My speech at the Women’s March on Omaha
I would like to begin by paying my respects to any indigenous people here whose land we are currently occupying, and in particular, any members of the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation after whom the city where I live was named.
When I was asked to speak at this event, my instinct was to say no. I was afraid. Afraid of judgment, violence, and oppression, things that have been constants in my life. But then I was reminded of this quote by Audre Lorde:
“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”
So here is my truth. I hope you hear it with an open heart and an open mind.
Donald Trump began his foray into politics in March of 2011 by accusing President Obama of being a Muslim with a Kenyan birth certificate. He said it with distaste, as an accusation, as though being a Muslim is a crime. As though being a Kenyan is a crime. He went on recently to say that he wants to ban all Muslims and put us on a registry. While President Obama is neither a Kenyan nor a Muslim, I am both a Muslim and have a Kenyan birth certificate; neither of those things make me any less of an American than anyone else.
I am a new American Citizen, and I continue to be a Kenyan Citizen. I am also a queer Muslim immigrant woman, mother, teacher, and survivor of sexual assault and molestation from the ages of twelve to fourteen. I wear all these pieces of my identity openly and honestly. I struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I can tell you that this disability in particular has been triggered hugely by this president and his cabinet. Both men who assaulted me are happy and are in positions of power, just like Trump.
You need to understand that my personal experiences with bigotry, violence, and oppression did not begin with this presidential election. They began on 9/11 while I was a new teacher here in Omaha, and they have continued to escalate. I have also been a witness to the endangerment of my students as people who are undocumented, people who are refugees, people who have been sex workers, people who are in the LGBTQIA community, people who grew up on reservations, people going home to empty fridges, and people who are navigating the world with physical and intellectual disabilities. They are people who are not burdens to this society; they are precious assets who contribute more than you can imagine. They astound me with their daily activism.
WE DID NOT CONSENT to this violence, bigotry, and oppression. We do not consent to this presidency. We have been telling our stories, and many times, our stories have gone unheard. We have been told to be quiet, to be polite, to be nice, to calm down, to frame things in a more palatable way, and to educate our oppressors even as we do not hold the power in those relationships.
Well, we won’t calm down. We won’t be tone-policed. We won’t be shamed for feeling and expressing the natural emotions that come from being oppressed. The time has come for us to stop being politely and quietly angry. Tolerance does not mean tolerating intolerance. And tolerance is a pretty low bar to pass in the first place; it’s the bare minimum.
In the last day there have been people judging the actions of protestors in Washington D.C. without understanding why they are expressing their anger and disappointment and even fear about how this election has turned out.
My plea to you tonight is to try to understand perspectives that are different from yours. This protest is just the beginning of this revolution. I applaud you for coming, but it means nothing if it does not spur action. The first step in this march is acknowledging privilege.
If you can separate your personal life from politics by not thinking about it because the politics don’t affect you personally, check your privilege. To be clear, there is no separation for most of us between the political and the personal. We don’t get to choose not to be political because for us, the political IS personal.
If you logging out of Facebook for your own comfort helps you avoid what’s happening to the rest of us there, (not because you need to for your safety and wellbeing), check your privilege.
If the thought of who the president and his cabinet picks are doesn’t fill you personally with terror for the health, wellbeing, education, and safety of your family members, check your privilege.
If you can sit comfortably and judge people’s lived experiences and make it all about your feelings even though those types of oppression will never affect you, check your privilege.
If you, even passively or accidentally, surround yourself in your inner circle of trust (and are able to do so easily) with people who think, look, practice, vote, and live like you do, check your privilege.
If it never occurred to you that inequity, bigotry, oppression, and prejudice has ALWAYS been a part of our lives in a very big and horrible way prior to this election season, check your privilege.
If you are an American Citizen and have the time, resources, money, and connections to leave the country and become a resident or citizen elsewhere because you disagree with what’s happening, check your privilege.
If you can tell people who are currently frightened that it will all be okay, check your privilege.
If you are not afraid to lose your livelihood, life, home, or personal safety because of this new administration, check your privilege.
If your children are not afraid to lose their parents, check your privilege.
If the phrase “check your privilege” is upsetting to you, check your privilege.
I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty.
Guilt is not productive.
It’s crucial to check which privileges you have so that you don’t overstep, hurt, and further oppress the people who don’t have those privileges, and so that you can leverage that privilege in order to make positive change.
The Civil Rights movement never ended and it did not start in the 1960s. People have been fighting for their human and civil rights from the consistent battle of the indigenous people of this land whose systematic genocide this country was founded upon and who facing violence RIGHT NOW protecting their water on reservations, to the enslavement of African People who still don’t have clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan and who are still enslaved by the school to prison pipeline, to the women burned at the stake in Salem who refuse to burn today, to the trans women of color who led the Stonewall Uprising and the fight for LGBTQIA community and yet are still being murdered at a rate higher than any other demographic, and even to the people with disabilities who are consistently erased from the consciousness of the mainstream. We are still in the middle of these civil rights movements today. If you haven’t already been involved in any of it, start now.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said that:
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time where we fail to protest.
I seek guidance from my faith as a Muslim.
In my faith I am required to stand witness to justice, fairness and equality, not just in words but in practice. In the Qur’an it says “be just, that is closest to Godliness”.
Social justice in Islam extends to everyone in my community, whether or not they are related to me or share my faith. I must pay Zakat where a portion of my income must be given to those who need it. The Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, once said “he is not a Muslim who sleeps with his stomach full while his neighbor stays hungry”.
My faith stands firmly against inequality and encourages me to be involved with initiatives that would eradicate poverty and challenge the root causes of inequality. Everyday many people from other countries risk their lives to come here, simply looking for a better life. Most do not make it this far and thousands die on the way. Islam teaches me to be prepared to share what I have with those who do not have it.
My faith says that I am a “custodian” of this earth and its surrounding. As a custodian I do not have the right to either abuse it or be a bystander while it is destroyed. I have to take active steps to ensure its healthy longevity. This too is my struggle for justice.
The Aga Khan, the Imam of my particular sect of Islam says:
“Diversity itself can be seen as a gift. Diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows. It is not a burden, it is a blessing. In the end of course, we must realize that living with diversity is a challenging process. We are wrong to think it will be easy. The work of pluralism is always a work in progress.”
So we must grow our worlds, listen to other perspectives, set our egos aside and understand when our privilege has caused us to be unaware of what others are going through so that we may learn from people whose experiences are foreign to us.
Lilla Watson, an indigenous Australian woman, echoes my feelings about how this must be done. “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
I’m advocating for small but mighty acts of revolution. As the Mexican proverb says, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
It is so tempting to allow the overwhelming mass of battles to come to overtake us and cause us to lay down and give up, but we owe it to our youth to leave this place better than the way we found it. We must fight. We must love hard and fiercely. We must be kind to ourselves and each other. We must be up standers in the face of injustice.
Most of all, we must have the audacity to hope. Change is coming, and we are the bringers of it.
Peace be upon you.