Trump has thrown us all into chaos after his first full week of executive orders and the “shock and awe” campaign engineered by Steve Bannon, who was flagrantly appointed with powers never seen in previous administrations. However, they haven’t come out the victors in all of this. We all rushed to JFK to protest and the superhero lawyers flexed their mind-muscles to represent the families in detention. (Follow the legal teams on Twitter @NoBanJFK for updates.)
It was heart-wrenching to spend time with families at JFK Airport Terminal 4 who were waiting for their mothers and wives to be released. I was able to bring some sense of community and hope to one family when I showed them photos and video of thousands of people gathering outside in solidarity. For a moment, their hearts lifted knowing they were not alone.
We all know Trump, Bannon, and the growing gaggle of goons wielding White House power will come for you, me, and everyone we know. That means we have to fight back smarter.
I work in a predominantly immigrant community that is gentrifying. I witness first-hand the power of smarter neighborhood organizing by thinking about identity and its relationship to power – scholars call it intersectionality. First articulated on behalf of black women, it brought to light the invisibility of many constituents of groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them. This happens with black women; with people of color within the LGBTQ movement; with girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; with women within immigration movements; with trans women within feminist movements. (There are people who study this and write books about it. Pick one up at your locally-owned storefront bookstore.)
The aim of all this is to have awareness of your own privilege and power and identity when you walk into a room, a conversation, or a relationship. This is seriously messy for most of us. The power of this awareness is the fuel that will help neighborhoods confront the orange-headed monster and the things that scare us on the ground in our own neighborhoods: gentrification, climate change, police brutality, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia.
In Sunset Park, families immediately after the election began to organize themselves. One mother organized a spontaneous vigil days after the presidential election. She met another mom who lived on the same block; the two never officially met until that night. Today, they are soul mates. These neighbors united and formed a Facebook group called LOVE TRUMPS HATE SUNSET PARK and began to meet regularly. The rest is history – that will continue unfolding.
I was invited to attend these meetings to support, not lead. They asked a specific question: what do our immigrant neighbors need? They asked undocumented families directly, letting communities who have historically been marginalized be at the center of the conversation. Out of this emerged something that defines solidarity. A family with resources hosted a dinner for 15 undocumented neighbors at their apartment, they invited an immigration lawyer to conduct a Know Your Rights Workshop, and they invited me to talk about what it means to be a Sanctuary City and the city services we offer today, such as IDNYC (visit nyc.gov/IDNYC to learn more for yourself). Four dinners have been hosted and there is now a monthly calendar continuing this new tradition, one that is spreading across the neighborhood.
These dinners are just one example of what we can all do to build allian-ces and mini-movements in our own backyard. This requires a lot of personal and political work to confront trauma, to share power by stepping back and removing ourselves from the center if we are privileged, and to place the most affected at the center of the discussion to take leadership.
Next week, the Brooklyn Lambda Independent Democrats (LID) are hosting their monthly general meeting in Sunset Park for the first time. We have invited an emerging group of undocumented trans Latinas from Staten Island, who are just starting their journey of political organizing with the hopes of building a club, to address us. The aim is to break down geographic walls and, like the Know Your Rights dinners, we are getting diverse communities into a room, breaking some bread – in awareness and respect for both our neighbors and the incredible powerhouse experience and history the LID board brings to the table. The LID meeting is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 9 at St. Jacobi Lutheran Church, located at 5406 Fourth Avenue (R train to 53rd Street; N train to 59th Street), if you want to join us.
I know this work is not easy. Practicing it on a daily basis is key, and with the constant stream of shock and awe coming down from the White House we will have a plethora of opportunities to engage in meaningful local organizing that dismantles the systems that oppress us all. Don’t be afraid to meet your neighbor and begin to organize. That is where we must start to stand up and fight back.
City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca represents the 38th District, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn.