California's Muslims stand up for action against Trump's policies
SACRAMENTO, California - Nearly 800 people travelled to California's capitol on Monday for the “Muslim Day at the Capitol”, with political activism in Sacramento described by a senior state official as "the resistance" to President Donald Trump.
The annual national advocacy event aimed to promote four propositions that can block some of the US president's most controversial policies, including those that have only been hinted at, like a national Muslim registry.
According to the organisers, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the sixth annual "Muslim Day" has been the most successful so far.
“This year we've had almost 800 people and last year 650 attended the rally,” Yannina Casillas, legislative and government Affairs coordinator for CAIR, told Middle East Eye.
CAIR is sponsoring two bills: SB 31, also known as the California Religious Freedom Act, which calls for the barring of any state officials or local authorities from setting up their own, or assisting in, the creation of any religious registry. Democratic assembly member David Chiu introduced the bill which is part of a package of legislative proposals on civil liberties.
This year we've had almost 800 people and last year 650 attended the rally
- Yannina Casilla, CAIR
“It's not only religious, but any kind of registry detailing national origin or ethnicity,” said Casillas. Asked if the proposed bill draws on the landmark ordinance passed in San Francisco earlier this year, Casillas clarified that in fact, it was the opposite.
“We began working on the bill in December and San Francisco's ordinance took the language from us. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter, we are aiming now to pass it on a state-wide level, which would be a victory for all of us,” she said.
CAIR also sponsors SB 54, which aims to prevent state or local law enforcement from sharing information with federal immigration agents that could lead to the deportation of undocumented California residents. Democratic lawmaker Kevin de Leon, a long-time advocate for Latino and undocumented immigrants’ rights in the state, introduced the bill.
Chiu also referred to a muddy chapter of American history to draw a comparison with the possible outcome of a Muslim registry.
“Some 75 years ago, the Japanese community was under attack... Now, if Donald Trump has declared war on the Muslim community, he has declared war on all of us,” Chiu told an audience in front of the capitol.
“From my perspective, if Donald Trump is saying that he is going after the Muslim community, it is our responsibility, as legislators, to say: 'Mr Trump, you're gonna have to come through us',” he said.
Taking the stage after Chiu, California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla stressed the legal tug of war taking place right now between California and the federal government, even referring to the state and its residents as the “resistance”.
“Our civil rights are under attack by the President of the United States. ... Here in California we have lived the times where certain communities are scapegoats,” Padilla said.
Since early in the morning, activists and concerned residents from all over the state were able to talk with their legislators. Shukria Hakim, who lives in the Bay Area, travelled with other fellow Muslims to support SB 31, which she believes is crucial to keep American values alive.
“Being able to be in the capitol and to express my ideas, makes me feel more American than ever,” Hakim told MEE. “And it is this feeling that we have to preserve, that we are Muslims but we are also Americans and, in this country, we will not tolerate abuse against any religion.”
This is Hakim's second year attending the rally, but her 15-year-old granddaughter participated for the first time. “A possible Muslim registry really concerns me and I felt we need to fight back, to jump into action, so that's why I also brought my granddaughter along. We don't want history to repeat itself, like what happened with the Japanese internment camps during WWII.”
The speakers stressed urgency because of the current political climate and the perceived threats coming from the administration against Muslims and immigrants. “Action Trumps Fear,” the event's title, spoke volumes about the general mood.
The council also advocated for two other pieces of legislation dealing with civil rights; AB 158, to establish more accurate reporting of hate crimes, including Islamophobia and AB2845, known as A Safe Place to Learn, which is aimed at preventing school bullying due to religion or ethnicity.
These four bills are very popular measures in the Senate, across the aisle, but they still need to be taken to the house committees for voting. AB 31 was passed in the Senate with a majority vote, with only four Republican senators abstaining, a rare victory these days in such a polarised political climate.
“We've had many Republicans approach us to tell us that they are supporting us because they support freedom of religion, regardless of which political party is bringing the bill forth,” Casillas said.