Opinion: Trump Provides Haitians with a Unique Moment to Organize

The Women’s March in New York on Jan. 20, 2018 (Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre)

Donald “The Con” Trump has a special hatred for Haitians – in words and in action. The reasons are baffling but frankly, I don’t care. What I care about is that we Haitians don’t let this slide. The assault on our community must be met with the seriousness that it is. This is a moment for leaders to rise to the occasion and laggards to step back and join the movement.

We’ve never faced such an openly hostile administration or regime, in this case, in Washington. So far, we’ve seen the usual devouement from the usual suspects. WhatsApp groups have been created, rallies have been organized, and there are plans at work to build a stronger community.

In my years of covering and chronicling the Haitian community in New York and South Florida, in a month or so and after the furor dies down, our outrage fizzles and we go back to our daily routine until the next crisis hits Haiti. This cycle must be broken.

“The Haitian community needs to establish once and for all a permanent leadership council. We cannot and we must not continue to operate in a vacuum and respond only to crisis,” said Dr. Francis Narcisse on a newly created WhatsApp post of Haitian-American Leaders.

What is needed are serious actions. I feel encouraged that others who share my sentiments are also tired of the same game of spinning the wheel. Now the rubber must hit the road. While we’ve come a long way, the road ahead remains rockier. We cannot feel comfortable until we have taken action.

It is not too late for us to do so. There are pivotal elections coming in November. What we need to do is simple but requires dedication, sophistication, and shrewdness. Our approach should be strategic with short-, medium-, and long-term goals clearly articulated. We must set achievable and realistic goals and deadlines.

Our first task is to undertake a massive citizenship drive for Haitians who are permanent residents. We need to convince them that they are able to do more good for themselves and their friends and family members if they are a citizen. We must also impart on them that becoming a U.S. citizen doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve sold out on their beloved Haiti, a sentiment that too many people in the community embody.

It is no hyperbole to say that our very existence and significant growth in this country is in jeopardy. Over the years, I’ve seen an erosion of rights being taken away from green card holders. We don’t know where it will end.

The second step is to get a voter registration drive underway. Again, being apolitical has become a parlor game among Haitians. We’ve been accustomed to sit by and be spectators while our fate remains in the hands of people who care very little about us at best or are hostile at worst. This drive can be strategic. We can identify districts where there are large numbers of Haitians and exert influence. I think of the number of Haitian professionals who live in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. If we have enough voters, we can sway elections and ensure that people who represent us locally and federally know that if they don’t defend our interests, we will vote for candidates who do. That’s a tried-and-true message for any politician of any persuasion. It gets results.

The third step is to work with allies and find a permanent solution for the more than 60,000 holders of the temporary protected status (TPS). In addition to the TPS holders, there are thousands who are here with no legal status. We must protect them.

This is not easy work. It calls for people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work. But fortunately, we face a tailwind and are not alone. The majority of the American people are fed up and are standing up to Trump and the direction he wants to take America.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager who recently became famous for his television ads asking for Donald Trump’s impeachment, has pledged $30 million to help register voters across the country. We should put together a plan and get funding to accomplish our mutual goals.

Many of the working class among us belong to labor unions. We can enlist them in the fight. Most of them, like 1199SEIU, the nurses union, among others are leading the resistance against Trump. The unions serve as willing allies. Their support provides us with the financial and logistical means to organize and educate the community about the dangers we face.

The moment is propitious for us to organize. We cannot let this time go to waste and let the community – and the country – down. We were totally unprepared for Hurricane Trump. We need to keep our sights on the final goal: to be able to check his power this November and send him back to Mar-a-Lago permanently in 2020.

But, as we’ve seen in the last year, democracy depends on every citizen to make it work. We can’t outsource it to anyone else. If we’re to live to our Dessalinienne idealism, we must not let the founder of our native country down in our adopted homeland. Let’s take the fight to Trump to prevent others who may want to follow his footsteps in the future.

This opinion piece was originally published in The Haitian Times.

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