The event, which brought together several anti-war groups from around the city, was organized in response to an Oct. 9 incident on the Staten Island Ferry.
Stephanie Schwartz, a Hunter College student from Manhattan, said she was warned by Coast Guard security officers not to wear the shirt -- with Arabic writing and the English translation -- on the boat anymore, due to security concerns.
Ms. Schwartz said her experience was a reminder of the racial profiling experienced by Muslims across the country and the world, including a similar incident in August when a man wearing the shirt was made to cover up before boarding a Jet Blue flight.
"Everywhere they go, people are suspicious of them," she said. "It's unacceptable to frighten people this way."
"It's not a free democracy when people aren't able to wear a T-shirt," said Mike May of Peace Action of Staten Island.
"Any protest against taking away our civil liberties is worth it," said Elaine Brower of Great Kills.
Coast Guard spokesman Chief Tom Sperduto said he was aware of Ms. Schwartz's claim, but said the Coast Guard personnel on the boat that day denied telling Ms. Schwartz that she shouldn't wear the shirt.
Instead, he said, after being approached by a concerned passenger who pointed it out, the Coast Guardsmen told the passenger that Ms. Schwartz was not breaking a law.
"It's our policy in the Coast Guard that anyone is allowed to wear whatever they want," Sperduto said.
The slogan "We Will Not Be Silent" is said to derive from the White Rose dissident group, which opposed Nazi rule in Germany.
"This is the First Amendment," said Angelo Vega of the Bronx, gesturing to his shirt. "How can you equate this with terrorism?"
Maura Yates is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at email@example.com.
From nycindymedia: NEW YORK, NY - October 23, 2006 - Organizers from Movement for a Democratic Society, SDS, the Granny Peace Brigade, the War Resisters League, the Wobblies (IWW), the ISO and other anti-racist activists in New York City joined the We Will Not Be Silent movement in a floating protest on the Staten Island Ferry on Monday, October 23, 2006. The protest was called after a passenger on the SI Ferry was harassed by US Coast Guard personnel who objected to the Arabic lettering on her T-shirt.
One of the Coast Guardsmen indicated that wearing an Arabic language T-shirt was a provocation and told the passenger not to wear it again. New York activists were horrified at this sort of racial profiling and organized the Ferry protest to tell the Coast Guard and the world that arbitrary authority cannot criminalize an entire language or race. Participants assembled on the New York side of the Staten Island ferry at 5:00 pm - most of whom wore the Arabic language version of the “We Will Not Be Silent” T-shirt.
On Monday, October 9th, a passenger named Stephanie Schwartz boarded the Staten Island Ferry wearing a shirt that read “We Will Not Be Silent” - in both English and Arabic. Immediately after boarding, four armed Coast Guard personnel positioned themselves around her. As she got off the boat, she was accosted by another Coast Guardsman. Schwartz later recounted the following exchange:
USCG: You’d better not wear that shirt here anymore. Passenger: Excuse me? USCG: It’s not safe to wear that shirt in high security places. Passenger: What about my shirt makes it unsafe? What do you think it means? USCG: Isn’t that Arabic writing? Passenger: Yes. Is there something wrong with Arabic writing? USCG: Well, do you remember what happened with that guy on Jet Blue? Passenger: Yes. I remember that. It was racial profiling. USCG: Well, you’re obviously not a threat, but someone else wearing that shirt. Passenger: Are you saying that an Arab wearing a shirt in Arabic is a terrorist? USCG: I’m just saying you’d better not wear that shirt here anymore.
Schwartz mobilized friends and colleagues in the progressive community and the Ferry protest was called by an ad hoc group of activists from a number of activist organizations.
“I am astounded at the arrogance and insensitivity of the Coast Guardsmen who engaged in racial profiling with apparent knowledge of forethought – as indicated by the Jet Blue comment,” said Thomas Good of Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS). “As an ex-military dependent - my first wife was a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard - I know that, generally speaking, Coasties receive quite a lot of training. I think this issue needs to be addressed by the Coast Guard command structure”. Good was on board during the protest - along with a number of other SDSers including members of New School SDS, Pratt SDS, Brooklyn College SDS and the Eleanor Roosevelt High School chapter.
“I think that people have the right to travel on the Staten Island Ferry wearing an Arabic language t-shirt without being harassed,” said Kurt Hill of the People’s Firehouse, a Brooklyn based non-profit community organization. “I think that’s just outrageous,” Hill told NLN. Hill is a member of MDS New York and a longtime community activist. He was also a member of Bard SDS, back in the late sixties.
“We cannot sit idly by and allow racist anti-Arab sentiment to be enforced by officers of the United States government. We cannot be intimidated, we will not be threatened, and we will not be silent,” said Devra Morice, an organizer with SDS/MDS New York. Morice’s husband Mike participated in the Ferry protest – a protest free of police or Coast Guard harrassment.
The Ferry protesters rode to Staten Island on the 5:15 “Senator John Marchi” ferryboat - attracting a lot of attention from commuters, many of whom stopped to ask what the protest was about. The demonstrators spent some time on the Staten Island side, talking to media and commuters, before returning to New York on the “Spirit of America”. The protest ended at approximately 7 pm. Organizers were pleased with the turnout.
“As progressives, we must condemn the racial profiling of those of Arab or Muslim descent who attempt to speak out in defense of their civil rights – or to speak about issues affecting their lives,” said Sharin Chiorazzo, host of WBAI’s Live From Palestine. “I commend SDS for participating in today’s protest, for their resistance to the racial profiling of the Coast Guard and the airlines - and for resisting the US Government’s attempt to demonize anyone of Arab descent,” she added.