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The first presidential debate was a debacle that reinforced what we’ve already known and seen from the Trump administration. There was nothing new that we haven’t seen in the last four years. Instead of condemning fringe groups built on hate and white extremism, this administration continues to embolden them. When President Donald Trump instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” that was no accident. To fully feel the magnitude of that call to action, we only need to look at this administration’s continuous attack on the American people and the very essence of our democracy.  

We must confront the history of America with courage and truth: Our country has been built on stolen land and on the backs of stolen people. We cannot understand the political implications of what Trump said without acknowledging this hard truth. Those who have taken the full brunt of xenophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic attacks over the years know that the statement from the president was meant to incite fear. It was meant to discourage marginalized communities from fully participating in our democracy. Since the debate, we’ve seen national rhetoric around raising “Trump’s army,” a planned kidnapping of a sitting U.S. governor by white male terrorists, a U.S. senator saying Black folks can be free as long as “they are conservative and not liberal,” and a country that continues to be further divided. 

On the other hand, the Trump administration is preparing to target major U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies in a further attack on people already living at the margins. We live in a country where Black, brown, and Indigenous children have always been ripped away from their families, where unarmed Black Americans’ lives are cut short by those meant to protect and serve, where our labor workers that carry the economy of the richest nation in the world on their backs do not have a living wage and a healthcare system that prioritizes profits over people. Given our history and this administration’s anti-immigrant stance, it is no surprise that there are increased ICE raids scheduled right before the election. There is also the ever present threat of withholding federal funds from cities with sanctuary policies. While hate groups are finding a platform with this administration, immigrant families trying to survive are further targeted. 

It is understandable that the American people feel fatigued, given all that we had to endure as a nation. The message sent to the American people in the last four years is a message of fear, despair, and intimidation. We are facing a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Americans. In a moment that we need leadership, a message of hope and unity, to stand strong against hate and division, we see otherwise. Despite it all, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to be bold in working towards building the country we deserve to live in. A country where all belong.

America needs to change course now. We are in the midst of writing the next chapter of America. We are the authors of our own history today. I plan on writing that chapter with hope, tenacity, and full trust that we shall overcome indeed. I know we can do better and be better. America, let’s step up for our generation and generations to come. Let’s demand more from our leadership on all levels. Let’s go beyond party politics and fight for the soul of this country together. Let’s condemn white extremist groups unequivocally and protect those who are living at the margins. A country’s strength is not just defined by its military might, but by how it treats its most vulnerable populations. We have our work cut out for us.

Ismahan Abdullahi is a human rights advocate, community organizer, and an unapologetic Muslim Black Somali refugee woman who serves as the national executive director for the Muslim American Society’s...