A group of NYC council members knelt on the steps of City Hall yesterday. The action was a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who are protesting police brutality and racial injustice in America. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
Donning a black “IAmWithKap” t-shirt under a striped fitted blazer while holding up a red San Francisco 49ers jersey with Colin Kaepernick’s name and number inscribed on the back, Councilman Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn) led a group of council members in a “Kneel In” on the steps of City Hall yesterday morning, just days after President Trump called out demonstrations in the NFL.
The group of about 15 city officials joined together to display unity against the president’s tweets, which called the action of kneeling during the presentation of the National Anthem a “disrespect of our country,” and suggested that the NFL owners should get any “son of a bitch,” who doesn’t stand off the field.
“This here today was a protest,” council member Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) said. “It was perhaps silent but it speaks volume in the action we are taking.”
This form of protest began back in 2016, when Kaepernick chose to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of the recent rise of police brutality against African-Americans in the US. The now free agent became the league’s unofficial symbol for the cause for police reform and civil rights for minorities.
“Protesting is probably the most American thing that one can do,” Williams said. “It is in fact the only thing that has ever propelled this country to move forward. Everything we have enjoyed from this country has come from protesting.”
The city officials demonstrating the right to protest also brought light to the lack of attention the president is directing toward Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. They said his focus on NFL players’ right to protest is a distraction from more pressing concerns. One council member even alluded to racism being the reason for the president’s hesitation to devote more attention to the Caribbean island.
“The struggle for racial justice, which we are honoring by taking a knee today, is not narrowing about policing because obviously we have systematic racism in our housing, segregation in schooling and now even in our hurricane relief response,” Councilman Brett Lander (D-Brooklyn) said.
Lander, along with Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens,) were just a few of the leaders who showed support for their minority colleagues whose cause they said they are able to empathize with.
“I stand as an ally. Obviously I am not a person of color, but I feel that white people, myself included, need to stand up for this cause and need to remember how it all started, which is an action against police brutality and the experience that people of color experience, oftentimes at the hands of police,” Dromm said to the crowd outside City Hall.
Andy King (D-Bronx,) also believes that the president and others who are not directly affected have an obligation to the ones who are.
“I will ask Donald Trump, live a day in a black man’s shoes, live a day in a Hispanic’s shoes, you’ll have different perspective of the world because you were born with a spoon in your mouth,” King said.
For African American councilmembers, this cause is a personal one, but they know that not unlike the dozens of other civil rights marches and causes that have occurred in this country, this one will also begin and end with the act of nonviolent protest.
“When this started months ago, many of us made it clear that this was not about the flag, this is not about patriotism,” Williams said. “This is about a system of supremacy, a system of oppressive policy that has been around a long time, and many people have tried to use patriotism to stop people from protesting and we’ve said that that will not last.”
Attendees and protestors hold huge banners that read “No To Rouhani, Time for A Free Iran,” in response to the Iranian president’s visit to the U.N. General Assembly today. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
A man wearing a red cap that states “Make Syria War-Free Again,” along with a group of African Americans wearing “Incarcerated Lives Matter” T-shirts and a protester holding a sign that claims, “Qatar Is Supportive of Global Extremism” are amid the sea of fluorescent yellow visors, T-shirts and signs that read ‘Free Iran’ in front of the United Nations Plaza this morning.
As their world leaders convened a few steps away at the 2017 United Nations General Assembly, the hundreds of protesters congregated on the steps of the U.N. Plaza to protest for the sociopolitical and human rights issues that have arisen in the Middle East and domestically in the U.S.
The Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) put together this demonstration as a direct response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the annual convention of leaders. The mission for the OIAC is to support and suggest a third option when dealing with U.S. negotiations with Iran by building a groundwork for a “democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic” in their native country, according to the group’s mission statement.
“I am not surprised that so many people of different races and cultures come to this event each year,” said Homeira Hesami, an organizer for OIAC for the past 30 years. “Iran’s problem (with searching for democracy) isn’t just Iran’s problem, it’s a universal issue.”
Hesami, along with the hundreds of other Iranian-Americans gathered, is part of the resistance group called the People of Mujahedin of Iran led by Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam, who have been fighting this battle since the 1988. The group began after thousands of Iranians were persecuted and killed after the Iranian Revolution in 1978, which overthrew then-king of Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi.
“We have had a resistance for decades against this administration and the ones before,” Hesami said. “I’m glad that President Trump is strong against this Iranian government when it comes to nuclear weapons.”
The melting pot of resistance and aggression displayed against their respective governments is a reaction to recent events and negotiations by U.N. leaders.
Nuhanad Alhasani, 50, is a Syrian-American who has been coming to this rally for the past 15 years, this time with a sign the size of his person, which starts with the line, “What is happening in Syria is not a ‘crisis’ or a ‘civil war’ or a ‘conflict between the regime and the opposition.’ It is the revolution of a people who want to live in dignity.”
“Syria’s (neighboring countries) want to recycle Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even if he kills everyone,” Alhasani said in response to the recent attacks on the Syrian people by their government, which has been largely supported by the Iranian and Russian regimes.
For 52-year-old K.C. Zang, an Iranian-American, this is rally is an annual tradition for him and his wife, who travel down to the city from New Jersey each fall.
“We come here every year, in hopes that the U.S. government can help and support us in creating a regime change in Iran,” Zang said. “Whether that help is through congress or senate, it doesn’t matter.”
The day’s events began with a drum and music performance and continued with a slew of remarks from Iranian leaders and notable members of the Tri-State community, including pastors, senators, ambassadors and scholars.
One of the members of the religious community present was Bobbie Dant from the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn.
“I’ve been coming to this event every year,” Dant said. “This issue of freedom from a dictatorial government is collective for us all.”
A DACA rally in San Francisco. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, used under Creative Commons.
A panel of Latino leaders met yesterday at New York University’s Law School to discuss their governance in the age of Trump after the president announced the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill on Sept. 5.
Withdrawal from this policy would put almost 800,000 undocumented young adults at risk of deportation, one of them being Peter Hernandez, who feels like the Latino community hasn’t done enough for him and the hundreds of thousands of DREAMers alike.
“I wish they could convince and advocate more for us and talk more to the Republican senators – tell and share our stories with them so they can know what kind of people we are,” Hernandez said. “We are not bad people and we’re just here so we can make a life for ourselves and we’re doing everything right.”
The bill, which was enacted in 2012 by an executive order during President Obama’s last term, is an immigration policy that allows minors like Hernandez, who initially entered the U.S. illegally, an opportunity to receive legal delayed action from deportation as well as eligibility for a work permit for a period of two years, with option for renewal.
The Oaxaca native moved to Texas with his mother, father and sister at the age of seven. His father began working as a landscaper and his mother sold items at the local flea market. Hernandez applied for the DACA program after he graduated from college, the year it went into law.
“The things I think students are most concerned about (in Latino representation) is that some of the folks who are in charge are the same ones that were in charge when I was college and at some point the different civil rights communities need to make space for other (racial communities),” said Myrna Perez, a member of the panel, hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice and an adjunct faculty at both Columbia and NYU law schools. “People are upset that there is not room for them to grow, not that there isn’t space.”
Perez, along with her colleagues, believe that the journey to representation in the Latino community is going to be an incremental one but that even the small victories should be feted.
One of the people actively leading the charge for undocumented students like Hernandez is 21-year-old Jessica Calderon. The NYU student has been at the forefront of the fight for immigration advocacy, and now DACA.
As a first generation Peruvian-American, Calderon felt the need to fill a void in her community. The politics and Latin American studies major has worked for a slew of nonprofits here in New York City and at NYU Washington D.C. as a part of her study abroad program.
“Working with these DACA applicants last summer sort of changed my life, and after that, I knew I wanted to go into a profession where I can serve the immigrant community,” Calderon said after her months spent filling applications for roughly 20 DACA recipients.
For Calderon, it’s not the number of Latino leaders in power that is the issue in their community, but the ideology and policies that they set forth.
“A lot of times, the people that are representing us, the Latino ‘elites,’ are not representative of our entire community, the most vulnerable of our community,” Calderon said. “For example, a Marco Rubio is not representing a low-income, undocumented worker’s needs. It’s crazy that we believe we won the battle once we get (Latino members) into congress, but really we need to get (our community) to vote on the ideas towards progressive change.”
A photo of a memorial reunion at O’Hara’s Restaurant & Pub in Lower Manhattan. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
It was a dissonantly quiet Monday morning in Lower Manhattan. Bartenders at O’Hara’s Restaurant & Pub silently cut limes and lemons and placed them in plastic containers to later garnish the drinks of the almost 6,000 patrons that were expected to walk into the pub that day. The Battery Park watering hole normally opens at 11 a.m. on weekdays, but on this day, for the past 16 years, they unlocked their doors at 8 a.m. in honor of the attacks on the Twin Towers.
Tri-State area natives and tourists alike began to slowly stumble into the bar, located on the corner of Greenwich and Cedar streets, and as they sipped on their cold Bud Lights and Heinekens, each person participated in a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. to commemorate the tragic moment the first plane hit the north tower.
Two of the first patrons in are Paul Fischer and his son, Frank, who have been coming to O’Hara’s from Union Beach, New Jersey, for the past 16 years. The father and son were some of the first volunteers who came over on the ferry from the Garden State to help join the rescue efforts in the piles and rubble throughout the days following the attacks.
“It’s going to be crazy in here in a little bit,” Fischer said, preparing himself for the bittersweet day ahead. “You won’t be able to get to the bathroom.”
For Fischer, a member of New Jersey’s Sheriff’s office, O’Hara’s represents a tradition for him and his son: a place where he knows almost everyone who walks in and where almost every one of his drinks is on someone else’s tab.
Among the roughly 2,750 people who died that Tuesday morning, many were regulars of O’Hara’s, whether it was for an after-work drink with a colleague or on their lunch break for a burger and fries.
“This place used to a happy-hour destination for those who worked in the area,” said Eric Tremaine, a bartender at O’Hara’s. “But everything changed after that day. This place represents so much more.”
The eatery and bar, which first opened its doors in 1983, was also a victim of the attacks, with most of its first and second floors being demolished and left uninhabitable. Fortunately, there were no casualties for any of the staff, who hid down in the basement when the first plane hit. The infamous Irish bar restored and opened its door back to the shaken and grieving community seven months later.
On the first anniversary of the attacks, a New York Firefighter’s badge was ripped off of his shirt and stapled onto the wooden walls of O’Hara’s – by the end of that night there were around 250 embroidered patches and badges covering the walls. Today, the bar proudly displays over 6,000 insignias, which have been gifted from law enforcement officers and firefighters from across the country.
For any newcomers, the traditional Irish bar has two scrapbooks underneath the beer taps that highlight the days, weeks and years since the attack. The lamented pages show the initial damage, the months of repair and rebuilding and the ensuing commemorative events that have followed. Amongst the photographs and news articles detailing the tragic events are letters from patrons, who left the establishment with a sense of understanding of the significance of that day for O’Hara’s and the community that surrounds it.
One family, who traveled from Oak View, Calif. wrote to the owners and said, “Thank you so much for your place and what you stand for.”
The four coordinated attacks that occurred on this day almost a decade and a half ago seem to still ring through the lives of those directly affected and the country as a whole, but for O’Hara’s, it represents a day where anyone who lost something or someone can come, have a pint of Guinness and reminisce on how far they’ve come.
“If you went to my funeral, I would want it to be like this,” Tremaine said as he looked around at the people gathered to remember the lives lost. “I would want you to enjoy and celebrate my life and that is kind of what today is for this place.”