Valerie Kaur is a civil rights activist, lawyer, filmmaker and author, whose video against hate crimes in the US has taken the Internet by storm. Here is an exclusive interview with the outspoken and gutsy lady
Some weeks ago, a video of a young Indian lady speaking up against the ‘era of enormous rage’ and acts of violence against foreigners in the US, took the Internet by storm. A New Year’s Eve speech made at a historic African-American church in Washington DC, it garnered lakhs of views, making Valarie Kaur an important face for the fight against the hate wave in America. A civil rights activist, lawyer, filmmaker and author, Valarie has been pursuing the path of peace for the past 15 years. But, it is now more than ever, that her movement has gained as much steam. Writing to us over email, she says, “In the past 15 years as an activist, I have worked with many different communities fighting on a wide range of issues — hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detentions, solitary confinement, marriage equality, and Internet freedom. Working for justice has always been relevant, but it’s never been more urgent.”
Last year, Valarie launched the Revolutionary Love Project, through which she coordinated 100 film screenings and dialogues, co-created the Together Tour, taking her message to 20,000 people, and called on 45,000 Muslim households to get out to vote. About the conception of the movement she says, “Last year, distraught by the rise in hate violence during the election season, I left my job at Stanford Law to reflect on what’s missing in our movement. I realised that what we most need aren’t new policy solutions, but a different way of fighting for them. Political tactics are not enough. If anything, conventional organising tends to mirror the kinds of demonisation, suspicion, and distrust that we seek to oppose. We need a new ethic.”
Further elaborating on the urgency of the situation, she adds, “Recently, the President signed a new Muslim ban that shuts our doors to refugees and targets immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. The administration has made tweaks to the original order. But make no mistake: This is #MuslimBan 2.0. The White House’s own policy advisor promised the new ban would ‘have the same basic policy outcome’. The ban makes our country less safe, not more so. Not a single refugee since 9/11 has been convicted of domestic terrorism, nor has any immigrant from the countries targeted by the ban. Instead, the ban endangers refugees fleeing war and persecution, establishes a de-facto religious test for immigrants, and threatens our people and the Constitution.”
On February 22, 2017, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered by a gunman in Kansas who said ‘get out of my country’ before he opened fire. The incident reminded Valarie of the murder of her uncle a few years ago, which was also the reason for her to pursue activism. “I was devastated by the news and flashed back to 15 years ago when Balbir Singh Sodhi became the first person murdered in a hate crime after 9/11. Like Balbir Uncle’s murder, Srinivas’ murder is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a larger climate of fear, hate and vitriol, and foretells more violence to come. The current crisis in hate violence in America is only the latest chapter in an epidemic that began more than 15 years ago in the aftermath of 9/11,” says Valarie.
Valarie has admittedly, been at the receiving end of racism too. In December 2015, she was stopped from boarding a flight to LA after a co-passenger suspected her of being a terrorist, because her bag didn’t have a luggage tag. “I explained that I was a nursing mother, but she still didn’t let me board with my bag. I had to pull out the breast pump to show her. Only then was I allowed to take my seat. All the passengers in first class watched and I smiled weakly to show them I wasn’t a terrorist,” she says.
It’s instances like these that make Valarie’s movement more relevant and she looks at the current situation as a time of political awakening despite the apparent dark clouds. Seeking the silver lining, she says, “I ask: What if this is not the darkness of the tomb but the darkness of the womb? It remains an open question. If we as Americans do nothing in the face of hate and nationalism, then our nation — the America we aspire to be — will die. But if we choose to see this darkness as the darkness of the womb, if millions of us rise up to fight for our democracy, if we breathe and push together, then it’s possible to birth a new future.”