Over 1,000 Yemeni bodega owners and employees went on strike Thursday afternoon to protest the current travel ban that bars Syrian refugees and people from the predominantly Muslim nations of Yemen, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Iraq from currently entering the country.
The strike—organized by Zaid Nagi, Debbie Almontaser, Widad Hassan, Summer Nasser, and Rabyaah Althaibani—began at noon and will last until 8 P.M. During that time, participants are rallying at Borough Hall in Brooklyn where they’re sharing stories of how the Muslim ban has or will affect them and having a call to prayer.
“The news hit of the executive order, the whole community was shocked and scared, they didn’t know what to do, they were paralyzed,” Nagi, a 36-year-old Yemeni investor and part-owner of 20 bodegas and cellphone stores, told DNAinfo. “Then we saw everyone from everywhere jump in to protect us, to defend us. All over the Yemeni community there was this feeling of we could speak and people are here to help us and we have a voice. We must do something. If we don’t do something then who’s going to protect us?”
News of the strike was spread in mosques, on social media, and—most uniquely—through the Yemeni-owned company ATM World, which supplies ATMs to bodegas across the East Coast.
For fear of Yemini-owned businesses becoming targets for harassment, organizers have declined to release a list of all the participating businesses. But, as reported by DNAinfo’s Gwynne Hogan, “between 4,000 and 6,000 bodegas and grocery stores across the city are owned by Yemeni immigrants, according to Debbie Almontaser, an organizer of the rally and board member at the Muslim Community Network.”
Photos of the rally, shared through the hashtag #bodegastrike, show a large and growing crowd, as well as allies showing their support across the city.
Strikes, especially those formed outside of a union, come at tremendous costs to small business owners and the risk of retribution—especially for immigrants—is high. Kudos to these brave men and women. I’ll do my best to not complain about prices at your fine stores ever again.