Alarmed by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s talk about deporting Muslims and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, leaders of several Orange County activist groups decided they should band together.
So on Jan. 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration, community leaders stood outside of Anaheim City Hall and vowed solidarity, and the Muslim-Latino Collaborative was born.
Little did the members of this new strength-in-numbers collaboration realize that Trump would move so quickly on his pre-election promises.
They sprang into action.
On Jan. 29, after Trump’s signing of an executive order blocking travel from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days and halting refugees from around the world for 120 on security grounds, several leaders from the coalition took part in a sit-in at Los Angeles International Airport in front of the Customs and Border Protection office.
Demonstrators sang, preached and prayed together.
Shakeel Syed, a leader in the Muslim-Latino Collaborative, said he was brought to tears as people brought the demonstrators water and granola bars.
The group’s first official action, on Jan. 21, was to march in solidarity with thousands of people in Santa Ana as part of a global demonstration for women’s rights sparked by the Women’s March on Washington.
“It was a moving scene to witness,” Syed said. “Arguably the largest-ever gathering in O.C., the march was as diverse as it could get and most peaceful. It was festive but also concerned and peacefully angry about the national discourse of hate and isolation.”
Syed added: “I think the marches all over the country have sparked a dialogue of dissent. The question for the marchers would be, ‘What must we do to transform the shared concerns and collective expressions of solidarity into a sustained movement?’ Else, I’m afraid it’d be nothing more than a mass therapy.”
Early signs of unrest
The coalition is an aggregation of six local groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim rights group that locally is based in Anaheim, and the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, a Garden Grove-based labor alliance.
While the coalition is new, the groups that form it have been working together in an unofficial capacity for years, coming together when certain events called for joint action, said Syed, who is also the executive director of the Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, or OCCORD.
Leaders from each organization had become progressively concerned over what they call hate crimes and divisive rhetoric stemming from Trump’s campaign, Syed said.
Syed said the first signs that Trump’s rhetoric was having a local effect became evident in late 2015 and early 2016.
Anaheim — where the Ku Klux Klan was once the dominant political force, with Klansmen holding four of five City Council seats before a recall effort led to their ouster in 1924, according to the Los Angeles Times — was the site of a Klan rally in February 2016 that turned violent. In the previous December, a bullet-riddled Koran was placed in front of a Muslim clothing store.
Over the last year, Syed said, local mosques have received threatening letters, and local Muslim women have reported being harassed for wearing head scarves.
Ada Briceno, a leader in the Muslim-Latino Collaborative and the secretary treasurer of Unite Here! Local 11, an activist group that represents Latinos, said Mexican immigrants also face persecution under Trump’s plans to construct a border wall and clamp down on sanctuary cities, which have adopted a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws.
We decided to shape our own future rather than allow President Trump to victimize us.
“We decided to shape our own future rather than allow President Trump to victimize us,” said Hussam Ayloush, another leader of the new collaborative who is also the executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, or CAIR. “We decided to formalize and strengthen the partnership between our communities in order to amplify our voices in the pursuit of unity, justice and dignity.”
The newly formed coalition aims to combat prejudice by holding public forums that provide a “safe space” where people from all backgrounds can meet and learn about each other’s beliefs and values, Ayloush said.
Syed said the only way to dispel the “myths” perpetuated by “certain interest groups” is to bring people together so they “begin to see each other as an image of themselves.” Social media platforms will also serve to educate the public, he said.
Ayloush said the group also plans on using legal means, when necessary, to combat “abusive and unjust policies” and will work with local politicians to advocate for their constituents.
And, of course, the group won’t hesitate to join peaceful rallies.
Touched by the support
Syed hopes the new group can help funnel the energy evident in the massive demonstrations into a strategic local movement that can provoke change in the community, because he fears Trump’s election is a sign of growing discord in the nation.
About Trump’s targeting of Muslims — in 2015, following the San Bernardino terrorist attack, which killed 14 people, the then-presidential candidate called for a ban on Muslims — Syed said the new president has “essentially indicted a 1,500-year-old faith” based on the actions of “a few bad apples.”
He said Muslims in America felt a similar kind of fear following 9/11, when Islamophobia plagued parts of the country. Yet, Syed said, following the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and two other locations, President George W. Bush addressed the Muslim community from a mosque, stating that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam.
This time, the president has not been supportive of the Islamic community, linking recent terrorist attacks with the religion, Syed said.
While he is greatly concerned with the implementation of a law that he sees as targeting his religion, Syed said he’s been “touched” by the national outpouring of activism demanding an end to the refugee ban.
“I think that’s the beauty of America and our people,” Syed said about the widespread protests. “It gives us so much hope. I never thought my children would be demonized because of their religion. This is the strength of our nation. We need to reclaim and restore that.”