“It’s ironic,” I thought, as I pedaled furiously along the Midtown Greenway, “that I spent so much emotional energy being outraged at the news of the travel ban, and yet lost track of time at the end of the day and am late to protest.” This is the reality and danger of the citizen’s experience: you want to make a stand, to show your support, or to make your voice heard, but you also have other responsibilities. Working out your schedule and balancing your commitments is part of life, and it’s essential if you want to have time to participate in politics or activism. As I stood outside the Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar Riverside, chanting my support for my Muslim neighbors, I also realized that showing up is a choice for me. I’m white and male, and can decide I don’t have the time or energy to participate in social justice, and not feel the repercussions. As I heard the impassioned, angry, and urgent stories from Somali-American leaders, parents, and youth, I was reminded that for many, speaking against social injustice is as essential to their lives as breathing; they have to fight for the right to be citizens.
Representative Ilhan Omar organized Resisting the Muslim Ban on Sunday in response to Trump’s executive order banning citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It was a powerful call to action to the Twin Cities community and provided legal guidance and community support for any family at risk of being split up or blocked out of their country. In many ways, the message of the meeting wasn’t for me, but as we were repeatedly told, our presence sent a powerful message: “Thank you. Thank you for showing up. For witnessing.” And yet, while watching a twelve year old Somali boy be empowered to speak about his experiences being cast as violent and criminal by society was moving and energizing, it also showed me that their experience wasn’t new, and that my showing up at that moment, besides providing assurance and solidarity, was not enough.
But what can an ally do? For me, this has been a longstanding question. As our political world changes around us, it is hard to feel like we’re producing tangible change with actions. Protests are powerful symbols, but are finite. I’m not a legislator. I can only sign so many email petitions day. What I want, though, is to make a meaningful difference.
I was sent a very strong message on Sunday at the community center: COMMIT. To something. Something locally operated and that addresses the issues you care about. There are great organizations out there already, doing important work that addresses issues of racial justice, environmental justice, identity politics, and anything else you are passionate about, and they are doing it in ways that affect you and your neighbor. Commit to one of those organizations and work with them. Commit to taking the time to write or call your representatives at all levels to hold them accountable. And if you can’t commit time, commit money, and donate. But if you can, JUST SHOW UP, look your community in the eye, and see how you can help. Show up once, and then show up the next time. Commit to that group, that cause, and find out how you can push it forward in your community.
This is what Our Revolution is designed to do! Our Revolution connects you to local events, information, and organizations needed to make our communities better for everyone who lives in them. If you’re reading this, you’ve already showed up, at least digitally. Check out our upcoming events, and take that next step.