On June 10th an unfortunate coalition of fascists, militia, alt-Righters, Trump supporters, and police organized and facilitated an anti-Muslim demonstration on the south side of Lansing. This was part of a national anti-Muslim day of action and the Lansing event was organized by Stephanie Rowe, a precinct delegate at Michigan Republican Party. Although this group tried to disguise their Islamophobic message underneath the cover of being against “Sharia Law,” community members and anti-racists from around the Midwest saw through this shameful lie.
Concerned citizens and committed revolutionaries alike were especially worried about the event because the proposed site of the march was in a neighborhood that a huge number of Muslims, refugees, and immigrants call home. The right-wingers chose that location to scare and intimidate our neighbors and friends.
Additionally, this hate march demanded a bold anti-racist response because of the escalating national context of violence from far right wingers. In the days and weeks leading up to the demonstration we saw an increase in racist violence on the part of both fascists and the state. In Portland, Oregon, a fascist stabbed and killed two passengers on a train after they spoke up to stop him from harassing young women on a train.
It is increasingly obvious that the Trump campaign and election has encouraged previously quiet racists to come out into the streets. At the same time, we have seen an increase in the state’s “legal” anti-immigrant violence, including immigration raids, police brutality, and travel bans. Amid the international context of anti-Muslim hate and violence, there was no way that we could let this event go unopposed in Lansing. It’s critical that we build the power to turn back this racist violence. Building this power starts in our neighborhoods.
Organizers from Solidarity & Defense began a massive outreach campaign to both the neighborhood that was directly being targeted as well as Muslim communities across the Metro-Detroit area.We translated flyers into Arabic, Somali, Farsi, and English. The message that we wanted to spread was related to building the revolutionary ethic of community solidarity and community self-defense: we wanted to send the message loud and clear that “We Love Our Muslim Neighbors” and that “Islamophobes Are Not Welcome Here.” We were also determined to stop the racists from marching through the neighborhoods.
When the morning of June 10th arrived, tensions were high. Many of the families in the predominantly refugee neighborhoods surrounding the site were bussed out for their safety and for a day of soccer games and picnics. At the same time, the crowd that gathered to oppose the fascists was large and diverse. Supporters arrived all the way from Traverse City and Cleveland. The crowd was multi-racial, multi-generational, and ready to confront the racists and get them off of our streets. The banners read “We Love Our Muslim Neighbors,” “Queers Against Islamophobia,” and “Islamophobes GTFO.” Thanks to the scouting efforts from friends in Redneck Revolt and various other antifascists we were able to keep constant tabs on the movement of the right-wingers.
The community defense march of 150 people was more than three times the size of the gathering of Islamophobes. The racists tried to compensate for their embarrassingly small size by arriving armed to the teeth. After a few tense hours on opposing sides of a police barricade, the Islamophobic group began to become demoralized. It had become clear to them that no one else was coming to their party and they would not be able to embark on their planned march. Also, of interest for continued anti-fascist organizing, was the obvious divisions growing within the ranks of the far right. On their side of the barricade, confrontational conversations occurred between members of the Alt-Right losers, neo-nazis, and the militia.
In high spirits, our forces marched out from the site as a solid bloc, all the time remaining physically between the Islamophobes and the most high-density refugee neighborhood down the street. Without escalating into physical confrontation, we surrounded the fascists, embarrassed them, and made them think twice about trying to again intimidate our Muslim neighbors in Lansing.
As violence increases against immigrants, Muslims, black and brown bodies, leftists, anarchists, and poor people generally, we hope that the action on June 10th represents the potential to organize swiftly but also comprehensively in defense of communities under attack. The action on June 10th was not a small street battle between the far-left and the far-right. Instead, it was a genuinely popular confrontation in which people from all walks of life came together to confront and oppose the most reactionary and violent forces in our society.
As the struggle for survival and for freedom continues, let’s continue the efforts that spurred the successful demonstration on the 10th. As the commitment to community self-defense spreads, so will our capacity to both defend ourselves and fight for a world in which we can have both our safety and our freedom.
This article originally appeared in Lansing’s Solidarity & Defense newsletter, No More Illusions. You can read more about this journal here.