Desis Rising Up and Moving Featured in DNAinfo as Queens Group Taking Action

Posted on February 17, 2017

Here’s How Queens Is ‘Plugging In’ and Taking Action Since the Election

Originally Published in DNAinfo on February 15, 2017
Written by Katie Honan and Jeanmarie Evelly 

Woodside resident Elenor Denker has dedicated most of her life to causes she believes in, from protesting during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War to working overseas with the Peace Corps.

But it’s the current movement — a recent organizing among Queens communities after the election of President Donald Trump — that to her feels the most dedicated, she said.

“I know what this looks and feels like,” said Denker, 72. “I’ve never seen as much enthusiasm and dedication and commitment. This is very inspiring.”

After the election, Denker founded a Queens branch of the national advocacy group Indivisible, which focuses on distributing information about political issues and urging elected officials to oppose or support certain policies or cabinet nominees.

Indivisible Queens currently has roughly 100 subscribers to its newsletters, according to Denker.

The diversity of the communities in Trump’s home borough is one reason Denker was moved to action, she said. And she’s not alone.

There have been many rallies, increased membership in Democratic clubs and engagement across Queens — especially after the president’s executive order that banned or restricted travelers from Muslim-majority countries and a recent raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, organizers said.

On Wednesday, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer — whose district encompasses Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Astoria and Maspeth — is hosting a Resistance Town Hall at MoMA PS1, from 7 to 9 p.m. The plan is to discuss strategies and resource-sharing that can help support local groups as they work to unite and engage the community.

“We noticed a lot of groups, even in our little area of Queens, spring up since the election,” said Arielle Swernoff, a spokeswoman for Van Bramer. “All these different groups locally in our communities who are engaged and activated.”

She pointed to newly-formed organizations like the John Brown Party, a bipartisan group which meets at Long Island City’s popular John Brown Smokehouse to advocate for a “progressive, hate-free future while eating BBQ and drinking beer,” according to its Facebook page.

“I think we can speak from a place of extolling the virtues of diversity that nobody else is able to do,” Denker said of her Queens communities. “Many of us are just here because of that.”

Political groups and religious institutions have seen an increase in membership and interest since the election:

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)

“There’s a new wave of people that are feeling the need to do something and feel plugged into something,” said Fahd Ahmed, Desis Rising Up’s executive director, who helped organize rallies last Fall for “Hate-Free Zones.”

The membership-led group was founded in 2000 and focuses on organizing low-wage South Asian immigrant workers and youth in the city, according to its website.

They also helped mobilize the protests at John F. Kennedy Airport in January, and plan to soon sponsor events like self defense and bystander training classes, according to Ahmed.

“Now we’re starting the building work, being out in the streets, engaging businesses,” he said.

New Visions Democratic Club

“The momentum has been palpable since the election,” said Shekar Krishnan, president of the Jackson Heights group.

A last-minute rally Krishnan and his friends organized the Friday after the election drew more than 300 people to Diversity Plaza. And New Visions has grown by 100 members since the election, according to Krishnan.

“First everyone was shocked, upset, angry,” he said. “But then quickly it turned into fuel to say, ‘we have to organize and make our voices heard and defend our communities from this hate and prejudice coming from Washington.’”

The Powhatan and Pocahontas Democratic Club

The Astoria-based group has seen packed meetings since the election, with new members helping to organize marches and legislative calls, according to Powhatan’s political director Nick Roloson.

“The membership numbers have never been higher. Everyone that’s been coming have paid dues so we’re making repairs [to the building] that have needed to be done,” Roloson said, referring to the groups clubhouse at 41-05 Newtown Rd.

Powhatan’s mission is described on its Facebook page as being “to elect Democrats, grow new generations of political leaders and activists, engage with elected officials on a grassroots level, and shape the Democratic party with Astoria’s voices.”

► The Baituz Zafr Mosque

The mosque on McLaughlin Avenue in Holliswood began hosting a weekly “Coffee, Cake and True Islam” discussion last year, where residents from all over Queens get to ask questions about the religion over a slice of dessert.

Jamaica resident Shanella Gandharry, 28, said she wanted to learn “how to defend Muslims using facts” to be a better ally to her community.

Over the last few weeks, Baituz Zafr has seen an increase in visits to their website, TrueIslam.com, which seeks to dispel misconceptions about the faith, the mosque’s spokesman Salaam Bhatti said.

“I think it’s important in these times to stand behind good and innocent people and protect our freedom of religion,” Gandharry said.

“It’s one thing to tell people we support them, but we need to do something to show it.”

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