We’re In This Together: Linda Sarsour’s Journey To Today

“Linda Sarsour: I hope you read this book and say this lady is actually not that extraordinary. That if she could stand up for what she believes in, I could stand up for what I believe in.”

Check our chat with activist, organizer & author Linda Sarsour!

Keshav Kant  

Thank you for joining us today! How’s everything going on your end?

Linda Sarsour  

You know, I feel fabulous! You try to be fabulous in a not-so-fabulous world.

Keshav Kant  

That is the best way to put it! Okay, so first things first, this is not your first book. We Were Not Meant To Be Bystanders came out in 2020. But this book is very personal. I want to know how you are feeling now that it’s just, you know, a little while away from being out.

Linda Sarsour  

I’m really excited about this book. You know, it’s called We Are In This Together, and it’s geared toward a younger audience. For me, being able to infuse solidarity and talk about difficult issues, and difficult moments in the last two decades for young people and allow them to kind of reflect and try to resonate it with their own life means a lot to me. So I’m really particularly excited about this book in hopes that young people kind of take it and you know, say, you know, I’m going to be unapologetic too, and I’m gonna organize too, and I’m going to do, and be who I want to be too.

Keshav Kant  

I love that! It definitely does show because so much of your book is dedicated to what got you here and sort of your developmental journey, figuring out who you were as a kid. The book is very personal, and it went into some very serious matters that are happening in your life. What was that experience like for you?

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: Linda Sarsour speaks onstage during the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Linda Sarsour  

Absolutely. Even when I wrote my adult memoir, the story about this tragic car accident that I was in where my mentor was killed, and you know, I was the driver of that car it was something that only the people who knew me closely here in Brooklyn knew. But as an organizer on the national level, I never really shared that story. It was something that I, still today, heal from because it was one of, if not the most, traumatic event that I’ve ever experienced. 

I think we often talk about therapy and mental health and it was something that I just never- I just was so deep into the trauma that I didn’t even know if I could sit with someone – but the book really helped me start my own healing process. And a lot of young people are also dealing with the trauma issues. From losing loved ones, whether it be to COVID, whether it be to other terminal illnesses, whether someone got killed, and police violence or vigilante violence. They hear all this violence, all this trauma around them, and I want to be able to say, look, if I could tell my story to you and you don’t really know me personally, I hope that you could feel comfortable sharing things that are traumatic to you because we have to release that at some point.

Keshav Kant  

Yeah, that’s definitely real. I think that it’s a good thing that a lot of us feel comfortable about getting therapy. But until we have that sort of like collectivist attitude beyond just sitting with someone for like an hour a week talking about our issues, we won’t really be able to create real healing.

And speaking of community, I had realized while prepping for this interview that while you co-chair and organized the Women’s March in 2017, Off Colour was just a year into its existence, and I was running our Twitter. So I remember during your speech sending out tweets and live updates, and now I get to sit across from you. What has been the thing that you found that has been most helpful to you in your organizing and creating community with others?

Linda Sarsour  

Absolutely. You know, one of the things that I’ve learned is that even when you are in spaces like what we call the movement, it’s not always a welcoming place.

I’ve had to assert my own identity and my positions in our larger movements and use my story as a powerful way to teach people about the impacts of post-9/11 policies of surveillance on Muslim communities. Being a vocal activist about Palestine and how that has kind of impacted me in many ways. So the advice I always give people in our movement is to stay focused on your convictions and stay focused on your vision. Don’t let anyone kind of take you off track.

Even with the Women’s March, here we were, women and the women really at the top of the Women’s March were women of colour. We helped to harold and shepherd this process, but there were a lot of people that didn’t believe in us. There were people that kept asking us every week. Where’s your permit? Where’s your permit? They didn’t even believe that we were women of colour capable of getting a permit in Washington, DC. I mean, that’s how much people underestimated what we were capable of, and they didn’t believe that we could come, you know, till today, we organized the largest single-day protest in US history. Even today, no one has been able to beat that. So all I can tell people in the movement is to stay the course. You got a vision. You’re going to fulfill it, and I promise you there will be obstacles and challenges throughout the way, but you’re gonna get there, so stay focused and keep doing you. 

Keshav Kant  

That was one of the things I really appreciated about that section of the book where you were talking about organizing. Running Off Colour, a nonprofit, you’re like, I need permits. I need registration, ASL interpreters, and on-call emergency services. I didn’t realize you need so much money to make these things happen. And when the crowds show up people forget that there were months of work that went into leading up to that moment. But I love that you made a point of expressly stating, I’m a Palestinian American woman. During your speech talked about your family and the people in the crowd. You humanized the experience of like all of the work that went into getting there – aching feet, hoarse voices and all. 

That being said, the book does cover the entirety of your life. From your experiences with stop-and-frisk as a teen, the protest and even your work on the ground during the 2020 protests where we move from reformation to abolition and defunding. So how has your growth sort of followed that journey as you’ve gone along?

Linda Sarsour  

It’s important to remember that we’re all students of the movement. I don’t know everything and I learn even till today. I read the books and articles people offer me and I have conversations with them. So I’ve changed from 15 years ago, when I believed maybe we could reform the police. In that time I learned we can’t refrom the police and now try to think in a broader vision. 

Being in community with a lot of Black women specifically, they have given me an opportunity to imagine a life beyond survival. Because too often we’re busy trying to survive today and we’re trying to help our community survive the moment that we are in that we don’t get to that 20, 30, 50 years from now. But being part of a racial justice movement, especially one led by Black women and Black women are saying to us, what does safety feels like to you? What does joy look like to you? 

Before that, I never once sat and thought to myself, wow, safety doesn’t mean cops. Even when I was organizing around reforming police, they didn’t mean safety. I never thought to myself, safety for me – what does it smell like? What does it taste like? It’s something that feels peaceful for me. Safety is not having to worry about being targeted for who I am or for what I believe, you know. Safety means contentment, means being able to just thrive in the world. So that really has helped me imagine and that’s why my work has kind of evolved also into more visionary long term work like what do I want to see, you know, 20, 30 years from now. 

I’ve been an intersectional organizer before 2016 when everybody thought intersectionality all of a sudden was some pop culture term. Even though Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw gave us that term back in the 80s. Many of us were babies, or maybe some of us weren’t even born in the 80s. So it’s not like I’m doing anything new. I’m revisiting old lessons and expanding what I thought I knew. I also took on, as a task, amongst white woman to say to them – you don’t get to define safety, joy and intersectionality for us. Because they tried to during 2016-2017. They tried to define it as white woman, black woman, Asian woman, you know, working together. No, that’s called coalition but this is about more than that. It’s about learning from each other and that’s a journey that I’m still on.

Keshav Kant  

Absolutely. I love that you highlighted that. Like there have been so many people who’ve done this work decades ago, because I was reading Bell Hooks’s All About Love. She talks about how a lot of radical movements that are created to be revolutionary to help us progress, they move from a place of like, well oppression is bad. Well yeah, we all know oppression’s bad, but what do you have after that? What future are you imagining? And in All About Love the central theme is love. She wrote that book in 1999 and here we are now sitting in 2022, and it’s still relevant. It’s still needed.

Linda Sarsour  

There are a lot of writers that inform our work today. We think about Audrey Lorde, she said you can’t have single issue struggles because we don’t live single lives. It’s not rocket science, we have Black feminists, Latinx feminists, Asian feminists and others who have laid it all out for us. We just have to absorb it and put it into practice.

Keshav Kant  

Absolutely. To that point I’d like to highlight one of my favorite lines in the book, “there are no white bodies on the ground.” When I read that I had to stop and pause because we all know it’s true but we rarely say it. Mostly because it can be really isolating to own the truth like that. So thank you for your commitment to the truth like that, but how do you remain so steadfast?

Organizers of the 2019 Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, center, and Tamika Mallory, right, join other demonstrators on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (Image credit: Aaron J. Thornton)

Linda Sarsour  

You know, I believe sometimes it can’t be for everybody. I believe that at some point somebody has to be a cycle breaker. That in every generation there are always people who emerge as cycle breakers and there are, in every generation, there are truth tellers that emerge. I am by no means perfect and I am very open about learning and being a flawed leader over the years but at some point, we’re gonna have to be 100% true to our convictions and we got to take whatever consequence that comes with it. And I’m willing to take every consequence, Keshav. 

I’ve taken the harassment, the death threats, the trolling online. Every time I’m invited to a college campus, I gotta go through about two weeks of drama before I get there. But, thank God,  once I get there I get there. I’ve had to deal with headlines from the mainstream and the right wing, so it’s not just the right wing trolls me, I get trolled by everybody. People always ask – why does it got to be you? Why do you got to be the one? That in order for you to maintain your career, in order for you to be successful, you’ve got to suppress your beliefs. I’m not going to do that. 

I’m going to be 1,000% Palestinian, I’m going to be 15,00% Muslim, and I’m going to be 20,000% from Brooklyn. I have proven that you can be true to your convictions and still be able to be published by a company like Simon & Schuster. That I could still organize and build campaigns and that I could still maintain relationships. Of course, there are going to be times where I’m going to miss out on opportunities, there are going to be tables that are not going to invite me because of who I am and I have to be okay with that. For me as long as at night I’m going to bed alright, because I did not sell anyone out, I know I’m alright.

Keshav Kant  

It’s wonderful to see that someone who’s been doing this for so long, who has your position, is putting it out there. That sometimes it is what it is and you gotta accept the loss. We have to wrap up because I’m sure you have a million things to do. But my last question is just leaving it open, leaving the floor for you. What are the things you’d like readers to know before they dive into the book? And what can they expect from you from the future?

Linda Sarsour  

As I said, young readers, I really hope that you take the book and say, you know what, this lady is actually not that extraordinary. There’s nothing special about her, that if she could stand up for what she believes in, I could stand up for what I believe in. 

This is not about being on the stage standing in front of a million people at the Women’s March. It’s about standing up in front of your classroom, about organizing in your school in your workspace. I hope that my story is one that allows people to see each other in a way we see ourselves in each other and see our struggles in each other because everyone that reads this book has had some sort of struggle that I think they’re going to find in this book at some level. That was really the point here to say, listen, we’re all in this together. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve learned it the hard way. You don’t have to learn the hard way. Learn it from someone who’s been there so you don’t make the same mistakes as me. Nowadays, I do a lot of organizing trainings and I’m excited to know that I’m building other leaders and that for me, is what I want my legacy to be. So I appreciate you having me here and giving me this opportunity.

Keshav Kant

It’s my pleasure! Seriously, thank you so much for joining me for this interview and for sharing your work and life with us through the book. 

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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