By Amanda Clark, Intern, Minerva Strategies—
February 19, 2017 was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized one of the most egregious breaches of civil liberties in our nation’s history. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, condemned more than 120,000 law-abiding Japanese Americans to be rounded up and relocated to concentration camps.
While racism is not limited to any one select group in the United States, today we are witnessing a sharp uptick in racism and fear surrounding Muslim Americans. In remembrance of the Japanese American’s plight during WWII, and in solidarity with the Muslim American community, the Seattle Public Library held an event on Sunday, “Never Again: Japanese American WWII History and American Muslim Rights Today.” This event was conducted in partnership with Densho, CAIR-WA, and ACLU of Washington, and featured speakers from each organization. Guest speakers also included Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and Filipino-Japanese American poet Troy Osaki.
This event was originally scheduled to be held in the library, however, due to the overwhelming number of Seattleites who signed up, it was relocated to a larger venue. The large number of attendees who showed up in solidarity with the Japanese and Muslim American communities was demonstrative of the Seattle’s leading role in resisting President Trump’s fear-based and exclusionary policies.
Recently, Seattle has been in the national headlines for fiercely defending immigrant and minority rights. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has reaffirmed the city’s status as a sanctuary city, and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and US District Judge James Robart ruled the Trump travel-ban to be unconstitutional, temporarily blocking the measure. Washington State Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal the first Indian-American women to serve in Congress, beamed with pride to be a Seattleite, and stated, “I like to say when I’m in Congress that Seattle is the moral conscience of the United States.”
However, the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 is a sobering reminder that Seattle bears the scars of racism and discrimination which led to the unconstitutional incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. They were stripped of not only their rights as Americans, but of their basic human rights and dignity. In remembrance and solidarity, the local leaders came together and put forward a collective call to action to learn from our past mistakes and to protect Muslim Americans today. Seattle rights organization leaders and local politicians were united in their urgency, calling for concrete steps to be taken to stop the momentum of fear and hate against Muslim Americans.
Michelle Storms, deputy director of ACLU Washington, highlighted this gap between American principles and America’s past actions, “America may have been founded on some powerful and laudable democratic principles in mind, but many terrible things have been done in the name of America. Being here today, is an opportunity for us to remember, so that those things will never happen again.” She spoke to the dangerous practice of “othering” which occurs when perceived differences separate a group of people into an “out group.” Ms. Storms explained that just as this practice of othering led Japanese Americans to be placed in internment camps in 1942, it is happening today to Muslim Americans, African Americans, Native and Indigenous populations, and the LGBTQ community.
Tom Ikeda, executive director of Densho, whose parents and grandparents were incarcerated during WWII, noted that these exclusionary policies don’t occur overnight, but are preceded with fear-based rhetoric and propaganda in the media, pushing the American public to perceive a certain group as dangerous. Noting that this is happening to Americans today, he warned the audience, “It starts when we start looking at people, not as individuals, but as part of a group that is potentially dangerous. This is a path we cannot let happen again.”
Arsalan Bukhari, director of CAIR-WA, brought statistics and evidence to the conversation which illustrated a thriving and engaged Muslim-American community in Washington. He noted that, contrary to popular belief, Muslim-American women are the second highest educated religious group of women in the country and earn almost identical salaries to their male counterparts. What concerns Bukhari isn’t the reality of the Muslim-American community, but the American public’s perception perpetuated by the media and entertainment’s industry which propagates negative and false, depictions of Muslims and Muslim Americans. He urged the audience to take action by reaching out to media, entertainment outlets, and politicians to reverse this false representation.
As Seattleites, we should be proud of how far we’ve come, but we cannot forget the dark periods in our city’s and nation’s past. Executive Order 9066 represented the largest backwards step in American civil liberties in our nation’s history. We cannot let history repeat itself. We must acknowledge and remember our history’s past mistakes, and take steps to ensure that they Never. Happen. Again.