Practical Feminism with Sharmin

Sharmin is a student at CUNY Hunter, a student organizer and a youth activist trainer at the Ya-Ya Network. She coordinates a political education program for young people of color training to become community organizers. She develops curriculum to build and create movements for anti-oppressive spaces. In particular, she works in demilitarizing schools and addressing police brutality and the presence of the NYPD in schools.

Before attending Hunter College, Sharmin was a student at SUNY Albany, where she organized and worked with Save Our SUNY to fight against budget cuts and the shutting down of important departments. Living in New York City and working in student organizing since her high school years, Sharmin is currently working in political education and youth empowerment through activism. She is studying in the South Asian studies and Political Science department.

You can find Sharmin at her blog and on Twitter as @sharminultraa.

1. What is the importance of community organizing for you? Why do you take the time to teach young people of color to do that job?

Community organizing is changing the way we look at our roles in society and the way our work reflects larger issues and initiatives to address socio-economic inequality. To educate, learn and build a movement with grassroots leadership is very empowering, and it is important for me to be involved in work that maximizes the potential for myself and others to build alternatives within our community.

I take time to educate and create resources for young people because it is the lack of investment and social reminders that have politically silenced and marginalized most of the working class people who are actively influencing the hyper capitalist system. The time it takes for us to build our community from the bottom up, is the time we take to carefully reflect on our values, roles, and impact as people living in a world that may not reflect the values and beliefs of society.

2. Can you talk more about how you are working to de militarize schools and address police brutality and presence of the NYPD in schools?

Since high school I have been visiting local high schools in NYC that have high populations of people of color and low-income students that are targeted by military recruiters to facilitate counter-military recruitment workshops.

By exposing the myths and flaws within the military industrial complex, we sought to complicate the images that are glorified by the Pentagon and multi-billion dollar Go Army advertisements. We are an alternative resource for the military, as well as a part of a coalition titled “Dignity in Schools” that seeks to address the presence of NYPD in schools and changing Chancellor’s Regulations on dealing with the school-to-prison pipeline and behavioral measures on communities of color. We are involved in grassroots campaign work in NYC to connect issues of stop and frisk, police brutality and the need for communities to be politically active against oppressive forces.

3. What has been your most effective tool for connecting to the people and communities you are looking to help? What has been the most effective tool for connecting to other activists doing similar work?

Building relationships and networks of resources spread throughout the five boroughs has helped me connect people within communities. Luckily for me, NYC has many organizations that are focused on building movement in special distinct areas – whether it be immigration, domestic violence, responding to Islamophobia and gang violence – so I’ve been able to connect and build many relationships with these dedicated people.

Organizations that are run by young people of color – Students United for a Free CUNY or Urban Youth Collaborative – have all been integral resources to meet and build with organizers in NYC.

There are many different initiatives in NYC that have been created to organize around specific legislations, and my continuous work and solidarity with communities – whether it be Hurricane Sandy victims or a Bronx hip hop collective getting evicted – the intersectionality of all the issues we face remains constant.

4. What are the one or two pressing issues that you wish people were paying more attention to?

Homelessness since Hurricane Sandy has exponentially increased, as Mayor Bloomberg publishes falsified information claiming there are no homeless people in NYC. The lack of social services and access to healthy food coincides with the alarming fare hike on public transportation. People are paying attention to rampant deteriorating society that the elite class of New York State are pushing upon us, but the are not angry enough to organize and address the fundamental flaws and lack of accountability of the people who are calling the shots, essentially.

5. Why do you love about the neighborhood you live in in NYC? Why are you working so hard to make it a better place?

I grew up in one of the biggest immigrant neighborhoods in the country, surrounded by a diverse culture with Islamic presence, hip hop, Mexican, Colombian, Asian and African influence. I grew up with a special relationship to socio economic justice and the need to address socio-economic inequity as a driving divisive force in our society. I love that NYC is a space that allows culture, art and self to flourish.

I am involved in a struggle to make a global society a better place because all struggles are interconnected.  I’ve got just as much to say about the Palestinian struggle as I do the trans discrimination that is prevalent in our society, as well as the gang rape of Jyoti Singh. They are all struggles in our world, and I am committed to the struggle.

6. Favorite under-the-radar writer and/or blog.

I’ve got a soft spot for Vijay Prashad & Arundhati Roy. Both are in academia and writers that highlight the postcolonial discourse and its impact on our intersections of race, class, identity and gender.

This is part of an on-going series of interviews with activists around the world who are putting their feminism into practice.

If you have any suggestions of people we should interview (including yourself), please write us at flyover[at]flyoverfeminism[dot]com.

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One Response to “Practical Feminism with Sharmin”

  1. Constance

    Way to go, Sharmin!

    I still don’t like the term “of color”. Reeks of racism, IMO.


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