Unlikely Run-In Builds a Coalition
by Ethan Felder
Mar 14, 2017 | 10764 views | 0 0 comments | 372 372 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was an encounter that ordinarily would not have occurred. Despite the packed crowds and density of life in New York, we very much inhabit self-selected bubbles.

We show up to offices with colleagues that look, talk, think and act like ourselves. We inhabit distinctive neighborhoods that shroud the socioeconomic diversity of this cosmopolitan city.

Those who are privileged increasingly self-segregate into enclaves that provide the comforts of commonality.

But the new age of activism has the potential to change this dynamic, where the public square of protest creates a platform for social mixing. This groundswell of activism creates opportunity for deeper dialogue and higher levels of social cohesion.

As was the case for so many, the election of President Donald Trump brought a sudden obligatory call to activist citizenship. There could be no sitting on the sidelines in this extraordinary and dangerous moment in history.

Before long, I attended my third post-election protest, a labor protest on a cold blustery afternoon. I stood and occasionally joined the chanting until a sprightly woman wearing a hijab inquired if I belonged to the union organizing the rally.

She passed along her business card. Little did I know the consequence of that seemingly forgettable interaction.

For the next two weeks, Mazeda Uddin and I would organize the diverse Queens Coalition for Solidarity. The thought of organizing a rally in my home neighborhood of Forest Hills had been on mind that week. It was Mazeda who reached out to me after our encounter to put it into action.

Her distinctive drive for activism, justice, and standing in the Muslim-American community made for an ideal partner in this endeavor. Never before was I pushed, prodded, instructed, and cajoled on the finer points of coalition building and community organizing.

The grueling work would end with dinner at her home in Jamaica Hills, a neighborhood I never had reason to visit.

Mazeda spoke about how wearing a hijab now felt like a crime for many Muslim-Americans. She eloquently framed the issue as a personal choice of dress all women make daily.

It encapsulated one of the themes for our rally: the duality of our celebrated individual identities and shared values in citizenship. This would be a rally for solidarity, democracy, and the shared values that allowed Mazeda and I to band together in spite of our differences

Within ten days, 25 organizations had joined the coalition and elected officials from across the city asked to attend and speak.

When it took place on February 26, it featured emerging young leaders who exuded the virtues of active citizenship and resiliency in these dark and uncertain times.

The power of a few determined citizens to send a powerful message of solidarity in the most diverse place on the planet is remarkable, even for a preternatural idealist.

Ethan Felder is co-organizer of the Queens Stands Together Rally.

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