ICE and Alexandria: What we’ve learned so far

by Jonathan Krall (Grassroots Alexandria) and Mia Taylor (Tenants and Workers United)

A small group of activists, representing Tenants and Workers United, the Advancement Project, and Grassroots Alexandria, met with representatives from the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office in November, 2017, to better understand the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bad news is that the Sheriff’s Office is voluntarily collaborating with ICE. The good news (or not-as-bad news) is that we can – and must – take straightforward steps to protect all Alexandrians and keep families together. Here is some of what we’ve learned so far and steps you can take to help. Continue reading “ICE and Alexandria: What we’ve learned so far”

Celebrating a Year of Grassroots Alexandria: Why Grassroots Activism Matters More Than Ever

by Kate Watters

Last week I attended an international conference for civil society organizations from countries that are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I was there representing my organization, Crude Accountability, which protects environmental and human rights in communities impacted by oil and gas development. Drawing in part on my experience in Grassroots Alexandria, I described the decaying human rights situation in the US, a description that stunned my colleagues from the other OSCE countries. But there is a silver lining. We in the US are witnessing the last gasp, a painfully prolonged gasp, of the old white patriarchy. By stepping up for equality, justice, and representation for all, we are expanding and strengthening the beautiful patchwork quilt that is our population and our future. Continue reading “Celebrating a Year of Grassroots Alexandria: Why Grassroots Activism Matters More Than Ever”

Trump Normalizing Hate and Islamophobia

by Zeina Azzam

Although Donald Trump’s latest anti-Muslim tweets elicited criticism from some sectors of American society, it is clear that people have come to expect this type of pejorative opinion from the president. Many seem to have decided, perhaps in a resigned fashion, to dismiss his disparaging tweets about African Americans, women, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ folks, and more, with responses like “There he goes again,” or “He’s just not going to change”—and the conversation falters. But what is happening is that Trump is succeeding in normalizing hate speech about minorities. He has given license to racists, misogynists, and many who are prejudiced against religious, ethnic, LGBTQ, disabled, and other minorities to speak up and spew their hate in the media, at rallies, and in their local communities.

In his election victory speech in November 2016, Trump asserted, “I will be president for all Americans.” We now see that his words and his deeds are, too often, hypocritical and disingenuous.

The latest flap involves Trump retweeting anti-Muslim propaganda videos posted by Britain First, a British ultranationalist hate group. British Prime Minister Theresa May characterized this fringe group as seeking “to divide communities by their hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions.” Meanwhile, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, praised Trump’s actions.

It is stunning to think that such ideas have pervaded the echelons of power in the United States, all the way up to the president—one who has a consistent history of Islamophobic and anti-Muslim statements and actions. This has heightened the stereotyping of Muslims in this country as the violent Other, the unwelcome terrorist.

Psychology tells us that stereotyping leads to prejudice, which then leads to discrimination. The history of the treatment of African Americans in the United States is an example of these linkages and underscores the painful reality of the course of hatred. American Muslims are now in the hot seat, along with other minorities. The latest discriminatory practice by the Trump administration is the infamous “Muslim ban,” where residents of several Muslim majority countries are now prohibited from entering the United States.

The president’s retweets caused consternation internationally as well as nationally. The executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an American Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, said that, “President Trump’s actions are putting the lives and safety of American Muslim children and families at risk.”

CAIR defines Islamophobia as “a close-minded hatred, fear or prejudice toward Islam and Muslims that results in discrimination, marginalization and oppression.” Muslim men, women, and children are affected as well as “those who share characteristics that have been racialized as ‘Muslim’” such as Sikhs, Christian Arabs, and others. Islamophobia dehumanizes Muslims and “their heterogeneous cultures, beliefs, customs and practices.” It originates in and is stoked by the media, political rhetoric, violent extremists who purport to act in the name of Islam, American foreign policy, and powerful hate groups, like the influential Islamophobia network.

In Virginia, almost 46 percent of the state’s population (about 8.4 million) identifies as affiliated with a religion, and of those, 2.52 percent identify as Muslims. This means that there are approximately 97,000 Muslims in our state. These are our colleagues and friends and neighbors and we must support them. At the same time, we have to understand that active anti-Muslim hate groups have proliferated in the United States; statistics from 2016 show that their numbers have spiked. They are now operating from nearby places like Leesburg, Vienna, Henrico, and Virginia Beach. Although notions of white supremacy and Islamophobia have been around for a long time, there is no doubt that their adherents have been emboldened to organize and act by Trump and his supporters.

Our work in Grassroots Alexandria is more important now than ever, especially as we stand as allies to vulnerable communities in Virginia. We can help by learning what they need from us, creating awareness of injustices, being proactive in our advocacy efforts, and continuing to work intersectionally. White supremacy and racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and, unfortunately, a host of other far-right and fascist ideologies are growing in our midst. We must remain vigilant, active, and united. We cannot let this become a normalized part of our society. We and our local political leaders must respond loudly.


Thankful for Democracy

by Jonathan Krall

In Grassroots Alexandria, we’ve spent nearly a year fighting for the idea that Democracy thrives when people participate, that there is more to Democracy than the partisans and the professionals, and that Democracy is rewarding. But mostly, it sometimes seems, we’ve been fighting Fascism. Personally, I’ve learned more about Fascism than I ever wanted to know, and I’m glad I have. The more I learn, the more I see how far we’ve gone in that direction. On Thanksgiving Day, 2017, I am thankful that we still live under Democracy.

Democracy is hardly perfect. For one thing, Democracy is where Fascism comes from. Fascism emerges when people vote for a strongman leader to protect them from a threat, usually imagined, and assuage a hardship, usually real. Such votes, and such leaders, do not just happen. They are supported by relentless propaganda. If enough people believe that Muslims and immigrants (and, tellingly, Jews) are a threat to our nation, the vote will give us a strongman. Here in the USA, this has already happened. I am thankful that voters in November 2017 were generally more sensible than in 2016.

Propaganda is essential to Fascism. While vilifying a threatening Other, propaganda spreads lies that can become tools of intimidation. Here in the USA, Fascist thugs can interrogate any of us, while intimating that a wrong answer will get us beaten up. “Do you believe in climate change?” or “what do you think of the Russia thing?” they might ask. Those of us who follow propaganda–and Fox News is the biggest outlet–know the thugs would want us to reply “nothingburger.” We could just play along with the thugs, but at risk to our integrity and self-respect. I am thankful that this intimidation is not yet widespread.

Hate and fear are essential to Fascism. Tiki-torch-wielding Nazis might seem laughable from a distance, but they are frightening in person. So far as I know, it is only through fear that people are cowed into accepting dictatorship. People remain silent to avoid controversy. They accept and repeat lies to avoid violence. Finally, the strongman declares martial law in response to a crisis. I am thankful for the Anti-Fascist movement that has out-shouted White Nationalist hate speech at every turn.

Grassroots Alexandria is relatively gentle. We encourage Democracy as a personal practice and a duty. We educate the public about the threat of Fascism and the danger of silence. Here is a small example. In Alexandria, our government minimizes the use of the term “climate change,” just to avoid controversy. We’ve been doing this for some time. On the Eco City Alexandria web page, “climate change” can be found only in the titles of two very old reports, at the very bottom of the page. Now that the price of silence is clearer, I hope our City Manager will reconsider. It is up to all of us, as best we can, to stand up to intimidation. Over the past year, my friends and neighbors in Grassroots Alexandria have risen to the challenge. We have pressed our political leaders to do the same. I am very, very thankful for their efforts.

Why Restorative Justice Matters

by Sharon Solorzano

The Vulnerable Communities team met this week to view and discuss the documentary “13th,” which researches the dramatic rise of prison populations since 1970. The film exposes the disturbing racism and profiteering behind imprisonment; in fact, according to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”

I expressed frustration that the film educated us, yet left us lacking in direction for what we could do. Jonathan Krall countered that  Grassroots Alexandria is doing something about it, by backing Restorative Justice and Data Transparency Initiatives in the City of Alexandria.

What is Restorative Justice, and why should we care in Grassroots Alexandria? Restorative Justice is an educational philosophy that:

“…empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups, and it’s a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and air their grievances. For the growing number of districts using restorative justice, the programs have helped strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying, and reduce student conflicts. And the benefits are clear: early-adopting districts have seen drastic reductions in suspension and expulsion rates, and students say they are happier and feel safer.” Continue reading “Why Restorative Justice Matters”


by Brian Sando

On August 26, 2016, before the 2016 election, NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem of a preseason game to raise awareness of police brutality and white nationalism. Kaepernick and others are speaking out against mass incarceration and violent policing.

Taking a knee is not about the flag, but is rather a courageous stand for justice. To quote Kaepernick: “I am not going to stand up [during the anthem] for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick and other athletes are exercising their free speech in the context of militarized sporting events. The Department of Defense paid $5.4 million to fourteen NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 for military displays including fly-overs, Jumbotron veteran salutes, and recruiting efforts. Such activity by the Pentagon represents two crucial elements of Fascism: powerful and continuing nationalism, and supremacy of the military.

By taking a knee, we are taking a stand for criminal justice reform and for democracy. As a member of Grassroots Alexandria who is committed to opposing white nationalism, I invite others to join me.

The “Appomattox” statue isn’t history

by Jonathan Krall

Like many other Civil War monuments, the Appomattox statue was erected during the Jim Crow era for the purpose of intimidating African Americans into submitting. In the era of the New Jim Crow, it continues to serve its purpose. It reminds the Black community that they are not yet equal. If African Americans had greater standing in our society, those statues, along with the confederate flags, would be long gone. These Civil War statues aren’t history. They are active players in our modern political arena.

The active presence of white supremacy is all around us. It marched in Charlottesville. It lives in Old Town, in the person of Richard Spencer.  When the nazis in Charlottesville, chanted “You will not replace us; Jews will not replace us,” they were literally saying that only “white” people should hold prominent places in our society. Is it any coincidence that Trump’s shutdown of the DACA program will remove college-educated immigrants from jobs coveted by white supremacists? Instead of accepting white supremacy, we must ensure that these hateful monuments no longer hold prominent places in our society. To be silent is to be complicit. Continue reading “The “Appomattox” statue isn’t history”

Alexandria City Council takes a stand on Healthcare

By Sarah Stott

On September 12, the Alexandria City Council unanimously passed a resolution entitled, “Regarding Affordable and Attainable Health Care in the City of Alexandria: A resolution to protect and expand access to quality, affordable health care services for all Alexandrians.”

After 10 WHEREAS clauses with important background information, the resolution made the following points:

  • The City supports initiatives to improve the Affordable Care Act and to expand Medicaid in VA.
  • The City opposes repeal of ACA, cuts to Medicaid or Medicare and cuts to the Prevention & Public Health Fund.
  • The City requests that the Public Health Advisory Commission keep the City Council informed of changes in State and Federal programs.

This resolution is important at a time when members of Congress are attempting to weaken the Country’s current healthcare system. The Graham-Cassidy bill released last week is a perfect example.
Continue reading “Alexandria City Council takes a stand on Healthcare”

No Is Not Enough

by Jonathan Krall

We follow the daily news with a sense of horror. Some of us tune in to the Politically Reactive podcast, where two comedians help us make sense of the news. Recently, author Naomi Klein, author of No is Not Enough, appeared on that show to remind us that we must do more than simply resist the anti-democratic policies of the current White House.

She spoke about Trump’s “brand.” Trump, she tells us, is selling the idea that “winners” have no limits. They can act with impunity. Giving attention to his individual acts of lawbreaking and rulebreaking helps him build his brand. Instead, she suggests, we must identify and oppose the brand itself. We must direct attention to the moral black hole that that his brand represents. If oligarchs have no limits, then the rest of us have no protection.

Looking at the big picture, Klein suggests that we must present better, moral, ideas in contrast to those of white supremacists and oligarchs. Whether discussing healthcare, the environment, or civil rights, we must expose this simple fact: The Trump “brand” is the destruction of any and all protective safeguards, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, that are the hallmark of civilization. Those of us who believe that government should protect citizens from, for example, poverty in old age, have a duty to act.

The podcast can be heard here. The Naomi Klein interview begins 23 minutes into the podcast.

Anti-Fascist Protest FAQ (frequently asked questions)

by Jonathan Krall

Q: Huh?
A: We in Grassroots Alexandria, along with our allies in Christ Church and other groups, hold rallies to oppose white supremacy and Fascism on the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month. The protests are held at King and Patrick Streets in Old Town, near the residence and offices of our local Nazi, Richard Spencer, and the National Policy Institute. We are often questioned. Here are some answers.

Q: What is Fascism?
A: Robert Paxton, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, defined Fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”

Q: What does white supremacy have to do with Fascism?
A: Similar to the Nazi persecution of Jewish, gay, or other groups of people in Germany, white nationalists in the USA want to deport or lock up Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, African American, and other peoples. Richard Spencer has been clear: he wants to turn the USA into a “white enthno-state.”

Q: Are you disrupting businesses in Old Town? Are you costing them money?
A: Our Anti-Fascist Team volunteers, and our allies, protest for one hour, twice a month, from 12:30 to 1:30pm. To minimize our impact on businesses, we begin on time, end on time, and keep the sidewalk clear.

Continue reading “Anti-Fascist Protest FAQ (frequently asked questions)”