After a trip to Kenya that had her cut off from the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, queer Muslim activist Blair Imani returned to the United States and learned about the Trump administration policy that separated parents from children at the U.S. border. Though June 30 will be a national day of action against the ICE camps, 24-year-old Imani decided to take action into her own hands and plan a protest in her hometown of Los Angeles.
On Friday, Imani and local Angelenos will gather in downtown Los Angeles in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building — and you’re invited. Imani spoke to INTO about the unique nature of American oppression and what moved her to organize the protest.
When did you decide to organize this protest?
Last night! I feel like the time is now. I feel like Friday is a good time. I wanted to make sure it was inclusive of people’s lunch hour, if people can get out of the office, because the protesting organized on the 30th is important but I believe that we need all types of protests, protests that are within and outside of the system. But really to bring it home to folks in Los Angeles while I’m here because I’m from LA. We can do these things now and it doesn’t have to be organized by a giant organization for it to be effective and for it to resonate.
What were your first thoughts when news broke about ICE camps?
I just got back from Kenya. I was in Kenya the past week and I was sequestered from any news. I didn’t even have wifi because i was in a rural farm area. The first thing I see is that Donald Trump is lying to media and then I see the visuals of people being snatched away from families and what I wanted to do was … I’m rooted in history; This isn’t something new. This is a tactic, this is as an escalation tactic for the dehumanization of people and it can lead to all types of things we’ve seen in American history. I keep coming back to what people are saying on social media: If there’s a moment in the past when you wish you’d done something, this is the time to do it. I hadn’t organized a protest on my own since before I was arrested in Louisiana in July 2016 after Alton Sterling was killed and I was hesitant to be in an organizer space or go to protest because the Baton Rouge PD is holding over our head that they’ll bring charges up against us. It’s time for me to go back into the streets and continue my organizing past. Before I got arrested, I organized protests but it’s the first I‘ve organized as an adult in Los Angeles, which is where I’m from.
Who have you partnered with in organizing this Friday’s protest?
MPAC, the Muslim Public Affairs Council has agreed to co-sponsor it as well as Neta, a Latinx-led organization in the Rio Grande valley. They are close and connected to this movement work, so I wanted to reach out to folks that are authentically connected. There are a lot of influencers who are trying to figure out ways to use their privilege and access to elevate these issues, like Alexa Losey. And my own nonprofit Equality for HER.
What do you say to people who might not think this is a queer issue?
I think that it’s such a queer issue. Look at people like Jennicet Gutierrez who, at a Pride activation at the White House, called out Obama for ignoring the LGBTQ folks, specifically trans folks, who are being ignored and erased and cut out of this movement. It’s like the work of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, when they were talking about trans women in detention. Trans women have held the LGBTQ movement to account for our failures and we’re seeing history repeat itself. Just because our image in America of a gay person is a white man who lives in West Hollywood or in the Village that’s not the end all be all of it. And that’s my TED Talk.
What do you think these camps say about larger immigration problems in the United States?
I think that America is a one trick pony and our one trick is oppression. The reason why we created the census was to intern Japanese Americans. We were built on slavery! And there’s this cognitive dissonance we have as a nation when we learn that we’re the “land of the free” and some of us in elementary school face these forms of oppression. It’s gaslighting through school systems or media when you’re suffering but being told you’re free. I think America has some serious work to do in terms of finding a moral conscience. It’s abhorrent. We incarcerate children outside of the immigration system and we’re very invested in the private prison system. We claim to be the world’s guiding light when it come to human rights but we incarcerate more than any other nation.
Though people in the US have privileges that other people might not have in other parts of the world, it doesn’t mean we by any stretch of the imagination get a pat on the back for standing up for justice.
What should people expect at Friday’s protest?
For Friday, we’re going to assemble on the curb in front of the ICE office and we’re going to invite folks from the community most affected by these issues to have a healing space to speak about these issues. Some of us just want to yell, but also to really get acquainted with folks who are affected by these issues in a sacred space. I want this to be a time where, if you are someone who is undocumented, you can come into this space and feel like there are people who have your back. I want this to be a time for the community to heal and identify what the targets should be: ICE, our elected officials and not each other. We have to hold each other accountable, but we really have to focus on the human rights abuses ICE are doing under the guise of American safety.