ADC picnic combines politics and fun

NEW BERLIN, Wisc. – The struggle for social justice is generally no picnic. But an exception to that rule may be the community picnic at Lions Park, held last weekend by the Wisconsin chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which drew hundreds for a day of political action, sunshine and barbecue.

Since the chapter’s founding in 1999, the picnic has emerged as its signature annual event, but according to its president, Iyad Afalqa, this year saw many more people attending, roughly four times last year’s turnout. The theme of this year’s event was unity. “You see people of different races, different backgrounds, different age groups all getting together today,” said Afalqa. “We’re different, but we’re all the same.”

Most of the day was spent on fun. There were games of soccer and volleyball, children fought with water balloons, women played tennis. Arabic music played around the picnic tables where the multiethnic food was served – ice cream and cake, pitas and hummus, kabobs, kibbi burgers and tofu dogs with ketchup and chips. The Wafas, an Arab-American family from Racine, Wisc., said they came to enjoy the day and meet new people.

But the gathering also had a serious component. The picnic was a way for the community to come together, but also to meet the new ADC board and work for change. Political discussions arose around the chapter’s literature table, and people related the political realities of their lives. Arthur Heitzer, a non-Arab guest at the gathering, talked with a college student whose family was caught up in the siege of Ramallah. Israeli bullets penetrated their home while they slept fearfully in the basement.

Much of the concern right now is for the post-Sept. 11 civil liberties of Arabs. Local Attorney Othman Atta leads the chapter’s legal subcommittee which is working to address these issues, and at the picnic hundreds of cards were circulated and signed calling for the removal of Bush appointee Peter Kirsanow from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Shortly after being seated on the commission, Kirsanow suggested the possibility of Arab Americans being forced into internment camps.

Chapter Vice President Neda Abu Khamireh said the picnic was especially important in this political setting. “After Sept. 11 there has been so much depression among Arabs because of things going on in the Middle East and the way Arabs have been represented in the media. People weren’t in the mood to go out and do something fun.” Abu Khamireh said this gathering thus provided an opportunity for much needed relaxation and interaction.

Many of the picnickers also came forward to volunteer and contribute to chapter activities. “I’ve had a lot of people come up and talk to me about how they can help,” said Sura Faraj, a member of the chapter’s board. “This is really great.”

The author can be reached at g.grass@justice.com