyone is in this together.

Queens residents gathered in Jackson Heights to declare a hate-free zone
Queens residents gathered in Jackson Heights to declare a hate-free zone (Katie Honan | DNAInfo)

Activist groups passed out flyers, including calls to show solidarity with undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters. Two elderly women held up signs from Jewish Voice for Peace that read, "Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia." At least one bystander who stumbled on the rally joined in once they heard what it was about.

SPEAKERS AT the rally included a diverse group, from community activists to a City Council member and a small business owner. There was a call for people to come together with elected officials to create hate-free zones.

An immigrant rights activist spoke about the struggles of undocumented immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their horrific treatment at the hand of police and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Speaking about the importance of getting organized and knowing our rights, she said, "We have to fight, fight until we are free." "United, we are stronger!" she said, as the crowd broke into chants of "Sí se puede!"

A speaker from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice spoke out against the criminal legal system, the police and how Black, Latino, Muslim, Arab, queer and trans folks have always been targeted and devastated by the state and the police.

From snippets of conversation heard during the rally and the march, it was clear that people see the need to start getting organized themselves--and that they lack faith in elected officials. One person commented hat he didn't think New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio nor any other Democratic official would keep their promises to defend minorities and immigrants.

The march was bold and confident. There were several large banners and organized contingents, as well as enthusiastic individuals. Hundreds of people marched proudly and loudly through the streets of Jackson Heights, and there was great support and solidarity for the march from the community.

This is the start of something that has the potential to grow much bigger and more powerful as people start to get organized to make our communities hate-free.

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