In the face of a 2016 election season fraught with divisive rhetoric, over 500 elected officials from across the country, including Illinois, are uniting to "reject hate and anti-Muslim bigotry."
In the midst of a divisive 2016 election season, over 500 elected leaders from across the country, including Illinois, joined forces Thursday to "reject hate and anti-Muslim bigotry."
The officials ranging from state representatives and mayors to aldermen and school board members released an open letter, pledging to use their "positions as elected leaders to stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry, against xenophobia, against hatred, and against oppression."
The letter is part of a new nationwide campaign called "American Leaders Against Hate and Anti-Muslim Bigotry."
"The 2016 electoral season has featured dangerous levels of xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and racist rhetoric, as well as a devastating rise in hate crimes," the letter reads. "This rhetoric and violence is not only a threat to our communities, but it also strikes directly against the most cherished and basic rights guaranteed by our nation's Constitution: liberty, due process, freedom of religion, and equality under law.
"We write this open letter to stand with the Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs across the United States as they endure threats, harassment, violence, and inexcusable political rhetoric. Our message is unmistakable: we thank you for serving your communities and we are proud to have you beside us as full and equal members of the American family."
"This letter marks the start of a coordinated campaign in cities across the country to push back on the increasing attacks against immigrants and Muslims, which have reached levels unseen since September 11th," Ady Barkan, co-director of Local Progress, said on a conference call with reporters. "In the coming weeks, dozens of cities are going to be passing resolutions reiterating this message of inclusion and laying the groundwork for public policy reforms in 2017."
Eleven Chicago aldermen were among the Illinoisans who signed the letter. They include Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) and Progressive Reform Caucus members Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Toni Foulkes (16th), David Moore (17th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Chris Taliaferro (29th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and John Arena (45th).
The other Illinois-based signees were Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (7th District); Champaign County Board Member Shana Jo Harrison (9th District); Vance Wyatt, board president of North Chicago's Foss Park District; Mary Kay Prusnick, board of education secretary for Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54; and Riverdale Park District Commissioner Byron Stanley.
"As elected representatives, we say to those of you who are in the streets fighting for your lives to matter, who hear yourselves described as murderers and rapists by candidates for the nation's highest offices, who fear for the safety of your children in your places of worship: We are on your side," the letter states. "We see the richness and beauty of your lives and we know that America cannot thrive unless you do."
The letter does not specially mention Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric.
"One of the reasons why I joined this campaign is because it wasn't about Donald Trump," Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, said of the newly launched anti-hate campaign.
The "political rhetoric -- in particular the anti-Muslim rhetoric that we've been hearing -- has, first of all, existed for many years before there was ever a Donald Trump," she explained.
"It's really important to me that the message that we're sending is to anyone -- whether you are a very local elected official, whether you are a state legislator, whether you are a member of Congress -- that engaging in any hateful rhetoric against Muslims is unacceptable," Sarsour continued. "When you focus in on Donald Trump, what you're essentially doing is you are erasing many years of impact of political rhetoric on communities across the country."
U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN,7), one of two Muslim members of Congress, is also involved with the new anti-hate campaign.
"Whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think any call to restrict our freedom of religion has to be and must be condemned," Carson said. "Candidates must know that if they are elected, it will not be because of hateful comments, because an attack on my faith today is an attack on your faith tomorrow. And as a Muslim, I will not stand to see that happen."
Image: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast