Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Sheepshead Bay - Standing Up For Democracy And Justice.

Dozens of decent Brooklyn residents stood on Voorhies Avenue on a cold and blustery Sunday morning in front of a construction site. Across the street, hatred was being preached. We were there to defend traditional American values that were under attack - notions of democracy, justice, freedom to worship -- all were being dragged in the mud and it didn't take much to imagine that if people were silent then those values, which were being so seriously threatened today, could be gone tomorrow.

Sheepshead Bay, like many neighborhoods, is changing - becoming more diverse as new families move in; families looking for a good place in which to live and love and bring up their kids and simply go about the business of life. Included in that changing demographic are new Muslim families - perhaps 200 families in the area by some estimates. And so, like many others, they want, and need, a place to worship. Brooklyn has always been known as the Borough of Churches and Sheepshead Bay, like all Brooklyn neighborhoods, has its fair share of churches and synagogues. But it also needs a place for people of the Muslim faith to gather, pray and simply belong.  Sadly,  for some in this neighborhood it's quite okay for Christians and Jews to have their houses of worship but not acceptable for Muslim families to have theirs where they can come together and pray. Under the guise of preventing heavy traffic and other technical reasons, an unsavory and ugly movement has been growing in this part of Brooklyn. But it's not only there - similar protests have been festering in other parts of the city - Staten Island and downtown Manhattan - where right-wing forces have been inciting hatred and division to score points and whip up fear and bigotry.

Good people defending against hatred and intolerance.

It's tragic -- facing severe cuts to services with massive layoffs of teachers and exponential growth of class sizes you'd think there would be massive, united opposition to this attack on all of Sheepshead Bay's families. Instead, the opposition is diluted and weakened as anger is diverted with appeals to racism, fear and hate. Nobody wins except those at the top who can then cut away  with impunity. What a waste!

A father and son against whom, among others, a campaign of hate and lies are being spread.

A fight back has begun as people are saying no to this fear mongering and out-and-out racism. The wise words of the German Protestant minister, Pastor Martin Niemöller, should resound in the hearts and minds of any and all Americans who cherish our democracy and who believe in equal opportunity and justice for all. Niemöller, originally a supporter of  Hitler but later a fierce opponent, was imprisoned and sent  to a concentration camp. He later deeply regretted not having spoken out early on in opposition to the poisonous hate of the Nazis. His statement is a clarion call against the dangers of political apathy in times of great moral crisis. Certainly, we are living in just such a time. We must not be silent.

Divide and conquer - these people should be protesting school cuts that affect them and their neighbors.
First They came... - Pastor Martin Niemöller
First they came for the communists,and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

To see all my photos from this civil rights protest --

• Go here for a Gallery.

• Go here for a Slide Show 

- Matt
Mar 15, 2011

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