I started writing this piece a week ago, because I knew it would be hard and I would need extra time.
I started by reading what I wrote in the immediate aftermath–reeling with shock and sadness and begging people to stop arguing about gun control and terrorists for just a day; to please just give us one single day to mourn first–and I immediately knew that I was right. This was going to be hard. Really hard.
For one thing, the shock and horror haven’t healed all the way. This was a gay club, called Pulse, on Latino night, in a major U.S. city. 49 people were killed, and 53 injured. It lasted for hours, as it was more or less a hostage situation, and people were desperately trying to run and hide and get out. I read one man’s texts to his mother before he died, hiding in the bathroom, saying “Mommy I love you.” It rips me apart to even type it out. These were 49 individual worlds lost, with concentric circles rippling out from them of family, friends, partners, coworkers, and neighbors who suffered a tragic, traumatic loss. And on a grander scale, there were whole communities traumatized by this loss; LGBTQ and Latin-American and black folks and more.
I am a bisexual woman of color, with a Latin-American partner. Perhaps my identity and my connections made this tragedy something extra to me. But whatever the reason, this was the most frightening moment I’d had since 9/11, and until the Portland attacks two weeks ago. After 9/11, I was only in 6th grade, but I was aware enough to be terrified both of my school being bombed or rammed with a plane, and also to be afraid of the people who were attacking Middle Eastern communities in the wake of it. After Pulse, I spent weeks being terrified on my commute through downtown, jumping at loud noises, and in general feeling extremely distrustful. And it was the same double terror–what if there is another extremist attack, and what if there is backlash in the wake of the incident against anyone who looks Middle Eastern?
But on top of the fear and sadness –a wound still too fresh–it’s also hard to see what has happened in the year since. Donald Trump’s first comment on the attack was to tweet:
Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
“49 lives were just lost in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history and my takeaway is ‘told ya so’ and also ‘let’s use this as an excuse for a Muslim ban.'”
We were all outraged at this reaction at the time, and in the year since, not only have we learned that the attacker was a homegrown terrorist–born just about a mile away from Donald Trump himself–but we’ve also been through two introduced (and struck down) Muslim bans, and there are surely more to come. We’ve seen a growing wave of hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs, other Middle Eastern folks, and even against South Asian people who are mistaken for Middle Eastern. Two men were murdered on a train in my own city two weeks ago, and a third injured, for stepping in to defend two young women of color (one with a hijab) against a racist attack. This incident is being used as part of the spread of hate and violence against people who look like the Orlando attacker, or who worship the same God.
We’ve also seen Trump’s policies affect those who look, love, and live like the victims. ICE terrorizes immigrant communities in Trump’s America. We’ve seen attempts to revamp “religious freedom,” which is used to discriminate against LGBTQ folks (and against people’s reproductive rights). We’ve seen a famously anti-LGBTQ vice president nominated and put into office. We’ve seen healthcare ripped from the hands of 23 million Americans, who will likely be disproportionately poor/working class, people of color, disabled, women, and the very young and very old. And that growing wave of hate crimes affecting Middle Eastern and Muslim people is also affecting LGBTQ & Latin-Americans as well.
A year after Orlando, we’ve only seen hate continue to increase. A 20% increase in hate crimes in 2016, mostly since the election and mostly targeting Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, black, and Latino folks, shows how emboldened these extremists have become in the wake of Trump’s rise to power. How can we stop these people? How can we destroy their confidence? How can we remind them that the people of this country won’t stand for racist hate and terrorism; that we will fight back and that they should be afraid and ashamed to speak and act this way?
June 4th 2017, just a week after the Portland attacks, the far right gathered for a “free speech” rally in downtown Portland. 3 Percenters, Oath Keepers, and other right-wing groups gathered from around the country to join them. And Portland–still hurt, still terrified both of the extremists and of the police, and still entirely unsure what to do–pushed back. Thousands of us gathered across the street and drowned them out with music, speakers, and chants like “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” We gathered in this public space–our space–and saw each other there, standing up against hate. We saw that we’re not alone; that masses of people will stand up to defend us. We honored the victims–the heroes–and the girls they were protecting. We spoke of how to change things; how to rid our town, our country and our world of racist hate, and fear, and oppression. We spoke of hope and we spoke truth and we listened and we sang and we honored and we cried, and we all left feeling not only that we’d taken a step to actually do something; to take power over these forces that sometimes seem unstoppable, but also feeling a sense of solidarity with our community. And that was more powerful than I can explain.
A lot of us also left that day knowing we belonged to an organization, or with a better idea of which ones we could join, to keep this organizing and protesting and rallying and solidarity going. My organization was part of the planning committee for this rally, and we left with a major boost in confidence in our tactics, our organizing, and our politics. We felt this was a great learning experience for us and a model we could work from for future efforts. And personally, I felt a renewed sense of confidence in my own contributions to changing society for the better; a reassurance that what I was doing–the hours and hours of labor and meetings and reading and organizing that I put in every week; the hard work of building a movement–was actually worth it; was actually helping.
I believe this is the place to start for stopping far-right extremism. I believe we need to demonstrate a people’s movement; show them that we are organizing and that we are brave and strong and that we have principles we are determined to stand by. We need to show them that the heroism of the men who died or were injured defending those girls on the Portland train was not unusual, but that there are many, many more of us where they came from and that we will continue to stand up to them. We need to demonstrate that regardless of our color, creed, religion or background we have solidarity with one another and will continue to stand up for our communities. We need to show them that an attack on one of us–LGBTQ, Muslim, Latin-American, black, Native, disabled, women, children, Middle Eastern, white, Asian, undocumented, ex-cons, immigrants, and so on and so on–is an attack on all of us.
We need to show them that we are many, and they are few.
‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.’
-The Mask of Anarchy, Percy Bysshe Shelley
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda L. Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A. Aracena Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simón Adrian Carrillo Fernández, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Jean Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodríguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano-Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Yilmary Rodríguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, 37 years old
Luis Sergio Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velázquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old