By Vinh-Doan T., SJPJC Intern
On Friday, March 19th, we held our first End Wars! Discussion Panel on Zoom featuring Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia), poverty scholar and co-founder of POOR Magazine, Sameena Usman, Senior Government Relations Consultant for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Khalilah Ramirez, creator of the Dance of Peace. They each spoke about Creating Justice, Protesting War, and Supporting Peace, respectively.
As the first panelist to speak, Tiny began with a prayer and went on to discuss her own project regarding housing, The Homefulness Project. While this is a mission to provide housing to people who need it, Tiny demonstrated with conviction how this was related to “Creating Justice.” Through this project, Tiny and her fellows not only provide a service to the unhoused, but also allows people to reclaim land that is not only stolen, but made exclusive for the wealthy.
Following Tiny’s poetic presentation, Sameena Usman delivered a driving commentary on the War on Terror, its aftermath, and its effects on the US’s Muslim population. There is of course much to talk about in the context of this issue, but one of the most interesting points Sameena made that stood out to me was the reference to the non-profit industrial complex when she spoke about the Obama era “Countering Violent Extremism” program. Although it was marketed as a community based approach to addressing violence that also provided financial incentives in the form of grants for cooperation, Usman summarized that it ultimately led to an unwarranted level of surveillance specifically and unfairly targeting the Muslim American community.
Finally, Khalilah Ramirez shared her “Dance of Peace,” encouraging all to join and bring energy into the room. It was a really great way to close the panel. Although her Dance was very lively and fun, Khalilah did have a very important message for the audience. In a world of activism, it’s easy to take on a lot and to almost unknowingly overwhelm yourself in dedicating time and energy to various causes. Khalilah made it clear that although dedication to work is a good thing, it is also essential to occasionally center yourself and take time to ensure that you are taken care of and are aware of your own headspace.
The pandemic has been difficult on many different fronts. It’s all too easy to get disconnected from each other as we all adjust to being almost fully online. Zoom can’t replace in person interactions. However, on a personal level this event was an encouraging reminder that when people simply show up, as our audience did, we can still act as the community we are and support each other and the causes we believe in.