The Issues Facing All of Us

Hayat Imam (in brown jacket) with friends at the Boston Women's March

Remarks delivered at the Boston Women’s March for America, January 21, 2017


Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim; Salam Aleikum!

I start with words of peace because we are sorely in need of peace and harmony! We are in a sobering moment in history right now. We are standing together and looking down into an abyss – and it’s pretty dark and dangerous down there. We’ve just been through a bruising presidential campaign where many, many of us were demonized as the “other”, as the culprits causing the hardships faced by Trump supporters. Well I, for one, thank Mr. Trump for doing us a favor: joining us together! So all of us: Women, Blacks, Immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Gays, Transgenders, Native Americans, Special Needs folks, Young, Old, Activists of every stripe, Workers of every ethnicity, and Anyone Else insulted and threatened, can now stay together, and fight together! Maybe we can give ourselves a name! How does the honor of becoming the Rainbow Coalition again, sound to you?? We already know what to do. If life gives us lemons, what do we do? YES WE MAKE LEMONADE! If we are standing at an abyss, how do we get to the other side? YES! WE BUILD A BRIDGE!

So, let’s talk strategy for a moment. We are under siege. When a person aspiring to the highest office in the nation speaks, he, or she, sets the tone. In this campaign, permission was given to turn off empathy. And, even worse, encouragement was given for patriarchy to raise its ugly head again. With our backs to the wall, we have no choice but to put our energies into keeping ourselves, and each other, safe. The problem is that this effort takes effort away from the critical work of making fundamental changes, which is exactly what our harassers want. So as we get attacked and endangered, let us refuse to lose sight of the geo-political underpinnings of the racism, violence and discrimination directed at us. 

Here are a few illustrations of what’s beneath the surface of the bigotry: The continual attack on women’s reproductive rights takes a toll on our efforts to fight for equal pay for equal work, paid maternity and sick leave, affordable childcare. Mass incarceration of black people, and the related police brutality, has a deep structure agenda to prevent full enfranchisement and full employment. The cruel deportations in the Latinx community are connected to the fear of changing demographics that could transform the political picture. It is very possible that this administration’s top echelon might end up being 100% anti-gay! We could say our social gains are a hair’s breadth away from being eliminated. 

As a Muslim, I know that Islamophobia is not new. Over the years, millions of dollars have been invested to foment Islamophobia. The tactic is to show Muslims as disloyal and dangerous. This has made every Muslim in this country feel attacked and unsafe. Why is this happening? The deep structure of Islamophobia is also rooted in geo-political realities. Just look at how the world has changed in the last two decades. Fundamental to this change is that the manufactured fear of Muslims has allowed for immense escalation of military spending and the launching of cruel wars in the Middle East. These wars have thoroughly destabilized the region and have wiped out the cultural histories of Muslim countries like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, not to mention 1000’s and 1000’s dead. Other Muslim countries are also targeted, notably Iran and Pakistan, and justice for Palestine is nowhere in sight. And what about the millions of homeless, stateless refugees? Here’s the hard truth: we Americans cause the wars that create refugees, but we are not willing to take responsibility for the humanitarian crisis that follows. We should continually keep this mantra in mind: The military-industrial-financial complex thrives on destabilization, and the chugging of the war machine!

Even while we are under personal attack, we cannot forget the larger issues that urgently need our attention: fair wages and economic equality, universal healthcare, affordable housing, debt-free education, a sensible energy policy, bringing an end to nuclear weapons and a constant state of war. Divisions among us do not make any sense because all of these issues affect all of us. I don’t think I would be exaggerating in saying that we are in such a precarious place that life, as we know it, hangs in the balance. I am counting on the leadership of women today. Words like climate change and global warming can sound distant. But what we are really fighting for is incredibly dear to us: Keeping Earth’s water safe, and protecting this precious, green, sustainable world of ours from permanent harm. For inspiration we have only to look at the great gift of courage we have been given in recent months by our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock. They are the water protectors! They have shown us how to care for the Earth on behalf of our children. It is imperative that we unite, that we organize!

I offer a simple equation: Organize on your issue and show up as allies for other issues. It is a time to show more resolve than we have ever shown before. 100’s of thousands are marching today all over the USA and all over the world to show just that resolve! I invite you, in the presence of a higher power, to declare with me, so loudly that Washington DC and the world can hear you: I resolve to make a difference!