The Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric Adams, had summoned Debbie in his office.
“Debbie, we have a problem.”
She had no idea what was going on, what had happened, or why she had been summoned.
“We have a high turnout, and it’s a security problem.”
I am sure you have no idea what I am talking about, right? So here is the scoop.
In a strike organized by Yemeni-American business owners, approximately 1,000 bodegas and other businesses shut down on Feb. 2, in protest of President Trump’s travel ban. For eight hours across the city, many delis and corner shops went dark and as many as 5,000 people gathered for a rally at Borough Hall, a government complex in downtown Brooklyn. Read here
What were the events that led up to the strike—the astounding show of force? No sooner was the travel ban announced, Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Board President of the Muslim Community Network, started receiving phone calls. Debbie is of Yemeni descent, and Yemen was on the list of the travel ban. The Yemeni community and many who had family in countries on the list, were panicking. A meeting was held—meetings were being held all over the country—what to do? After the meeting, Debbie got a call. The Yemeni community wanted to organize a bodega strike. As you know, these immigrant-owned grocery stores, are the nerve center of communities—they are open 24 hours, serving anything from basic household goods to sandwiches for anyone on-the-go. Why the strike? To demonstrate how much the city relies on them; how much they contribute to the economic and social fabric of the city. And they wanted to do this quickly, as in 4 days. Four days to organize a city-wide strike of 1,000 bodegas and other businesses. Four days!
On the morning of the strike, bodega owners shuttered their stores and started gathering in the plaza outside Borough Hall in Brooklyn. Why Borough Hall? Because this neighborhood is where the Yemeni immigrants first arrived. They started assembling in the early hours of the morning, and by mid-morning, the plaza was packed with over 5,000 people. If you have been to Borough Hall, you know that 5,000 is a lot of people for that space. That is when the Borough President called in Debbie.
“We have a high turnout, and it’s a security problem.” And he proceeded to put her in charge. “You have full authority over security. You know your community.”
Debbie had prepared for the rally in all the usual and customary ways; but this she was not prepared for. Debbie, an educator (and a good one at that), being deputized to handle security!
By 5 pm, over 6,000 people had assembled in the plaza.
The Borough President emerged, draped in a Yemeni flag, an American flag in hand, gave Debbie the keys to Borough Hall, and stood with the crowd, standing against the Muslim ban.
There were no incidents, no riots, no arrests, no disruptive conduct; just a rally that according to reports, was ‘conspicuously patriotic in theme’, with demonstrators waving Yemeni and American flags; but also a gathering that sent a clear message: that the executive order was hurting the economy.
I heard Debbie tell this story at the Auburn Seminary awards event, where she was an honoree and recipient of the Lives of Commitment Award. Well deserved, Debbie.
Anyone looking for a security chief?