After President-elect Donald Trump’s election win, and amid fears of heightened bigotry and hate crimes, a Brooklyn woman has set up an online form where citizens can volunteer to accompany vulnerable commuters who are worried about being harassed on their way to school or work.
Kayla Santosuosso, the deputy director of the Arab American Association of New York, created the online signup sheet on Thursday evening, after being contacted about a Muslim woman in Harlem who, in the two days since the election, had twice been harassed and threatened on her train journey to college.
“I got a direct message from someone in my network asking me if I knew somebody who could help accompany her,” Santosuosso said.
“She had notified the police but she was still facing the prospect of having to go to school in the morning on her own and she was scared.”
Santosuosso immediately wrote a public Facebook post to see if anyone was available to help.
“We ended up finding someone within five minutes to accompany her,” she said.
But the offers of assistance kept flooding in.
“I had 25 people, mostly who I know, emailing me or direct messaging me on Facebook and being like, oh hey, if her ride falls through then please put me on the list as a backup,” she said.
To keep track of them all, Santosuosso, 26, decided to create a public Google doc for potential volunteers.
“This is for New Yorkers who are willing to accompany their neighbors on their commute in light of recent harassment and threats toward people of color, LGBTQ folks and Muslims,” reads the form, before asking users to fill in simple details about their neighborhood and commute start and end point.
“I created it, posted it on Facebook, closed my computer and went to sleep,” Santosuosso said.
“I woke up the following morning and it had gotten up to 50 people. And I was like, oh, a little bigger than I thought. I head into work, where I sat in a meeting dealing with a lot of these questions related to Trump’s proposed policies, especially around things like immigration or Muslim registries. Then, at 12:30 p.m., I sat at my desk, opened up the form and it had already gone up to 1,200 responses. And it kept growing.”
At the time this story was written, 5,600 people had volunteered to accompany vulnerable commuters. And word was spreading across state lines.
“I’ve had about 200 emails at this point from California, Washington state, Oregon, Boston, D.C., New Orleans, you name it. People have been reaching out to me from all throughout the country,” said Santosuosso, a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton.
The overwhelming interest speaks, she theorized, to the extent to which “people are feeling personally responsible for the results of this election.”
“This is clearly an illustration that there is a massive amount of energy and motivation, post the election. Folks are ready to show up for their neighbor in ways that are potentially harmful to themselves. They may be putting their bodies on the line by offering to accompany somebody who may be harassed,” Santosuosso said.
“The feedback has been overwhelming in the sense that it’s been many people saying thank you. Thank you for helping me do something. Thank you for the opportunity,” she added.