By Tabassum Haleem, CIOGC Executive Director
On an unseasonably warm afternoon, fifty four men and women rushed out of Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, IL after Maghrib (sunset) prayers and climbed into the waiting Rally bus. Destination: Washington DC for the history making Women’s March that shattered attendance records nationally and internationally. CIOGC member, the Muslim Women’s Alliance (MWA), took charge in the early stages of the march development to ensure that the voices of Muslim women (and men) were heard in the nation’s capital, a day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. As the bus started on its 15 hour journey, MWA Board Directors, Suroor Raheemullah and Muna Odeh, led an exercise in self-reflection with the three men and fifty one women onboard. One by one, they shared their thoughts with the rest of the group. Some were seasoned protest marchers, even second-generation activists, but most were first-timers who felt some trepidation about what awaited them among the hundreds of thousands of people who were expected to participate.
Among the first timers was an African-American Muslim mother who brought along her young daughter and wanted to “take a stand.” Teachers, although from different religions, felt the same sense of responsibility to lead their students by example: “Inspired by the civil rights movement, now wanted to stand against Muslim registry,” “comforting Hispanic families of preschool students,” and “want to teach first grade students to be thinkers and channel energy into activism and peaceful protest.” Among the young adults was an election judge who “refuses to tolerate bullying,” a daughter who remembered her Mom being bullied, while “others did nothing,” and a young lady who worried about her mom’s future as an “undocumented immigrant from Mexico.” A number of women were just tired of being the “other” and stand in solidarity with “all sisters.” For many others, it was a matter of practicing and sharing their faith, whether it was Islam or another religion. Without exception, those who had children, and certainly those with grandchildren relayed the confusion they heard from them about “why the good guys didn’t win;” About one woman who was leaving her daughter at home to attend the rally, the three-year-old told her playmate, “my mom is a bad ass!”
Even though they were in the super-minority on the bus, the enormity of men standing up and fighting for women’s rights was clearly felt by the three that were among the passengers. They, along with fellow travelers who were moms of boys, shared their conscious efforts to raise sons who upheld “women’s rights as human rights.”
Each rest stop along the way seemed to be inundated with Rally Buses, with long lines at Starbucks and even longer lines at the women’s bathrooms. Although strangers, the connection among these protestors was already underway, from simple smiles and nodes to high-fives and animated conversations. As the bus pulled into the Downtown D.C. area, the iconic pink knit caps of the Women’s March filled the sidewalks. That protestors had to walk the nearly two miles from the bus drop off to the Rally because the Metra train was already filled to capacity, was an early indication of the massive turnout that day. Reports were coming in about similar gatherings from around the world. As the crowd moved closer to the Rally site, it became apparent that the organizers had underestimated the need for people to come together on that Saturday afternoon – some estimates of the crowd reached 800,000. As the fifty four protestors from the MWA Rally Bus mingled with the sea of men, women and children on Washington Mall that day, each of them met with their own experiences of love, empathy and hope for the future.
“What happens after the March?” Many wondered aloud as the bus headed back to Chicago that evening. For some it was simple curiosity, others lamented that complacency may set in, while many knew that they had no choice but to start getting civically active or renew and reenergize their commitment if they were already engaged.