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Activist Linda Sarsour discusses 'Islam and Intersectionality' at Monday event

Other than one protester being removed, Linda Sarsour's on-campus talk on "Islam and Intersectionality" took place on campus Monday night without issues—and with a heavy security presence.  

Sarsour, a prominent political activist who co-chaired the 2017 Women's March on Washington, touched on a range of topics, from current policies under President Donald Trump to her own experience as an activist, Monday at Schiciano Auditorium. 

The talk featured a heavy security presence, with Sarsour arriving on campus less than three weeks after another Sarsour talk drew protesters in nearby Hillsborough

The speaker did not shy away from the topic of Palestine, discussions of which have led to allegations of anti-semitism against her in the past. Sarsour voiced support for the Palestinian people and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. 

She said that her criticisms are focused on the Israeli regime—Sarsour has said that her criticism of Israel does not make her anti-Semitic.

"When I critique, I critique the state and the government of Israel, because in fact within Israel there are Jews who are leading the fight for Palestinians within Israel," Sarsour said. 

A protester is led out during Linda Sarsour's Monday talk.  Mary Helen Wood

During the question and answer part of her talk, a protester carrying a blue and white flag interrupted Sarsour's answer to a question about her support for the Palestinian movement. The protester called Sarsour a liar and an anti-Semite before he was removed from the room by event security. 

Sarsour's talk included discussion of intersectionality, a term coined by civil rights academic and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw. As Sarsour explained it, intersectionality involves understanding that one person's identity is an interconnected web of different identities that they bring to the table. 

"[Crenshaw] basically said that you can't talk about gender justice without talking about racial justice," Sarsour said. "You can't talk about racial justice and gender justice without talking about economic justice, environmental justice."

She also discussed the implications of intersectionality in activism, touching on her own path as an activist. The 2017 Women's March presented unique challenges, Sarsour told the audience, caused by the difficulty in bringing together a diverse group over shared principles. She stressed that solidarity often involves making sacrifices in order to agree on principles—but that unity does not require uniformity.

Among strategies that Sarsour proposed to streamline the movement is prioritization—focusing on pressing issues instead of engaging in what she called "oppression Olympics" by arguing about degrees of oppression. 

However, the sacrifice required to build a movement isn't a sacrifice of principles or identity, Sarsour said, calling herself "unapologetically Palestinian-American." 

On the topic of activism, she urged audience members, particularly young people, to engage any way that they can—regardless of skills or time commitment.

"Activism does not look the same for everybody," Sarsour said. 

Although much of her talk focused on intersectionality and her own career as an activist, Sarsour also devoted time to critiquing the Trump administration's policies and discussing their place in what she described as an American history of oppression. She cast the present day as the most serious political moment of the current generation, referencing Trump's travel ban and his decision to bar transgender soldiers from the military, among other things. 

Sarsour stressed that she continues to work as an activist because of what she described as relentless optimism in the face of political challenges.

"I believe that in 2020 we're going to send a very strong and inspirational message across every corner of this world that this country stands for dignity and respect for all people," she said.  


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