Darakshan Raja is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress, in which we feature outstanding women throughout the year. Check out the series here!
"As a Pakistani-Muslim woman, I think there's a lot of anxiety and really legitimate fear," Darakshan Raja says.
It's just days until the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Raja, a longtime activist, isn't sure what the next four years will bring. "To be very honest, I have this anxiety. I don't know how the administration is going to come into power and how they'll target communities [like] Muslim communities, undocumented communities, Syrian refugees. He's named these communities and I'm part of one of these communities."
Darakshan Raja has spent her adult life advocating on behalf of women and people of color. A native of the Bronx, she became interested in activism while attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
"A lot of activism started out with gender-based violence and sexual violence," she says.
She began as an advocate for victims of sexual assault on campus, even becoming a rape crisis counselor, then expanded into areas of race, immigration and Islamophobia. After graduation, she moved to Washington D.C. and she's currently the co-director at the Washington Peace Center, a grassroots organization that supports movement-building through political education and mobilizations in Washington D.C. She is also co-Founder of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum, a local collective of Muslim women organizers fighting against structural Islamophobia in the District.
This election—and its aftermath—are terrifyingly apparent to Raja, both professionally and personally. "Millions voted for [Trump] because of his explicit anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-woman [platform]," she says. "It also makes me worry that there's a serious strand in this country that does believe and is okay with racism, is okay with patriarchy, is okay with Islamophobia and xenophobia."
She points to "individual level hate" and the surge of hate crimes that have occurred following the election. "People feel emboldened to send you threats and to call you and say, 'Go back.' That individual hate; we'll probably see intensify more. It's very terrifying."
It's times like these that call for vigilance and if anything, the need for activism has never been greater.
"There's a lot of new energy [following the election] of people wanting to be plugged in." Raja encourages people to get involved in whatever way they can; you don't need to be a professional activist to enact change. "Anybody who's looking to get involved, that already in itself is a positive first step because it shows you're willing to take action." She advises to start local. "Support your local movement groups doing work. Your local activism groups. For example, under Trump, we know a lot programs funded by the federal government will probably be slashed or cut down. That means groups that deal with things like hunger, access to affordable housing (for particularly women)...may be getting slashed. It's going to be the power of local communities and local folks that are going to have to rise up and do more."
Raja created a list of groups across the country as a resource to get started— but any help is helpful. "If you're really busy and don't really have time, donating and supporting organizations (especially grassroots groups) is gonna be important. Even giving $5 each month."
There's activism on a large scale, but everyday activism matters too. "Go to social media, speak out as much you can. Have conversations with your family," she says. "Activism is very broad. It doesn't necessarily mean picking up a sign and hitting the streets, doing a march or a vigil. It's also saying to your friends or family members at the dinner table, 'Hey. Can we have a conversation on race? Can we have a conversation on Islamophobia?'"