Have you ever wondered what a Donald Trump rally looks like on the inside, but didn’t want to go because, well, every account so far is completely terrifying? Now, we have some perspective for you from a South Asian-American person who wanted to send a message.
Shahjehan Khan, guitarist for the all-Desi incendiary punk band The Kominas, offered Colorlines a statement soon after a January 4 Trump rally he and others protested in his hometown of Lowell, Mass. His frank statement highlights the ways in which people of color protesting Trump’s events are made to fear for their safety, even as they simply exercise their First Amendment rights. The fact that Khan is a South Asian-American man in a band that espouses critical views of Islamophobia makes his testimony distinct from numerous others that have become public since Trump hit the national political stage.
With his permission, we’ve included segments of Khan’s statement (edited for readability) below:
It’s funny. Even though I have known for years now about how racist and segregated Boston/Massachusetts actually is, I suppose that I still have this notion that I am safe here, that I can hide away safely from the ignorance in the world if I choose to. I have spent the better part of a decade in Lowell, MA, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, a hub of Southeast Asian immigration, and also where The Kominas wrote and recorded our first songs and played our first shows. I recently completed my Masters at UMASS Lowell in Community Social Psychology, which emphasizes social justice and action as one of its pillars, so I felt that I had to raise my voice along with my classmates and what I thought was the majority opinion around here.
After tonight, I have to say that the terrorists won. I am afraid to even leave my house.
Khan attended as part of a protest partially organized by Community Advocates for Justice and Equality (CAJE), a local community advocacy group. Protesters met near the rally site before splitting into "smaller groups of five or six," and some of the protesters (including Khan) tried to infiltrate the rally crowd. Khan describes the scene:
As my friends and I tried our best to blend in, we heard the laughter from within the line. We neared the front entrance, where I saw a Black man being interviewed wearing a shirt that said, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Romney,” was saying how much he hated Obama. An independent cameraman was eating it up. "MMMkkkay," I thought. …When we finally entered, I took off my jacket and hood, I started to feel anxiety as now everyone’s faces were lit up, my hood was off, my PYAAR hat was in full view, and it was blatantly obvious I was not White. I started to feel the sense that everyone’s gaze was on me. We went through metal detectors, where, of course, I got the extra-careful search out of the three of our pack.
Khan and others in his group were approached inside by people who gave them Trump signs. He went to the bathroom to fix his shirt, which read "#MuslimNotTerrorist" (he’d turned it inside-out so he could sneak in undetected). When he emerged, he saw the crowd being riled up by a number of speakers and with chants like "Build the wall." Trump eventually came out to the sound of Twisted Sister’s "We’re Not Gonna Take It." Protesters interrupted Trump several times in the middle of the enthusiastically-recieved speech, and Khan described the actions he and his group took:
Following three or four other disruptions, my group eventually started shouting our “Hey Hey Ho Ho Racism/Sexism/and Islamophobia has got to go” chant; by this time, the crowd was a little more on the annoyed side, but they were still very rowdy and glad to see us go. On my way out, I looked right into the eyes of a man and screamed, “I’m an American, just like you," to which he replied, “Then act like it!” I tried to pause to put my jacket on, but the police shouted at us to get off the property, holding my hands specifically as if ready to cuff them, but eventually just throwing me out.
He concludes his statement on this somber note:
Yes, the disruptions were extremely empowering, and we certainly gave it our all. But it was the cheering, the non-stop cheering, and passionate hangers-on of every one of Trump’s words that has left me with a sense of fear and panic. I feel that my band has a lot of work to do this year, and is unfortunately more relevant than ever before. Maybe this was the sort of wake-up call I needed, and that Trump didn’t expect to give me.