More than 100 members of the Brookline community gathered to reinforce their commitment to support human rights at a vigil and discussion held at Brookline High School on November 15. As concerns about how President-elect Donald Trump will treat marginalized groups during his tenure grow, the Brookline community is looking at ways to make sure everyone feels safe and welcomed.
Speakers talked about their obligation towards fighting against bigotry, cruelty, and incivility. During the 45-minute meeting, 10 speakers shared their thoughts on the importance of unity in standing up for each other, protecting each other, and not be a bystander.
Bernard Greene, a Town of Brookline Selectman, was one of the speakers. He described President-elect Trump as an “ignorant misogynist” and a “cruel nutcase.” Although he thought the frustration and anger following the election was necessary, he did not think it was efficient.
“So don’t get angry; get organized,” he told the crowd.
Greene suggested that from now until the next presidential election in 2020, the community should re-organize, engage, and communicate with all people including women, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, and with those who voted for Trump. He encouraged others to not be bystanders, and with safety precautions, one should intervene when one sees an act of bullying.
“Take pictures of what’s going on and report to the authorities,” Greene said.
Greene told the crowd to write down the hotline number that Attorney-General Maura Healey created after the election, which is 800-994-3228. The hotline is for Massachusetts residents to report threats, harassment or violence based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
“We have to live in the society that we’re in,” he said. “That means that our behavior in this time of trouble has to reflect what we want our society to be. We need to do what’s sufficient to make sure our future is as bright as it needs to be.”
Another speaker was Hajar Delshad, a physician assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital who immigrated to the United States from Egypt in 1992. She has been a resident of Brookline for five years and received her U.S. citizenship six years ago. She stood in front of the crowd to give a voice for the Muslim community in Brookline.
“Stand up to oppression and all its forms,” she told the crowd. “Our fight is your fight, and your fight is our fight…Together we are stronger.”
After the meeting, Delshad explained that “many Muslims do not feel like they belong in this society, [and that] they are not brave enough to speak. They are not brave enough to have their faces shown. They don’t feel like they belong as part of this fabric of society, and that’s a complicated issue. Part of it is that we need to start believing that we have every right and responsibility of living in America, that we need to own up to the responsibility of living in this country and access the rights, so not to take Islamaphobia and not report it.”
She notes that it’s important for people to realize that Muslims are active and productive members of the community and society, and stresses the importance of Muslims telling their own story.
“I think the Muslim voice is one of the most unrepresented voices in America today,” she said. “I think nobody can speak for us unless we can speak for ourselves.”
She encourages others to organize and make positive influences in the political scene.
“We need to advocate [for] our own rights and also band together with other minority groups and advocate for all of our rights together, because all minorities right now are in [the] position of frailty and have targets on their backs,” she said.
Many other social justice advocates spoke out, including Joia Mukherjee, a Brookline resident and Chief Medical Officer at Partners in Health. She encouraged the crowd to stand up for others who are tortured and make Brookline a sanctuary city against hate. Like others who spoke, Mukherjee spoke about embracing all human rights with knowledge, culture and religious practices, and – her specialized field – healthcare.
“We have an obligation as a civil society to hold our government accountable,” she said.
Discussions among the speakers expanded to other topics such as women’s reproductive rights, preventing hate crimes, and encouraging the knowledge of science for the sake of global warming issues.
Jennifer Goldsmith, the Town meeting member who spearheaded the meeting, called her fellow Town meeting members, Frank Farlow and Marty Rosenthal, who are also both involved with Brookline PAX, to help organize the Tuesday meeting on November 13. The word spread fast within the following two days, resulting in a filled cafeteria.
“Somebody had to,” Goldsmith said about initiating the meeting as quickly as possible following the election. “We could not do nothing.”
With sponsorship from Brookline PAX, an organization that supports diversity, social justice, and peace, among other important issues, Goldsmith helped bring about the meeting, calling it “Brookline Town-wide Vigil to Uphold Human Rights.”
“The vigil is to sleep with eyes open, be watchful, be observant, or to be vigilant,” she said.
The 45-minute meeting ended with the Brookline High School Choir singing a song with the hook, “I love you, I need you to survive.”