Interfaith and Life-Changing Moments: The Birth of a Political Activist

As a mother, the two most important and transformational days in my life were the days my children were born. But as a human being, I am reminded of significant moments when I was present for a life-altering event. The first was the assassination of John Lennon on 8 December 1980. I remember vividly, being the impressionable teenager I was, standing in the midst of an enormous crowd that gathered in Kennedy Square at a candlelight vigil in downtown Detroit. As the sun set, and sharing a common grief, the crowd all began to sing ‘Give Peace a Chance’ in unison. I was there and present. His loss affected me deeply, and I carried that grief for a long time. The second was the devastating explosions of the Challenger and the 9-11 devastation—both I witnessed in horror on television. I remember, on both occasions, being shocked, horrified, and even stopped by my grief for days afterward, and while I did become more observant of my surroundings, especially when travelling, the effects of these disasters didn’t uniquely change my life. Then I marched in Women’s March on the 21st of January.

I was thrilled to see the outpouring of interfaith support and presence at the myriad of protests that took place across the globe on Saturday the 21st of January 2017. My little corner of the world (out here in the Hawaiian Islands) also took part in this world-changing moment, and like many of the other sister marches, our estimated crowds were shattered three times over. Organisers expected maybe 1,000 at most and were overwhelmed and overjoyed when 3500+ arrived to take a stand.

As the crowd gathered, I looked around to see women and men of all ages, families, couples, and various groups blending together into this beautiful tapestry of races, cultures, and faith traditions all bound together with one common goal. As the line continued to grow, the support of everyone driving past honking, cheering, taking photos/videos was overwhelming. Unlike other bigger cities, the roads weren’t blocked off for us, and we marched down sidewalks through town.

Marchers line the streets of Kailua-Kona. Photo by Patricia 'Iolana
Marchers line the streets of Kailua-Kona. Photo by Patricia ‘Iolana

With each stoplight, the march came to a halt and people gathered. The energy was filled with Aloha/Love. People were smiling; some were singing; others spoke of their concerns and fears, but all with the positive understanding that ‘we’ as a collective were gathering power.

I believe it is crucial as we move forward, that this movement and its political momentum continues to be supported and advocated by the interfaith movement. I wrote previously on the fears and concerns of several Muslims in regards to the President’s Islamophobia, and my concern grows now over the furtherance of the far-right conservative Christian agenda in a country where that faith tradition no longer holds the majority—yet they now hold all the political power. I worry for my Muslim sisters and brothers especially in light of the recent attacks of Muslim activist Linda Sarsour and the recent Muslim ban and Mexican border wall, and while I may not agree with America’s policies towards Israel and Palestine, I also fear for the increased attacks on the Jewish community. I worry about the rights of the First Nations and the environmental impact now that the President has pushed forward with both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

As a mother of a special needs child, I also worthy about a plethora of new administrative changes that threaten the health and well-being of my child—his access to a quality education and health care. I worry for every disabled American as threats to take away fundamental ADA rights are made. As an academic I worry about the future of our universities and public school education under this new administration. I find the concepts of ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative truth’ that is being shoved down our throats horrifying, Orwellian, and far from ‘democratic.’ As a woman, I worry about women’s rights to reproductive rights, health-care providers, and even abortion (if that is her choice). I worry about the rights of LGBTQ individuals both in my immediate family and my extended Ohana. I’m worried about my future and my children’s future.

But being worried isn’t enough, and marching isn’t enough. This time we need to keep the momentum going and continue to fight whichever policies we feel are the dearest to us (or all of them if you so choose). For the first time in my life, I’ve become politically-active. I recently opened a Twitter account precisely for this purpose. If you’re interested, you can join in my debate. I’ve been in touch with my Senators and my Representatives, and I will be actively seeking ways to continue this battle both virtually and IRL. Attending the Women’s March has changed my life as I join the battle on the ground, in my local community, and on the State and Federal levels. In many ways, indifference, division, and apathy brought us to this point; I know I am guilty of it in many ways myself, but only through positive and collective action can we implement real change and help to shape our common future. Politics and religion have gone together for millennia just like peanut butter and jelly, bangers and mash, or hummus and naan; the time is now to stand together, and the interfaith community has an imperative part to play.

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