Protests Against Racism must be Effective & Civil.
By Ray Hanania
For more than one year, a group of activists have organized monthly protests against Sharon Brannigan, a Trustee on the Palos Township Board who made insensitive comments about Middle Eastern people on her social media page.
On her Facebook Page, Brannigan questioned why schools in the Palos region were “filling with Middle East students” and asserted many Muslims don’t integrate into local society.
When her comments were challenged, Brannigan issued a lengthy apology explaining she was addressing the issue of immigration and had let her emotions take control of her feelings. She explained she respects and admires Muslims and Arab Americans, but the protestors denounced her apology – after demanding it for several months – saying it was “too little, too late.” They demanded she resign.
To make their point, many of the protestors actively joined the campaign of Abdelnasser Rashid who was challenging Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison. Morrison is also the Palos Township Republican Commissioner and Brannigan is a part of his political organization. Rashid lost the election by only 1,639 votes in the county or more than 120,000 cast. But, the analysis of the votes in the Townships in the Southwest Suburban Townships like Orland, Lemont, Worth, Lyons (which includes the Bridgeview Mosque) and Palos showed that Morrison, despite the attacks, beat Rashid by more than 10,000 votes.
The Morrison-Rashid election should make us wonder about the conduct of the protestors. I think the protestors’ conduct negatively impacted Rashid and also the way many non-Arabs and non-Muslims look at our community.
Here are some facts:
The protestors do not represent “the community” as they claim. They definitely have the right to protest and express their views. I’m not sure if anyone really represents “the community.”
My concern is the way they protest. At many of the meetings, videotaped by the protestors themselves, the protestors scream, yell, and obstruct the board meetings. They called Brannigan names attacking her personally. At last week’s meeting, the protestors continued with their vocal attacks disrupting the meeting and went outside surrounding Brannigan’s car as she tried to leave the meeting. They pounded on her vehicle, calling her names and screamed. Brannigan called 911 and Palos Heights Police had to come push the protestors back so Brannigan, and other attendees, could safely leave the parking lot.
The protestors have also criticized me, which is fine. As an opinion columnist, I know people don’t always agree with me. That’s called tolerance, and tolerance is something some in our community need more of.
I also don’t object to the opinion of the protestors. They don’t have to accept Brannigan’s apology – although I do and I know many other Arabs and Muslims have accepted her apology. I prefer a politician who makes a mistake and apologizes, recognizing the mistake, than a politician who smiles at us, pretends to be our friend and backstabs us quietly in the shadows.
But I do object to the way they conduct themselves. Yelling, Screaming. Calling people names. Obstructing the board meetings. Blocking cars after the meeting. That is intolerable conduct that not only fails as a strategy, but also makes the entire Arab and Muslim community look bad. Americans see them and their conduct reinforces the racist stereotypes many in the public have about us.
Emotion is not an asset in our community. Yelling and screaming is not an effective strategy. Education is. I think the negative images of the protestors carried over and undermined Rashid, who openly identified with them. And, it also undermines the protestors who have failed to rally the larger Arab and Muslim community.
Their conduct is shameful and makes it worse for our Arab and Muslim community.
What we need is a reasoned voice, commonsense and compassion. Arab Christians and Muslims are very compassionate people. It is is the foundation of our culture to accept apologies and find ways to work with people with whom we disagree.
Forgiveness is a core Arab and Muslim belief, not intolerance, extremism and hate. Screaming, yelling, and obstructing public meetings is not a part of our culture. All it does is reinforce the stereotypes against us. It weakens the ability of our community to succeed and overcome the real haters and racists out there who do not apologize and who engage in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric all the time in the shadows and behind-the-scenes.