Community Columns

Frustrated Assyrian-American chose activism when some in his community backed Trump

Naramsen Goriel

I was disheartened when some members of the Assyrian community, overlooked and underrepresented by insincere politicians, supported Donald Trump for president in 2016. Assyrian community leaders, priests, businessmen and even some women supported a person who resembled the tyrants from whom they sought sanctuary.

Why would Assyrians leave dictatorships and immigrate to the United States just to be complacent, or obedient to corruption and tyranny? What benefits are reaped from adopting greed, fear and bigotry into community values? Some community leaders supported the president’s travel ban with appreciation, despite being from the same countries on the travel ban list.

The president’s proposals were personal to me. The first travel ban included Iraq, my ancestors’ homeland. In the 1970s, many Assyrian families, including mine, sacrificed a generation for the opportunities current Assyrian-Americans have.

That’s when I felt a spark inside my heart and began to express my grievances, and to demonstrate as an Assyrian-American.

I have never seen anything like the diversity during the first Women’s March in Modesto (January 2017). Hundreds of people gathered on the corner of McHenry and Briggsmore, marching in protest against hatred, greed and fear.

As time went on, I started meeting people I would never have had a chance to meet but for my activism. We formed an intergenerational alliance with common interests from different backgrounds and cultures, unified against egregious policy proposals. Proposals that would put millions of Americans at risk of being separated from a loved one, of being discriminated against, unemployment, bankruptcy, and in some cases, death.

The proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a billion-dollar tax cut for billionaires during a time of high inequality further exacerbated my desire to hold Washington, D.C., accountable. Millions, including myself, were being stripped of opportunities because leaders in D.C. were not being held accountable.

Activism was therapy for me. Despondency is not easy to overcome when personal expectations seem insurmountable. Thankfully, organizing with activist friends gave us all an endless desire to promote social mobility in America while opposing policy makers who preclude opportunity for communal progress.

Participating in democracy by coordinating with other community members was special during this pivotal moment in American history, because I was able to help move this country forward.

Confining oneself to convenient claims and biases will not solve the plight of our own people. Assyrians need to perceive government as changeable and democracy as helping to alleviate the trauma Assyrians around the world endure from oppression and discrimination.

In the words of Howard Zinn, “when we understand this, we can see that the tiniest acts of protest in which we engage may become the invisible roots of social change.”

Naramsen Goriel is co-coordinator of Indivisible Stanislaus and president of Assyrian Democrats of Stanislaus County, chartered by the California Democratic Party. He wrote this commentary for The Modesto Bee.