It’s a scary time to be Muslim in the United States. There’s been a long string of hate crimes targeting Muslims since the December 2 shooting in San Bernardino—at least three dozen that have been reported, on top of what are surely many smaller acts of aggression as Republican front runner Donald Trump is rising in the polls after calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the country.
This moment, in turn, comes after years of well-organized and well-financed efforts to raise alarms about Muslims in America, which I wrote about the other day. Among other things, foundations have supported a push to get state legislatures to pass bans on Sharia law. Sixteen states have done so already, and legislation is pending in many others.
But a number of foundations have also been on the other side of the fight, financing small nonprofits like Muslim Advocates that work to protect civil rights and stop hate crimes.
One of the most nimble funding shops in this space is the Proteus Fund, an intermediary that receives money from both foundations and individual donors, and specializes in getting resources to grassroots groups. One initiative of Proteus is the Security & Rights Collaborative, which Lindsay Ryder, the program officer who runs it, describes as “the only donor collaborative providing targeted support to Muslim, Arab and South Asian advocacy organizations on a national scale.”
The SRC was developed seven years ago, and like other initiatives at Proteus, it doesn’t just make grants, but also provides training, networking help, communications assistance, and other resources to help grassroots groups work more effectively, connect with allies, and get their voices heard. Ryder says that Proteus has built a “network of national and grassroots organizations and leaders—many of whom are at the forefront of responding to this intense moment of increased Islamophobic rhetoric, hate crimes and efforts to implement harmful policies.”
A strength of Proteus is that it’s able to move quickly, responding to events on the ground in a way that’s more difficult for big foundations or major individual donors. Since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Proteus responded in a few ways, starting with crisis communications, which Ryder says is often the biggest challenge for grassroots groups suddenly caught in the middle of a major news story. The SRC has bolstered capacity in this area through its own work and by giving a rapid response grant to its partner ReThink Media, a Washington, D.C.-based communications outfit organized around the nexus of security, rights, and democracy issues.
In the past few weeks, says Ryder, ReThink has been providing “around-the-clock support to advocates and community leaders to develop talking points and messaging strategy; conduct broadcast spokesperson training, media outreach and polling analysis; and create content for social media campaigns that speak out against Islamophobia.”
One effort is a social media campaign to highlight the diversity of Muslim Americans and also to push President Obama and other political leaders to speak up in support of this community. The SRC has also been involved with community groups in the Los Angeles area, where Muslim Americans have felt particularly intense pressures following San Bernardino.
So where does this work go next? Ryder says that while the need for crisis communications tends to overwhelm much else in situations like this, there’s a lot of other work that needs to be done going forward to strengthen the network and capacity that the SRC has been building over recent years.
Our hunch is that some new donors will be coming to Proteus and the SRC, in the wake of the extremism and intolerance that we’ve seen over the past few weeks.