Conn College panel encourages local activism, continuing the 'resistance'

Yusef Salaam, left, a motivational speaker and one of the
Yusef Salaam, left, a motivational speaker and one of the "Central Park Five" who were accused of raping and beating a woman in 1989 and exonerated in 2002, speaks while fellow panel member Greisa Martinez, right, advocacy director of the immigrant advocacy group Untied We Dream Network, listens during the Run Toward Fear: Millennial Activism & Social Justice in the Trump Era a "town-hall style gathering" at Connecticut College in New London Monday, April 24, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

New London — At Connecticut College Monday night, four people who have stood personally and symbolically against the forces that helped Donald Trump get elected sat together and offered some advice.

"This is exactly what it's going to take in order for us to push back,"  said Tamika Mallory, who three months ago was speaking to tens of thousands of people at the Women's March on Washington. "Show up in spaces we're not necessarily in all the time, and be able to be uncomfortable and learn."

Mallory, one of the organizers of the Inauguration Day march, joined a panel of speakers who encouraged people angry about Trump's election to run for elective office, to vote, to educate themselves about oppression even if they're not targeted by it, and to talk to their own communities.

The panel, sponsored by the college's Division of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, also featured Greisa Martinez, the advocacy director for the immigrant rights organization United We Dream Network, and Amer F. Ahmed, the director of Intercultural Teaching and Faculty Development at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  They drew a packed house.

Yusef Salaam, one of the so-called “Central Park Five” who became one of Trump’s early targets after he was falsely accused of raping and beating a woman in 1989 New York, joined the panel at the last minute after Shaun King, the activist and New York Daily News writer, canceled because he was ill.

All four reminded the packed audience at the college’s student center of the people that have decided to run for office or become activists since the election — and encouraged them to start locally.

"In your communities, with the people that you spend your time with … I think that's where you find the truth," Martinez said. “Our responsibility is not to let that out of our sight.”

In a conversation that swung quickly between poetry, history lessons and calls for new faces in activism, the panelists never landed on one answer to questions about what progressivism will look like with Trump in the White House.

But Mallory struck an optimistic tone, tempered by the acknowledgment that many white liberals may not have yet accepted their role in Trump’s rise.

“We are speaking truth to power and we are unafraid to tell people, particularly white people, ‘You have helped us to get into this situation that we're in right now,’” she said. “Unless you own that and say, ‘I am a central part of the problem and the solution,’ we will not get anywhere.”

Ahmed — a poet and a native of what he called “flyover country” in Ohio — reminded the audience that rhetoric against immigrants and nonwhite Americans did not appear in 2016.

“People have been given permission to go to the worst parts of themselves … but this is not new,” he said. “Race has been used … to pit us against one another. If we're treating each other like garbage, that’s the world we're going to live in.

Martinez recommended more engagement, not less, as one of the antidotes to the political forces they oppose.

"Every single one of you have a reason to run for office,” she said, drawing applause. “Every single one of you have a reason ... to elect someone you believe in. You need to show up, and you need to think beyond 2018.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

People listen to the panel members speak during the Run Toward Fear: Millennial Activism & Social Justice in the Trump Era a
People listen to the panel members speak during the Run Toward Fear: Millennial Activism & Social Justice in the Trump Era a "town-hall style gathering" at Connecticut College in New London Monday, April 24, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments