Yarmulkes and hijabs bobbed together in a diverse crowd that marched recently from Clayborn Temple to the National Civil Rights Museum to protest President Donald Trump's executive order that bans travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.
The thousands in that march, dubbed Memphis We Belong Here, were part of a tangible, if not yet quantifiable, recent rise in activism among Memphians.
The march was one of three protests Memphis has seen in the last eight months, with crowd numbers surpassing 1,000 and peaking at 9,000. Black Lives Matter, the Women's March, and February's We Belong Here protests have seemingly drawn scores of Memphians out of political inactivity into the streets.
Experienced community organizers who have been marching with considerably smaller crowds are noticing the shift, especially in the wake of Trump's inauguration.
- Micaela Watts
- A recent OurRevolution 901 meeting
"There has been a noticeable increase. There is no question there," said Tamam Qura'n, an organizer with the growing activist group OurRevolution 901.
Memphians are eager to politically organize, Qura'n said. They want to dismantle local and national policies seen as oppressive and unseat the elected officials that sign off on them, she said.
At the last meeting of OurRevolution 901, participants discussed organizing workshops that would help citizens with no prior political experience learn how to run for local positions in the Memphis City Council or the Shelby County Commission. Other participants repeatedly stressed the importance of registering Memphians to vote and helping them get to the polls.
OurRevolution 901's first meeting had 55 participants. The second meeting had 180 participants, according to organizers.
"What has more specifically pushed people is their own specific disagreements with Trump," explains Qura'n. "Whether it's women's rights, the Muslim ban, or the wall, people have finally started to react in an action-based method."
Groups like OurRevolution 901 are not new to Memphis, but the increasing interest in them is.
Groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Comunidades Unidas en Uva Voz (CUUV) are drawing in new members. For the first time in the organization's history, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center hosted a sold-out crowd for their annual fund-raising banquet. The Official Black Lives Matter Memphis and the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition just hosted their second annual social justice fair at LeMoyne-Owen College
There's even an online calendar, Memphis Activism Calendar at www.memphisactivismcalendar.weebly.com, to keep track of the various meetings and actions of local grassroots organizations.
"I think since the election especially, there's been a surge of new people being awakened to the fact that so many groups of people are marginalized, since so many communities are being targeted under this administration," said Allison Glass, an organizer with SURJ, a group that focuses on educating white people on how they can work to dismantle institutional racism.
Glass also reports that their meetings are growing in size.
"The fact that we have a known white supremacist in one of the closest positions to our president is alarming to many people," said Glass. "People want to know how to use their white privilege to combat the racist policies we are seeing come out of the White House."