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Arab and Muslim organizations in Chicago boycott and protest Mayor Emanuel's "Community" Iftar

posted on: Jul 1, 2016

US Palestine Community Network (USPCN)

On Tuesday, June 28th, chants of “Hey Rahm, shame, shame; no Iftar in our name” echoed as close to 100 Arabs, Muslims, and supporters—including children and entire families—broke fast together in what they called a #PeoplesIftar and protest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Community” Iftar at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown.

A coalition of Chicago-based Arab and Muslim organizations called for a boycott of the mayor’s gathering because of his administration’s racist policies, which have devastated communities of color, as well as working class and poor neighborhoods across the city.  During Emanuel’s term in office, about 50 public schools (all in predominantly Black and/or Latino neighborhoods) and a number of mental health clinics were shut down, and one of the first decisions he made as mayor was to liquidate the Chicago Advisory Council on Arab Affairs along with a number of other ethnic or affinity-based councils of the city’s Commission on Human Relations.

Nesreen Hasan and Muhammad Sankari, both local and national leaders of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), spoke on behalf of the organizers, explaining that the attendees of the mayor’s Iftar were not representative of the masses of Arabs and Muslims in Chicago, and that the protesters would not allow the mayor to use our communities as a photo op.

The most prominent crime perpetrated by the mayor was his and former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’ cover up of the Chicago Police Department murder of Laquan McDonald.  Ever since, Chicago’s Black and other communities have been calling for not only the prosecution of the cop who killed Laquan, but for real community control of the police. And in response, Emanuel tries to lead a police reform agenda that activists have criticized as phony and purposely lacking any substance.

Adrian Harris (on mic), of the Black-led Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, spoke about the lack of police accountability in the city, and promoted the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), the most important police reform campaign in Chicago, which Alliance organizers hope to present as a bill to the City Council within months.

Jason Tompkins followed up with a presentation about The Bluest Lie Collaborative, a new formation that is trying to rescind a proposed expansion of hate crimes legislation that would possibly make it a hate crime to protest against the police. “We know that violence against police is at an all-time low, while reported deaths from police violence is at a record high,” said Tompkins, “so this legislation is just continuing to protect police from accountability.”

Coalition leader Rahef Awadallah spoke in Arabic, telling the crowd that a number of invitees to the mayor’s event, including leaders of important Muslim institutions, supported the boycott and cancelled their participation after discussions with the protest organizers.

The Chicago Teachers Union was also represented at the protest, with Greg Goodman, social studies teacher and member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), explaining that there is money in the city’s budget to effectively educate Chicago’s students, but that the mayor won’t spend it on our children, because he supports the privatization of education, like the big business cronies who propped him into office.

Long-time friend of the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities in Chicago, Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a co-founder of Southsiders Together Organizing for Power (STOP), told the powerful story of a victim of the mayor’s mental health clinic closings, saying, “Rahm Emanuel shut the door in this woman’s face; he shut down the only clinic that was operating on the southwest side of Chicago.”

Nesreen Hasan wrapped up the protest by leading another popular chant, “This Iftar has got to stop; we won’t be a photo op,” before everyone broke fast together with donated food from a southwest suburban Arab restaurant.

Later, Hasan continued, “This was a great idea and a great action.  Arabs and Muslims in this city wanted to say unequivocally that we stand with Black, Latino, Native American, Asian, white, and other working class communities in Chicago, against city policies that negatively affect us all.  Every non-Arab, non-Muslim speaker at the protest talked about solidarity with us, but in actuality, this boycott of the mayor’s Iftar was organized so that everyone understands that Arabs and Muslims are the ones in solidarity with, and intrinsically members of, the Chicago Alliance, the CTU, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, STOP, and all others fighting for racial and economic justice in this city!”