Drost Kokoye

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Drost Kokoye


Drost Kokoye is former Civic Engagement Coordinator at American Center for Outreach. Former Organizer at ACLU of Tennessee. From Halabja.

Drost Kokoye's family came to America as Kurdish refugees escaping Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The Kokoye family arrived in the United States in 1997 as refugees escaping political persecution in Iraq. Drost explained that U.S. Military Forces had recruited her parents to assist with efforts to overthrow the Iraqi government, an experience not uncommon for many Kurds. When the Iraqi government discovered that Drost’s father was assisting the American government, the family knew that their lives were in danger. U.S. forces quickly moved them out of the area. Drost and her family first traveled to refugee camps in Turkey. There they were approved for refugee status by the U.S. Government for demonstrating that if they were to return to Iraq, they feared persecution due to their religion, nationality, or political opinion. They traveled next to Guam and then were finally resettled in Phoenix, Arizona. As refugees, Drost’s family received medical and cash assistance from the federal government for a limited period of time to help them settle into their new country.

After ten months in Phoenix, Drost’s parents decided to move to Nashville, which had become home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States. An estimated eleven thousand to thirteen thousand Kurds live there. On Nashville’s south side, in an area near Nolensville Pike and Elysian Fields Road, sit Kurdish bakery shops, a food market, and a mosque called the Salahadeen Center of Nashville. But the wider community did not easily accept Kurdish refugees. Drost remembered that her adolescent and teenage years were marked with outsider status as a refugee. “In Iraq, we were seen as helpful allies to the United States, but once you [were] here, people saw you as a charity case needlessly receiving federal money and wondered why you were here in the first place...” [1]

Education

Went to Antioch Community High School

Thoughts on activism

"Always moving forward, and as you're moving, adding someone to the group you're walking with," Kokoye said.

Kokoye has been a community organizer for five years, working on issues ranging from youth and gun violence to Islamophobia in the state legislature. She was the primary organizer of several protests against police brutality in tandem with protests in Ferguson, Missouri, last semester.

She said she believes in the power of channeling emotions into activism and community developing.

"When you take that anger and organize it and turn it into power building, that's when true community happens," Kokoye said.

Kokoye is also one of the original founders of the American Muslim Advisory Council and succeeded in forcing legislators to amend the 2011 "Anti-Sharia" bill that would have restricted basic religious freedoms for Muslims across the state of Tennessee. Kokoye added that while she may work with specific issues, it is important to remember that all political and social activists are working towards the same goal. Through working together, she said, any group is able to impact change.

Koyoye said, "If you stick your head up and see the bigger picture, you will see that we're all fighting the same octopus, just different legs."[2]

"Riot" tweets

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Connections

Graduate of Middle Tennessee State University. Board member (2016) on the American Muslim Advisory Council. Member of the Muslim Student Association and affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine at UTK.[3]

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

Drost Kokoye has worked for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

TN Anti Racist Network

Drost Kokoye was involved in TN Anti Racist Network.

Murfreesboro Mosque

In the fall of 2010, Drost enrolled as a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. She would soon become part of local efforts to address one of the most publicized anti-mosque campaigns in the history of our nation.[4]

AMAC Forum

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On June 4, 2013, twenty-two-year-old Drost Kokoye drove from her home in Nashville to Manchester, Tennessee, with three other Muslim activists, Remziya Suleyman, Mohamed Shukri, and Zulfat Suara to attend a community forum organized by the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC). Drost and her colleagues were deeply involved with grassroots efforts to address the wave of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim sentiment that had taken hold in parts of Tennessee since 2010. Drost and Remziya worked for an American Muslim grassroots organization called the American Center for Outreach, and Mohamed and Zulfat were affiliated with AMAC.

On their drive, the four activists discussed the distinct possibility of encountering protests at the Manchester community forum. In fact, just a few weeks earlier, Barry West, the commissioner of Coffee County, where Manchester is located, had posted on Facebook a picture of a white man in a cowboy hat pointing a gun. West called the post “How to Wink at a Muslim.” When asked about the picture, West responded: “I’m prejudiced against anyone who’s trying to tear down this country, Muslims, Mexicans, anybody . . . If you come into this country illegally or harm us or take away benefits, I’m against it.” West’s remarks made his opinions on who is the “us” and who is the “other” in Tennessee quite clear.

West’s comments did not occur in a vacuum, however. Over the previous three years, parts of middle Tennessee had become a breeding ground for Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric. That is why AMAC had organized the community forum in Manchester. The forum, open to all residents, provided an opportunity for Muslim leaders to share basic information about Islam and American Muslims and to hear about civil rights protections from representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

While Drost, Remziya, Mohamed, and Zulfat were prepared to face opposition from anti-Muslim spokespersons and organizations at the forum, they had no idea about the extent of it until they arrived. “We didn’t expect it to be four hundred people,” Drost remembered. “Outside the location, there was a sort of pep rally going on. Pam Geller had been speaking to the crowd, riling people up.” Geller is a prominent figure who promotes Islamophobia in the United States. She is the co-founder of groups such as the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, which have been listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s map of hate groups.[5]

Anti-Israel

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"We Too Sing America"

Deepa Iyer, Activist & Author of "We Too Sing America" profiled activists such as Drost Kokoye in Nashville. Ahmad Abuznaid in Miami. Faiza Ali in New York City. Mustafa Abdullah in St. Louis. Rahul Dubey in Milwaukee, Yves Gomes in Maryland.

These are some of the young South Asian, Muslim, Arab and Sikh activists profiled in We Too Sing America.[6]

"Racism" on campus

Protestor Drost Kokoye

Racism at the University of Tennessee campus may not be as overt as some of the instances drawing national attention to Missouri in recent weeks, but it exists, students say.

"It's more implicit, it's not in your face," said student Ty Murray, with the newly organized campus cultural awareness group, Culture Shock Society. "We're in classes with students all day and no one ever says anything to us ? it's all pretty much smiles."

In the anonymity of social media, though, the "wrath" can be shocking on apps such as Yik Yak, she said.

"On Yik Yak it was crazy to see that there are students at UT who want to hurt people, and it's just because of their color," Murray said. "A lot of n-words. ? Nothing that you would feel comfortable saying in front of your parents, or in front of a school administrator."

Three Missouri teenagers were arrested this week in connection with Yik Yak posts threatening to shoot black people on the University of Missouri's Columbia campus. The threats came amid student protests over the university's handling of complaints about racism, which led to the resignations Monday of the university system's president and the Columbia campus' chancellor.

In a show of solidarity with the Mizzou protesters, about 100 students with UT's Black Student Union, Muslim Student Association, Progressive Student Alliance and other groups gathered Thursday night, offering a "safe place" for students to express their frustrations, complete with paint and canvasses.

"We're here just for awareness," Murray said. "We're not here to backlash, we're not here to get even, to reprimand anyone. We're here ? to let people know, ?Hey, this is a problem. It does exist.' "

And it exists beyond student opinions or social media, said Drost Kokoye, with the UTK Muslim Student Association.

Kokoye noted the comments of state Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, who in September questioned whether cuts could be made to $4.7 million budget designated for UT's Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The majority of the funding is tied to legal mandates and covers a wide array of programs benefiting women and minorities.

"They just want to meet the federal guidelines to the point where they don't get sued," Kokoye said. "They're tired of this stuff. They're tired of the stuff that makes this place home for ourselves."[7]

Call for Justice

Call for Justice: Joint Letter on American Muslim Solidarity Against Police Brutality, January 26, 2015;

We are contacting you on behalf of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)(1) and Muslims for Ferguson(2) to ask for your solidarity in the struggle and call for justice concerning the tragic and unnecessary police and federal law enforcement killings of Black men, women, and children in the United States.

From the time of our Noble Prophet ﷺ‎, anti-Black and anti-African racism has plagued Muslim societies and communities. The first martyr in the early days of Islam was Sumayyah (RA), who had black skin and was a victim of violence at the hands of the governing authorities of Makkah. Other companions with black skin, such as Ammar bin Yassir (RA) and Bilal (RA), were also victims of ridicule and torture by the same authorities. State violence against marginalized communities is not a new development. History has proven time and again that Muslims are not immune to these forms of oppression.

Indeed, these oppressive behaviors and practices go against the messages that are at the heart of our Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.

Signatories included Drost Kokoye - Knoxville.

Break the Silence

On Friday, Jan. 16, 2017, a handful of University of Tennessee, Knoxville students wore orange signs with black writing and a single strip of white tape.

The signs read, “I represent the individual whose [blank] prevents their voices from being heard.” Students filled the blank space with various words or phrases: “race,” “gender,” “orientation,” “class,” and many others were displayed on the front of students’ shirts. Some students even went a step further, writing phrases such as “#EndDeathTraps” and “#BreakTheSilence” on the strips of tape covering their mouths.

“Break the Silence” was organized to acknowledge oppression individuals face because of factors such as their race, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. Wearing the tape was symbolic of these individuals being “silenced.” Event organizer Corey Hodge, along with several other student participants, stood on Pedestrian Walkway from 8 a.m.—4:30 p.m., handing out signs, tape and pins with the words “I matter,” on them. Although tape was available, wearing it was optional.

Hodge's sign read, "I represent the individuals whose orientation prevents their voices from being heard." Hodge said that one did not have to be a part of a certain demographic to acknowledge its struggle.

Hodge’s sign read, “I represent the individuals whose orientation prevents their voices from being heard.” Hodge said that one did not have to be a part of a certain demographic to acknowledge its struggle.

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At 5 p.m., students gathered in the Lindsay Young auditorium in Hodges library to remove their tape and talk about what they experienced throughout the day. Hodge opened the ceremony by reciting an original poem titled, “The Silence Is Broken.” Afterwards, co-host Jasmine Taylor, UT junior and president of the Progressive Student Alliance, introduced a panel of three students and an associate professor who spoke of their motivations behind participating in “Break the Silence” and what they experienced.The panel included Sydney Buckner, UT freshmen and member of the Progressive Student Alliance; Feroza Freeland, UT sophomore and member of the College Democrats; Drost Kokoye, member of the Muslim Student Association; and associate professor Josh Inwood, Ph.D.

Each of the student panelists spoke of the wide range of reactions they received from other students and non-students. Kokoye told about an incident immediately before the start of the ceremony, where a man who had stopped to assist her with her car questioned her sign and then scoffed at her.

“He said, ‘Oh, oh God! You’re like an Obama supporter,’” Kokoye told audience members.

Each of the student panelists explained what their organizations were planning to do in order to promote open dialogue on UT’s campus. Plans included spreading awareness about dangerous working conditions both domestically and internationally and urging UT to stop supporting certain brands, encouraging students to vote regularly and providing students with more information about Muslims. Inwood said that he wanted more open conversations between students and faculty.

Each of the student panelists explained how being unable to speak for the entire day made them feel. Sydney Buckner said she thought about all individuals who were unable to speak up for themselves while participating.

Hodge closed the ceremony by urging audience members to continue to promote collective work and inclusion on UT’s campus. He asked the question, “What next?” and stated that events don’t have to be political in nature in order to bring people together.

“A simple social, where organizations with opposing demographics … that could be next,” Hodge said.[8]

"We will win"

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Drost Kokoye June 4, 2016;

I believe that we will win. ✊🏽
Asha Mohamood Noor, Mohammad A Khan, Namira Islam, Aysha Jamali.

Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing

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Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing, was a nationwide conference call organized by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Sunday October 30, 2016.

What's the nature of this right-wing threat? What has this election cycle changed about the political terrain we're fighting on? How do we need to prepare for whats coming after the election? Hear about these crucial questions from our panel of top political strategists, including Nelini Stamp, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Linda Burnham, and Sendolo Diaminah.

Those indicating interest in attending, on Facebook included Drost Kokoye.[9]

Now What? Defying Trump and the Left's Way Forward

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Now What? Defying Trump and the Left's Way Forward was a phone in webinar organized by Freedom Road Socialist Organization in the wake of the 2016 election.

Now what? We’re all asking ourselves that question in the wake of Trump’s victory. We’ve got urgent strategizing and work to do, together. Join Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the Movement for Black Lives and Freedom Road, Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Jodeen Olguin-Taylor of Mijente and WFP, Joe Schwartz of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Sendolo Diaminah of Freedom Road for a discussion of what happened, and what we should be doing to build mass defiance. And above all, how do we build the Left in this, which we know is the only solution to the crises we face?

This event will take place Tuesday November 15, 2016 at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central/6pm Pacific.

Those invited, on Facebook included Drost Kokoye.[10]

Anti-Trump protest

November 10, on the campus of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a swarm of violent protesters carrying signs, communist flags, and megaphones blocked the main stairs leading down from the Pedestrian Walkway to hold a #LoveTrumpsHate protest against the results of the U.S. presidential election.

Many of the protesters held signs condemning President Elect Donald Trump including “white supremacy lives in America,” “I don’t want a rapist for president,” and “hate is not opinion.”

Eventually, a speakerphone was turned over to a man who led the crowd in “not my president” chants that could be heard from inside buildings across campus. The crowd was then led up and around Pedestrian Walkway, where they were told to sit down and “get comfortable”, forming an “ally wall” to block or at least inconvenience anyone trying to pass through.

Tensions were high, and things even got violent. A fight erupted where UTPD was called in to intervene.

TVR writer Luke Elliot describes how he was treated by some of the protesters, “I was called a piece of s***, mother f***, someone said they hope I died, and a girl also pushed me.”

The fact that this drew such a large, aggressive crowd might not be coincidence.

Drost Kokoye, the leader of this protest, turns out to be a “Civic Engagement Coordinator” for the American Center for Outreach and an Organizer for the ACLU. She also has ties to the Muslim Student Association. She has never been a UTK Student, even though she describes herself as a student.

She previously tweeted, “When nonviolent protest isn’t enough, go on to actions the oppressor can’t ignore – riot.”[11]

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5]
  6. [6]
  7. [News Sentinel, UT students show solidarity with Mizzou protesters By Hayes Hickman of the Knoxville News Sentinel Posted: Nov. 12, 2015]
  8. Journalist, ‘Break the Silence’ event begins dialogue on campus On Friday, Jan. 16
  9. FB Revolutionary Strategies to Beat the Rising Right Wing Went 109
  10. [7]
  11. [http://thevolunteerreview.com/utk-anti-election-protest-erupts-fight/The Volunteer Review10.11.2016. Author: EditorialBoard UTK Anti-Election Protest Erupts in Fight]