As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office on Friday, it has left many people asking questions about their futures in this country. What will happen if a Muslim registry is created? What will happen if massive amounts of Latinos are deported and families are broken up? What does a Trump presidency mean for the black, gay, and Hmong communities? What is needed to protect the most vulnerable? How can we help each other?
If and when Donald Trump’s administration follows up on some of its election promises, there has to be a plan for those people who will be affected. And there must be unity. “We’re getting ready for unknown policies after Jan. 20,” says Masood Akhtar, a prominent and outspoken member of Madison’s Muslim community. “Nobody really knows what those policies will be and how we need to respond to those policies. So we need to be well-prepared. All of the people that will be affected by this have to work together to send a message that we are going to keep America united, rather than divided.”
Akhtar knows that for marginalized groups, there is great power in numbers. On Sunday, Jan. 29, at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, he will be part of a committee that will host “United We Stand,” a city-wide gathering to support Madison’s immigrant residents in the face of potential attacks by the next administration.
“A lot of policies are going to be created both here in Wisconsin and also nationally that are going to affect all of us,” Akhtar tells Madison365 in an interview at Swagat Indian Restaurant on Madison’s west side. “One of the ideas that we will be exploring as part of this exercise is to create a bi-partisan Wisconsin ‘anti-hate caucus’ with representatives from both parties. It has to be a bi-partisan effort. That is key. You have to have leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Then, we will engage on a more regular basis.
“My experiences has been that these kind of caucuses have been created for some of these policy issues both in Wisconsin and nationally but they are kind of inactive. They are idle,” he adds. “This is not the way we want to get this started. We want a more interactive and bi-partisan group.”
Representatives from a variety of diverse groups are expected to participate in “United We Stand,” the first initiative of its kind, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Voces de la Frontera and the Council on American Islamic Relations. Akhtar says that he has invited Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, Congressional Rep. Mark Pocan, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and John W. Vaudreuil, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. “I have extended invitations to all of them to be at the event,” Akhtar says. “So we will see.”
The three-hour event will include a discussion of how allies can support individuals in vulnerable communities and for communities to be more inclusive. They will provide information on the legal rights of immigrants, the perspectives of local, state and national elected officials and how people can help each other in the difficult times ahead.
Akhtar is organizing “United We Stand” with a committee of community leaders including Madison alders Samba Baldeh, Barbara McKinney, and David Ahrens along with and Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders. This will be the first of several in a series of events organized by the committee. “This will be the event where we plan to launch our anti-hate registry idea,” Akhtar says. “We’re anticipating anywhere between 500 and 1,000 people. You never know just how many people are going to show up, but we’ve rented a room for 1,000 people.”
“This effort is in response to unprecedented attacks and threats by the President-elect against millions of Americans,” says Baldeh in a statement. Baldeh emigrated from Gambia 18 years ago and is Muslim. “Despite the fact that I am an elected official and American citizen, I feel that my safety and that of my family and the immigrant community is in jeopardy. I know that thousands of other area residents are quietly living in fear and that this is inconsistent with what I believe to be American values.”
The Rev. Everett Mitchell, a Dane County circuit judge, the pastor of Christ the Solid Rock Church, and the 2017 City-County MLK Humanitarian Award winner, is scheduled to moderate the event. Speakers will include Mayor Paul Soglin, representatives of the Latino and Muslim civil rights organizations, the ACLU and faith leaders.
“Many Madison residents have contacted me who are not personally endangered by the threats of deportation or registration,” said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin about the event. Soglin will provide the opening remarks. “But they know that their neighbors, friends and colleagues may be targeted and they want to know how they can help. We want to gather these folks together and give them practical answers.”
While many people see this event as a gathering for marginalized and minority populations, Akhtar acknowledges that America’s demographics are changing rapidly and all of these groups will make up the majority in the near future.
“If you look at back in 1980, the United States population was roughly 180 million – roughly about 50 percent of the population we have today. The white majority was 85 percent, so the minority population was about 15 percent,” Akhtar says. “Today, that majority is down to 67 percent or so. And when you look at the study that Pew Research did of projections, they say that the white community will be down to 47 percent by 2050.
“This is the way the United States is going and there is nothing you can do about it,” he adds. “It’s better to understand this all as this is not ‘us against you.’ It’s ‘us together.’ So, what are we going to do to make sure everybody is treated equally with respect and to make sure that everybody does well?”
The idea behind “United We Stand” is to bring all of these different communities together with one of the main focuses being to be to inform people what their Constitutional rights are. “As a part of this, there will be a discussion from a representative of each of these communities to find out what are their specific issues and concerns and how we can all work together on them,” Akhtar says.
And like he said before, there is tremendous power in numbers.
“People often won’t pay attention to just one person. Who cares? But if you go as a group, and show that you have all of these different communities that basically have the same common problem and want answers … then they start to pay attention,” Akhtar says. “That is some tremendous power that we would have to work together to make things happen.”
Akhtar knows that publicly raising concerns and starting a movement like this has the potential to land him in trouble in today’s political climate, but he thinks the cause is far too important to not pursue.
“Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Masood, you have been out there on TV and in newspapers talking about all of these issues, somebody might kill you!’ I said, ‘If we don’t do this, who is going to do it? Somebody has to be willing to do this.’ This country is so good and has so much potential, that I feel like I have to do this. I love this country so much,” Akhtar says. “I want all of these people to unite. I am here today because of this country. I want all of the people to come together to work to keep it the way that it is supposed to be. And I will do whatever I can to do so.
“We believe that America is still the best place on this earth to practice your religion and to obtain your dreams. There is no other country that offers what it does,” he adds. “So we as immigrants want to keep this country as a role model for other countries to follow. How do we do this? We go to the basis of the Constitution and make sure that we are being respectful of everybody and that we all work together and we all grow together. We are too often divided into all of these categories – white America, black America, brown America, blue America, whatever. But if we are able to be together and to live peacefully together, we will be in good shape.”
“United We Stand,” will take place at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2-5 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about this event, e-mail [email protected].