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Amy Goodman Interviews Women’s March Organizer Linda Sarsour, Now a Target of Islamophobic Attacks

Web ExclusiveJanuary 24, 2017
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Shortly before the start of Saturday’s historic Women’s March on Washington, Amy Goodman caught up with one of the march co-chairs, Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist from Brooklyn. After the march, Sarsour became the target of a series of Islamophobic attacks online. On Monday, Sarsour called for “extra prayers” in a Facebook post, writing, “The opposition cannot fathom to see a Palestinian Muslim American woman that resonates with the masses. … They have a coordinated attack campaign against me and it’s vicious and ugly.” In response, thousands of people and organizations, including Amnesty International, are showing their support for Sarsour using the hashtag #IMarchWithLinda.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

LINDA SARSOUR: My name is Linda Sarsour. I’m the national co-chair for the Women’s March on Washington. And I am just so honored to be here with over hundreds of thousands of people. We don’t even know how many people are going to end up being here. It’s just so amazing. And, you know, this is an important time for many communities, including my community, the Muslim American community, LGBTQIA communities, immigrant and undocumented communities, women in general. I mean, this is an opportunity for us to say we will protect the most marginalized amongst us. We’re going to stand up to fascism and racism and xenophobia. And we’re not going to allow this administration to roll back the rights that many people have fought for so that we can be here today.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the organizing. And what are the plans for the day? Lay it out for us.

LINDA SARSOUR: The organizing is people are gathering. I mean, the program doesn’t start 'til 10:00, and there have been people out here since 5:00 this morning. The program is going to be amazing, full of speakers from all different walks of life, people representing the very marginalized communities. You'll have anywhere from the highest-paid celebrity in Hollywood to a young undocumented Pakistani girl from Staten Island. We’re making sure that everybody has the same amount of time—no one gets treated better because you have more money or you have more stature—that the undocumented sister gets three minutes, and the highest-paid celebrity gets three minutes. And we’re having musical performances. And the message here is that we are intersectional human beings. We are an intersectional society. And we care about a lot of things, and a lot of things impact us. So, we’re going to talk about climate justice and racial justice and immigration and immigrant rights and civil rights. And we’re going to talk about women’s reproductive rights. We’re going to talk about protecting our Muslim sisters and brothers from this fascist administration. So, it’s going to be a great demonstration of unity and solidarity and clarity and no ambiguity on the very progressive and specific agenda that we have.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re going to have a rally for several hours until around 1:00, 1:30. And then what happens? Where does this march go?

LINDA SARSOUR: So, we’re going to have a rally from about 10:00 to 1:15, and then we’re supposed to march. Now, the question is: How many people are going to be here? It depends on—where you march depends on how many people are here, which is a good problem to have. But we’re going to the Ellipse, is the final destination of the march. But you know what, Amy? We may be as far back the Ellipse, so we may only be marching for two steps symbolically. But I’m excited that that is a problem that we have, but it’s a good problem to have.

AMY GOODMAN: So, one of the commentators on CNN, one of the paid commentators, said, talking about the protests at the inauguration, sort of snickering, “If you were to talk to these protesters, I don’t think they have a coherent agenda. They’re just here to make trouble.”

LINDA SARSOUR: You know, I would say, like Congressman John Lewis says, we’re here to make good trouble. We’re here to let people know this is America, this is a democracy. I have the right to be out here and stand up for my rights. I have the right to stand up against the president of the United States of America. And people could respect the presidency, but I will not respect this president of the United States. I will not respect an administration full of Islamophobes and homophobes and anti-Semites and white supremacists. And I think the American people are coming out here today for that message.

Remember, we’re having a March on Washington with potentially hundreds thousands of people, but we’re millions around the country. There are 600 sister marches happening, not just here in the United States, but all over the world, in solidarity. So, while we’re here in Washington, D.C, we have New York, Tennessee, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Texas, Florida—you name the state, we’re having sister marches. So, the American people are rising up, and I’m very proud of this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: There are marches everywhere, as you said, and I just got a text from someone abroad, deeply concerned that the U.N. World Food Program had sent out an email to all its employees, saying, “You are not to march.” They’re afraid of defunding. There was such an outcry that a new letter has been sent by the head of the World Food Program, saying that if you want to march in your personal capacity, you can march anywhere in the world. I mean, this is getting worldwide attention. Talk about the origins of this march. Who started the Women’s March on Washington? And, by the way, I see a lot of men here, too.

LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely. This is a women-led march, but it’s open to all people, and people are bringing their families with them. This march started by a retired grandmother in Hawaii who was outraged and devastated by the election results. She put up a Facebook post and said, “I think we need to march.” And that’s all she said. She woke up in the morning. About 10,000 people—her status went viral. And they—the Women’s March on Washington was born as a Facebook event. People thought it was going to be some virtual solidarity. And women of color joined the effort and said, “No, this has got to be a real thing. We’ve got to go out into the streets. We’ve got to bring people to visibly protest this new administration. We’ve got to visibly stand up for what we believe in.” And seasoned organizers joined, and here we are, in Washington, D.C. We are in 600 sister marches, mostly here in the United States and around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Where? Where are some of the places?

LINDA SARSOUR: Oh, we have—I just got a text from a friend of mine named Maz, a Muslim woman out in Sydney, Australia—in Barcelona, in London—I mean, all over the world—in Montreal. Believe it or not, we’re on seven continents. And it’s just the most remarkable thing that I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life.

AMY GOODMAN: Antarctica?

LINDA SARSOUR: Antarctica, believe it or not.

AMY GOODMAN: What about in the United States? Where are the big marches planned?

LINDA SARSOUR: The big marches are in where you’d expect them to be, in places like Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, in places like Michigan, in Chicago, Illinois, in New Jersey—multiple ones in New Jersey—obviously, in places like Florida, Texas—you name—Nebraska—I mean, everywhere. Fifty states are standing in solidarity, women leading them. And every single sister march is being led by women. It’s really remarkable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re seeing a lot of people in pink pussycat hats. Explain what this hat project is all about.

LINDA SARSOUR: This is what it means to be grassroots. Look, there’s a lot of women and grandmas out here. They wanted to support the march, and they knew it was going to be cold out here in January, so, literally, these are all hand-knit hats from around the country that were knitted by different people. They even had YouTube videos telling you how to knit the hats and bring them. And it’s just so remarkable to see these beautiful hats, all different. They’re all pink, different pinks. And I’m just really proud to show. Like this is an example of what grassroots organizing looks like, people keeping each other warm at the march, that people can contribute, and this is their contribution to the march.

AMY GOODMAN: And your message to those who say, “You can’t make up your mind. Are you talking about women’s rights, or are you talking about the issue of war and peace?” I think the latest report, a hundred people just killed in Syria in a bombing. “Are you talking about climate change? Are you talking about inequality? Why can’t you make up your mind?”

LINDA SARSOUR: Because we’re sophisticated organizers. We understand that we are directly impacted by many issues. You know, I’m a woman. I’m impacted by my women’s reproductive rights. I’m also a daughter of immigrants. I’m from a mixed-status family. So we have—

AMY GOODMAN: Where are your family—where are you parents from?

LINDA SARSOUR: My family is originally from Palestine, who came here to the United States, you know, from an occupied land to find a better life and find security and safety. And here we are, fighting for security and safety and our rights here in the United States. So, I am just grateful to be part of a group that understands intersectionality. We have to, as a progressive movement, organize climate justice and reproductive rights and racial justice. We’ve got to do this. We can’t continue to organize in silos. And again, you know, if we win our rights, if I win full reproductive rights, but I don’t have a planet to live on, it’s not going to really matter. So I think being able to be sophisticated in our organizing and bring these different progressive movements together is going to be demonstrated here in a way that we’ve never seen before.

AMY GOODMAN: So I saw on the sign, it says “Planned Parenthood” on the back of the big banner right behind the stage. Who are the organizing groups here?

LINDA SARSOUR: So, the presenting partners of this event are the National Resource Defense Council, which is an environmental justice group. Planned Parenthood is also a premier sponsor of the Women’s March on Washington. And we have so many groups. is also a sponsor, the ACLU, all of our progressive partners, people who we’ve been working with for so many years. And it’s important to us to have reflected the issues that we actually care about, and those are the groups that are here. ACLU is working also on our legal team. They’re doing monitoring with the National Lawyers Guild and others. But the real organizers, the people that worked 20 hours a day to make this happen, are ordinary people, Amy. There are—we have bakers and yoga teachers and artists and tech firms and organizers and nonprofit leaders. Like, we’ve got moms out here. I mean, I’m a mom with three kids. We’ve got people carrying their babies around in little snuggles. This is just the most remarkable grassroots effort I’ve ever been a part of.

AMY GOODMAN: So, everyone’s focused on this. You’ve been organizing all through the last days of the Obama administration. He’s flown off to Palm Springs now. And this is the new era of Donald Trump. How have you been dealing with the police? Have they been helpful? Have they gotten in your way? What is your plan for today? Yesterday, there was pepper spray. There were real scenes at various inaugural checkpoints.

LINDA SARSOUR: Look, this—we’ve been organizing. We’ve been very intentional about keeping our marchers safe. We have over 2,000 marshals across this entire convening today. We also hired our own private security. You know, we are working with law enforcement, just because this is a really large event, and we need to have the partnership of law enforcement. But we want them to be, you know, kind of the alternative, you know, keep them far away from our people, because we believe that people are coming out here united. They’re in solidarity. They’re in high spirits. We have our own security. We have our own marshals. They’re trained marshals. They’re de-escalators. But we don’t think our marchers are out here—they’re here to march, and understanding that we are here—and as you’ve probably seen, we promoted Kingian nonviolence, the six principles of Kingian nonviolence. We are here in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King.

AMY GOODMAN: Will politicians be addressing the crowd?

LINDA SARSOUR: So, as you probably know, there are many politicians who want to address the crowd. And this is not about them. But we will have four elected officials only, women, all women, who will be addressing us today, including Kamala Harris, who, as you know, is the first African-American senator, and people who have stood with our communities on many important issues.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the first.

LINDA SARSOUR: One of the first, excuse me. Yes, please, correction: one of the first, and very proud of her win. And she just went in, you know, fighting for us at the hearings. And that’s the kind of champions that we want to promote here at the Women’s March.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the other elected officials?

LINDA SARSOUR: Tammy Duckworth, who is also a new state senator out in Illinois. We also have Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand.

AMY GOODMAN: And other people who will be speaking, the sort of gamut?

LINDA SARSOUR: Again, we have anywhere from, you know, America Ferrera, who is a Latina actress, to Ashley Judd, who’s going to be up there, as well, to transgender women of color, to undocumented women, to organizers, to environmental justice activists, to racial justice activists, criminal justice. We have a—we have a woman who was formerly incarcerated for 27 years, who’s going to be out here talking about criminal justice reform and her experience in the criminal justice system for 27 years of her life, she spent there. So, this is going to be one of the most diverse, intersectional programs that you have ever seen, that I have ever seen, I think, historically, we’ve ever seen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Linda Sarsour, you’re an organizer of this march. Today is the first day of—the first full day of the Donald Trump administration. Where do you go after today?

LINDA SARSOUR: We’re moving forward, Amy. This is—for me, this is not the beginning nor the end. This was opportunity to bring people who are devastated and frustrated, and give them an event where they can plug in and they can be with their fellow Americans. And I want the white woman from Tennessee to stand next to the Muslim woman from Brooklyn and understand that we are in solidarity. We’re all we got. And I think when people come here and they see hundreds of thousands of people who say, “You’re not alone. I stand with you,” I think they’re going to go back to their communities and organize on the local level, which is why we have these sister marches, so they can plug in with those people that are doing these sister marches at home.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there’s any chance that there will be a number of Trump supporters here, as well, actually in support? I mean, the first executive orders President Trump signed off on yesterday involved the beginning of the repeal of Obamacare, of the Affordable Care Act.

LINDA SARSOUR: You know what, Amy? You know, we don’t have a political litmus test for any here. There’s no way for me to know who—what your ideological background is. But what I will know is that if you are standing here in solidarity, that means you have woken up and understand that Donald Trump is a fraud, that he is a very dangerous man with a dangerous administration. And I think there will be people out here who are disappointed or maybe regret their choice, and maybe those that, you know, want to figure out what we’re doing. Maybe they want to learn from us. And maybe they’ll learn something. Maybe they’ll be inspired. I don’t know. But everybody is welcome to this march.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much, Linda Sarsour. I know you have to get ready—


AMY GOODMAN: —for this major event today.

LINDA SARSOUR: Thank you so much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you predict? People are saying 200,000, but your thoughts?

LINDA SARSOUR: I think 200,000 is quite conservative, based on our analytics and just based on the randomness of this. Like, I can just walk—I went to Richardson, Texas, for a lecture, and a woman in a diner came up to me, and she’s like, “Me and my friends are coming to the march.” And I said, “Well, if you’re coming, then this must be big.”

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks very much.

LINDA SARSOUR: Thank you so much, Amy.

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