Forced into action by a vicious anti-Muslim rally meant to stop construction of a downtown Islamic Center, on September 11 thousands of people took to the streets of New York to say no to racism.
The Unity & Solidarity Rally march stretching back three blocks, disappearing into the horizon. By any estimate, the people who came out against racism and bigotry far outnumbered the Tea Party crowd.
What organizers of the anti-racist march found most striking was how their experience invalidated the poll reporting 70% in favor of moving the Islamic Center.
The group organizing the anti-Center rally had considerable resources to organize with – enough money to buy bus ads from the MTA and feature a huge jumbotron screen at the rally. The Tea Party itself is bankrolled by the oil-billionaire Koch brothers.
In addition, the racists’ rally received free daily nonstop media coverage, as every politician from the New York governor to electoral candidates weighed in, most unable to stand up against the anti-Muslim campaign.
The New York Times and other media regularly published the names of speakers who would attend the anti-mosque rally — right-wing, big-name media personalities who were chosen specifically to draw attention to the demonstration.
By contrast, press conferences by the Unity & Soldarity Rally held to publicize its September 11 rally were attended by dozens of media; but coverage of those same press conferences were pushed out of the airwaves as the corporate-owned media focused on the circus in Gainesville, Fla, where a bigoted pastor threatened to burn Qur’ans on September 11.
The issue became an outrageous drama in the days leading up to September 11. The racists got all the free publicity they could want. Every time the bigoted Florida pastor uttered a word, the media covered it. Billionaire Donald Trump inserted himself into the fray. Every online news site featured a poll on the issue. Talk about a recruitment bonanza!
With promotion like this, the 70% of citizens who supposedly wanted the center moved should have been doubly and triply galvanized to get into the streets and protest.
But this phenomenon never materialized – at least not like the right wing claimed it would.
Sara Flounders, IAC co-coordinator and an organizer of Saturday’s rally, said “The point is not that the anti-Muslim and Tea Party movements aren’t dangerous. The cab driver whose neck was slashed and all the other hate crimes nationwide showed that.
- “The point is that the movement against racism was more easily organized into the streets – with no budget, less time to organize and far less media coverage.”
And the progressive rally gained support not only against an anti-Muslim drumbeat. It grew against a related media campaign insisting that any protest held on September 11 would be disrespectful.
All of this shows potential for building the kind of movement that the scapegoating campaign was trying to deflect, especially if we act now and capitalize on the momentum.
- “We brought out the real New York City — a city of workers and peoples of color from all around the world,” Larry Holmes of the Bail Out the People Movement said on Saturday.
“This mobilization started because we were forced to defend our Muslim sisters and brothers. It will continue because we have to open up the struggle against war, against racism, and for jobs, education and health care. There is much more to fight for and now we all know who we can count on.”
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