By on June 29, 2017
Amidst a full week of learning, reflection, and celebration of UU values at the UUA General Assembly, UUSC was honored to present Linda Sarsour with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award while we were in New Orleans. This award has previously gone to such luminaries as Martin Luther King III, Anita Hill, Kerry Kennedy, Barney Frank, and John Lewis. We were very excited to add Sarsour’s name to this list.
Sarsour, a Palestinian-Muslim-American woman, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., is an award winning racial justice and civil rights activist and mother of three. Recently, she was National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington—the largest single-day protest in U.S. history—and is the co-founder of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change. She has won numerous awards, including Champion of Change from the Obama Administration and the inaugural American Muslim of the Year from the Council on American Islamic Relations, amongst others.
An outspoken female person of color, Sarsour is often the target of on and offline harassment and trolling. She spoke proudly about the need to resist and how her unique and intersectional voice is what scares her antagonists the most, explaining, “I find myself in the crosshairs of controversy. Why? I’m intersectional, I’m progressive, I’m opinionated—how dare I defy every stereotype?”
Her remarks to the packed room did not shy away from tough topics, ranging from concerns about fascism under the Trump administration to the power of organizing and resistance. She spoke strongly about the need to center leadership of people on the front lines of oppression in our movements and urged us to act with strength, love, and humility as we continue working to advance social justice.
“We chose to have the difficult conversations. We were able to show the whole world that we could create a movement where we could bring all our voices to the table.”
Sarsour explained that the success of the Women’s March was possible because they chose to center the voices of the most marginalized, “We chose to have the difficult conversations. We were able to show the whole world that we could create a movement where we could bring all our voices to the table. We can show the true diversity of our nation.” She also reminded us of our responsibility to create safe spaces for marginalized individuals and validated criticisms of the Women’s March, reflecting that there were missteps in the organizing along the way and that she too learned and grew throughout the process.
Calling us to act with that same humility, she noted, “We don’t love each other enough to build each other up and let people be wrong so that they can be humble enough to say, “You were right.” In urging us to be honest with one another and give the benefit of the doubt to each other, she also offered tangible ways to build intersectionality in our day-to-day work by asking ourselves questions like, “Whose voices are missing at this table? How do I encourage the participation of people who are different than me?”
It is our job as allies to dissent publicly and show up for one another, especially communities that are under threat and increasingly criminalized. UUSC is proud to support and join in solidarity with grassroots partners across the globe who are working for a world free from oppression. Like them, Linda Sarsour won’t be silenced on tough issues, and UUSC is honored to recognize and follow her leadership in this work as we advance human rights and social justice.