As a kid growing up in Englewood, NJ the symbol of our high school was two hands shaking, one black and one white. We were far from perfect and we struggled at times with unity, but we were proud of our school’s diversity. Growing up, I had white friends, black friends, brown friends, and I was a better person because of it. Many years later, I settled in South Brunswick because it is an outstanding, diverse town and a great place to raise my three children.
As a member of the NJ General Assembly, I represent the 16th Legislative District that not only includes South Brunswick, but also a wonderful diversity of religions, ethnicities, and cultures. In fact, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country. We are stronger because we come from different countries, we speak different languages, our skin is brown, black, and white, we have different faiths, and we worship or not worship whichever way we choose.
I’ve spent the days since the election reflecting on what it means to be an American and what we just went though as a country during a long and divisive campaign. This election brought out a deep anger and resentment for many reasons. People feel left behind and unheard. But it also brought out a horrifying increase in the level of intolerance, bigotry and hatred.
New Jersey may be a diverse state, but we are not immune to the fear and anguish that is spreading. Earlier in the campaign, I attended a presidential debate watch party in a room filled with doctors, lawyers, business leaders, teachers, and scientists. What made this gathering so memorable for me, as we listened to the rhetoric about building walls, fighting ISIS, and combatting “Islamic terrorists,” was that I was the only non-Muslim in the room.
After the debate, we talked about our children, education, taxes, and jobs, as well as the bigotry and hatred that has become commonplace during this election season. The stories shared that night started with that rhetoric, but soon turned deeply personal. Stories of anguish over an entire religion equated with terrorism and stories of racism experienced every day. People told stories of trying to find an answer to a child that asks if he will have to leave the US because of his religion, or a child that says she can never be President because she is Muslim.
We cannot live in a society that accepts hatred over love, fear over unity. It is up to each of us to take a stand against hatred and intolerance, in all its forms. A stand against prejudice, against bigotry, against homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, against every -ism and every -phobia that is rooted in hatred.
As a Legislator, I pledged to represent everyone and to work tirelessly to ensure that we are all treated with fairness and respect. That’s why this summer I wrote a legislative resolution that celebrates our diversity and condemns bigotry and hatred. As an American, I am proud to live in a democracy that is one of the most diverse on the planet. We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, men, women, gay, straight, black, white, and brown, we speak a multitude of languages, some of us are recent immigrants, and some have been in America for generations. Now, we must reach out to each other, break bread, share our stories, and work even harder to make our state and our country even stronger, even greater than it already is. That is our mandate and it begins today.
Andrew Zwicker is the Democratic assemblyman representing the 16th District.