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Amid the U.S.military withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, scores of Afghan evacuees are arriving at Dulles Airport in confusion before relocating to temporary housing in the DMV. The local Afghan community and advocates continue to volunteer with welcoming services, interpretation, donation coordination, housing support, and resource-connecting to help refugees resettling in the area. Some have been instrumental in organizing the Lafayette Square protests across from the White House that demand government action to “free” and “save” Afghanistan and to open up borders to Afghans. The gatherings have also given a space for Afghans and allies to come together to share their frustrations and process their emotions. 

A Local Global Protest

The upcoming “Stop Killing Afghans” protest this Saturday, Aug. 28 is set to be the largest to date—a globally coordinated manifestation in at least 34 cities worldwide. The causes attendees are rallying for include international support for women’s rights and safety in Afghanistan, better education, health, and infrastructure in the country, protection of freedoms of speech and press, and greater international and inter-Afghan solidarity. 

For advocates, the protests that have been going on since the Taliban took control of nearly the whole country are not enough. 

“There still needs to be awareness raised. We cannot sit back and watch as our people suffer. Let’s stand together and let’s stand for Afghanistan. Let’s be a voice for those who are not heard,” reads the Instagram post from The Afghan announcing this Saturday’s march.

“The massacre taking place, the ones killing Afghans and getting away with these monstrosities must be held accountable. We will not let these atrocities be ignored and overlooked. Ever. The protests will continue to go on and we will continue to stay firm and show our people that we will have their backs until Afghanistan sees prosperity.”

The Post Where it Started (in D.C.)

Diana Wassel, the point person for the “Stop Killing Afghans” protest in D.C., tells City Paper the District wasn’t originally included in the participating cities for the global protest. 

On Aug. 9, as the Taliban was furthering their control of Afghanistan but before the Kabul takeover, Wassel first spotted the original IG post advertising the Aug. 28 protest on @theafghan, a popular follow among Afghans. There were only 17 cities worldwide then, and D.C. wasn’t one of them. 

Her response to the post was instant: “We would love to help set up a protest in DC as well, please let me know how to go about this!!!”

The organizers at the United Afghan Association—who started these protests and hail from California—contacted Wassel shortly afterward to make it happen. The number of participating cities have doubled since then. 

The protest message for “Stop Killing Afghans” is pretty self-explanatory.

“We’re against the Taliban, we’re against … killing Afghans, you know, we want a ceasefire, we want … a lot of things that may seem out of reach,” says Wassel. “But the way we think about it is, if we—you know, my generation of Afghans, most of us have … never even been to Afghanistan—but if we just sit back and, you know, let the country fall apart and just say, ‘Oh, well, it’s always going to be like that,’ then we’re not going to get anywhere. So our goal is just get the community together at least and … stand up for … what we believe in and what we want.”

While Wassel has never been to Afghanistan, her parents, who immigrated from Kabul in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion, helped instill in her a sense of their homeland and the community. Through their stories about the journey to Pakistan, then Europe, and finally Virginia, where her entire family now lives, Wassel learned the importance of solidarity among Afghans no matter where in the world they are. 

Please Stop Your [Item] Donations!”

D.C.-area residents, businesses, and agencies have also stepped up in spades to donate and collect supplies for the evacuees—so much so that nonprofit organizations, overflowing with donation items and with little to no room to hold more, have asked folks to stop sending items to restaurants, mosques, and other centers (though money donations are always welcome and appreciated, as is temporary housing, fostering, and other social service support at organizations like these). 

“We know how big and full everyone’s hearts are, and in wanting to help and give, but currently there is a LACK OF SPACE to hold all of your donations,” reads a Facebook post from the Afghan Academy and Mustafa Center. These organizations wrote they are in contact with state and local governments who are providing basic necessities to evacuees and will let folks know if they need more donations. 

“It’s been wonderful to see refugee resettlement agencies say, ‘Stop, don’t donate.’ Like, I’ve never seen this before,” Erika Berg, who worked with refugees in Seattle for two decades before moving to D.C., tells City Paper. ‘We can’t accept any more donations [for clothes and other such items]’ …  they’re just totally overwhelmed by the number of volunteers who’ve stepped up, the aid that has come their way. Just trying to sort through it all. So that’s been lovely to see, especially on the heels of having had a president who chopped the quota for resettlement down to its lowest in history.”

What You Can Do (Besides Giving Money, Housing, and Foster Support)

So what else can folks who feel helpless do to help out? Pay attention to your personal strengths, says Wassel:

“It’s really about finding what your strong suit is. For me … I’m good at organizing things, and taking on leadership roles and sending emails, you know, to [the] media and congressmen. Some people are better with, you know, organizing donations and fundraisers and going to the refugees’ home and resettling them. There’s so many things to do.”

Wassel and another Afghan advocate named just a few non-donation ways folks can get involved: 

Use a text-based system that will reach out to your local representatives: Text “CRISIS” to 52886 to advocate for the Afghanistan cause and to get connected with the best ways to help Afghan allies and refugees

Help with donation coordination: While many places don’t need more donation items, they might need help sorting those donations and getting them to the apartments where families are resettling

Share social media posts and stories from Afghans abroad

“Social media has provided us with many possibilities that all of us can be like an activist on social media, we can echo the voices of Afghan women and children,” Sonita Alizadeh, a NYC-based advocate, tells City Paper. Alizadeh hails from Herat, Afghanistan, and uses music as a tool to help end child marriage and other issues close to her heart. 

Alizadeh’s IG account has been overflowing with Afghans’ responses to her advocacy videos, many sharing their own stories through video, something that helped raise her spirits when she felt helpless about the situation facing her compatriots abroad. Raising awareness goes hand in hand with putting pressure on government officials to better support Afghanistan, according to Alizadeh.  

Attend protests, which take place most weekends:

“The one this weekend is going to be really huge,” says Wassel. “We have high hopes for that one.”

Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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