by Abaki Beck
Our Feminist Hero Friday this week is the powerful activist Linda Sarsour. Sarsour’s work is intersectional, feminist, and unapologetically Muslim Palestinian American. She has worked on a wide range of issues, both those directly impacting the Arab American community, as she is the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York; and issues impacting people of color more broadly, as she’s the co-chair of Muslims for Ferguson. Most recently, she was a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of marchers to D.C. to protest the inauguration of Trump and to promote progressive ideals.
Sarsour’s work is deeply grounded in her own Muslim Palestinian American identity, and is focused on racial justice and community empowerment. She works both on the national level and the local level, out of her hometown of New York City (she’s from Brooklyn, to be exact, another fact she likes to make known). She is a co-chair of Muslims for Ferguson, a group formed in support of Michael Brown and Black Lives Matter; and a co-founder of MPower Change, an online activist community centered on engaging Muslims on issues that impact their own communities and others (such as Standing Rock). Indeed, much of her work is not only focused on the difference she as an individual can make in movements for justice, but on empowering others to be involved as well.
Professionally, she is the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. This organization provides social services to Arab Immigrants and Arab Americans in New York, including adult education, youth development, and assistance for undocumented immigrants. She was active in getting New York City to incorporate two Muslim high holidays into their public school system calendar, the largest public school system in the U.S.
One crucial aspect to her activism is the role of love; love of herself, her community, and her children. Sarsour reflects:
“My love for my people is never going to end until the day that I’m not on this earth anymore...I want to be in spaces where there is something I can feel right now, versus hope which is something you’re looking forward to but you don’t exactly know what’s going on...we wouldn’t be here if there was no love.”
Watch or listen to her full remarks on radial love here:
Most recently, Sarsour was one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, a solidarity and political action event held on January 21 that attracted at least 500,000 marchers to D.C, and millions more in sister events across the nation and world. In her powerful speech from the event, she discussed the importance of intersectionality and supporting other marginalized communities. She also reminded the crowd that Muslims suffered a Muslim registry and banning of Muslims from entering the country under the Bush and Obama administrations - this Islamaphobia and dehumanization was not just an idea from Trump, though his campaign depended on it. She was explicitly and unapologetically Muslim and Palestinian American. In reaction her speech, bigots on the internet began attacking her and spreading lies that she was connected to terrorists, supported Sharia law, and was anti-Semetic. After being prompted by Sarsour, her fans began the hashtag #IMarchwithLinda to support her and overpower the internet violence she faced. It soon became a trending topic on Twitter.
Her full remarks are below:
“I will respect the presidency, but I will not accept this president of the United States of America.”
Trump recently signed a violent executive order temporarily banning refugees from Muslim majority nations, including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Yemen. Since he was elected, hate crimes have increased. His campaign was fueled by hate and and Islamaphobic statements thinly veiled under the guise of “protection from terrorists.” Activists like Linda Sarsour - and the voices and communities she works to empower - will become even more important to listen to and stand by in the coming months.
There is little representation of Muslims or Palestinians in U.S. social culture; they are most often vilified and dehumanized. Sarsour’s work is significant not only because of the impact it has on Muslim and Arab communities in the U.S. - but also because she herself is a proud, Muslim Palestinian American. Beyond political advocacy or organizing, this simple fact of unapologetic visibility is crucial in racial justice work. It is a reminder that Muslims and Palestinian Americans are here, are important, and are will be heard.