“No ban! No wall! Kensington stands tall!”
That was the rallying cry last night in Kensington, a multiethnic, largely immigrant neighborhood in central Brooklyn. On the heels of President Trump’s executive orders cracking down on illegal immigration, residents of Kensington and elsewhere in Brooklyn gathered to announce the launch of a “Hate Free Zone” and community defense network.
The rally was organized by Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a grassroots community organization of working-class South Asians in Brooklyn and Queens (“desi,” from Hindi, means a South Asian expatriate). Residents of Kensington hope the Hate Free Zone will create a robust grassroots network that can respond to any threats against vulnerable members of the community.
“While our communities have been facing violence and oppression for years, we are now in a critical moment in history,” said Israt Audry, a member of DRUM and an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the United States with her family for the past 16 years.
Having immigrated as a minor, Audry is one of the nearly 800,000 young people who have benefited from the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA). The policy allowed Audry to work legally in this country and thus guaranteed her the right to earn at least the minimum wage, making her the breadwinner for her family. DACA may soon be on President Trump’s chopping block.
“By declaring this community a Hate Free Zone, we are committing to the practice of building a community defense system that will defend our communities from workplace raids, deportations, mass criminalization, violence, and systemic violations of our rights and dignity,” Audry told the crowd.
Even with a larger emergency rally of several thousand in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park happening at the same time, the Kensington Hate Free Zone launch drew a crowd of nearly 400 people. Many in the crowd were South Asian residents of the neighborhood, while others came from across Brooklyn to support the initiative. South Asians are the largest immigrant group in Kensington, according to the latest Census figures, and the rally took place in a part of Kensington sometimes known as Little Bangladesh.
In addition to signs supporting immigrants and immigrant rights, demonstrators had signs supporting Black Lives Matter and opposing homophobia. Organizers made a point of emphasizing that the Hate Free Zone is a stand against all forms of bigotry. Cars, trucks, and one MTA bus driving by honked in support at the busy intersection where the rally was held, a South Asian grocer on one corner and a mosque on the other.