Multiracial solidarity grows in Brooklyn

January 18, 2017

Sherry Wolf tells how the sentiment for struggle got organized in her neighborhood.

BAY RIDGE in Brooklyn is not hipster cool. The South Brooklyn neighborhood has long been known as a bedroom community, with a large concentration of police and firefighters--and great restaurants.

Unlike many of New York City's outer-borough neighborhoods, it has a reputation for electing Republican politicians on less-than subtle racist platforms. Many blocks were renamed for the first responders who had lived on those streets and were killed in the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Though Christian Lebanese and Syrian communities have coexisted for decades alongside the dominant Irish, Italian, Norwegian and other European immigrant families, the arrival in recent years of Muslims, Latinos, Asians, LGBTQ people and younger white workers priced out of hipper neighborhoods nearer Manhattan has created a new demographic mix--one that at times has sparked conflict.

In the past year, local artists, educators, social workers and progressive activists began meeting to discuss what to do about creating a more welcoming environment for immigrants and Muslims, in particular.

A Brooklyn neighborhood sends a message of hope and solidarity
A Brooklyn neighborhood sends a message of hope and solidarity (Bay Ridge for Social Justice)

Working with Muslim community activist Linda Sarsour, one of the four co-chairs of this year's Women's March on Washington, they organized a modest-sized Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in 2016 and a Muslim and Queers United panel in the wake of the Orlando killings last summer.

But with the looming Trump era and a heightened atmosphere of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate, activists set their sights higher on Martin Luther King Day this year. The newly initiated Bay Ridge for Social Justice group mobilized a dynamic and multiracial family-friendly protest of several hundred residents, who took to the streets chanting, "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!"

Marchers were greeted with enthusiastic applause from local residents and shopowners along one of the community's main avenues. Latinx marchers led the crowd in chanting in Spanish, Arab marchers led chants in Arabic, and the whole crowd took up the chant, "The people united will never be defeated!"

Hundreds of people packed a local Lebanese church to cheer on speeches about the need for solidarity and organization from Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York; as well as unaffiliated activists Danielle Bullock and Alan Aja; myself, representing the International Socialist Organization; and others. In between the speakers, youth read out quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

It was a triumph of unity for the young organization that publicized the march through early morning leafleting at subway stops.

At a time when so many millions feel trepidation about Trump's agenda--and when so few people, especially in urban centers, even know their neighbors--initiatives like the MLK Jr. Day March Against Hate and newly formed groups like Bay Ridge for Social Justice can channel the sentiment for struggle.

We face enormous challenges in this new era, but it bodes well when a neighborhood where Trump supporters live side by side with Bernie enthusiasts can hold a mass march and rally in which Arab women in hijabs cheer white lesbian radicals, and vice versa, and the Latinx community is welcomed out of the shadows by hundreds of its neighbors.

Further Reading

From the archives