An Unlikely Pair Share A Moment That Goes Beyond Politics

Sep 28, 2018
Originally published on October 2, 2018 2:22 pm

This story is part of a new StoryCorps project called One Small Step, an effort to bring Americans with differing political views together — not to argue politics, but to get to know one another as human beings.

In 2016, following the polarizing election of President Trump, two people attended an anti-Trump rally in Austin, Texas — for two very different reasons.

Amina Amdeen, a Muslim student at the University of Texas, protested outside of the Texas State Capitol building. Joseph Weidknecht showed up with pro-Trump signs and a Make America Great Again hat.

At StoryCorps, they remember the moment that brought them together.

"I noticed you, with the hat, and I noticed that you were surrounded by some people, and I noticed that they were being kind of threatening," says Amdeen, now 21.

The people surrounding him were wearing masks, she says.

Weidknecht, now 26, who went to the rally by himself, was one of the few Trump supporters in attendance.

"I heard a click of a lighter right behind my ear, and there were about three people trying to light my shirt on fire with lighters," Weidknecht says.

"And then somebody snatched your hat off your head," Amdeen says. "And that's the point where ... something kind of snapped inside of me because I wear a Muslim hijab, and I've been in situations where people have tried to snatch it off my head. And I rushed towards you and I just started screaming 'Leave him alone! Give me that back!' "

Though Amdeen was unsuccessful in retrieving the hat, Weidknecht says he was grateful that she stepped in to defend him.

"I don't think we could be any further apart as people, and yet, it was just kinda like this common 'that's not OK' moment," Weidknecht says.

Police arrested one person involved in the altercation with Weidknecht. Others were also arrested at the rally for other offenses, though for the most part, the protest were peaceful.

"You are genuinely the only Muslim person I know. It's not that I've actively avoided, it's just, I've just never been in the position where I can interact for an extended period of time," Weidknecht says.

Up until meeting Amdeen, Weidknecht says his view of the Muslim community was influenced by news articles.

"I feel like a lot of times in the media you don't see the normal Muslims, the ones who listen to classic rock, like I do. You don't meet that Muslim," Amdeen says.

In One Small Step interviews, StoryCorps encourages people with differing political views to learn about the person behind the political label, and so Weidknecht asks her to tell him about herself.

"I was born in Baghdad, Iraq. I moved to the U.S. when I was 10 years old," she says. "Being a Muslim girl, I stood out in almost every single way that you can, in middle school, the worst time to stand out."

Weidknecht says that having been home-schooled, he can relate.

"It was a vastly different experience [than most people]. Socially, I didn't have I guess as many friends as most people would," he says.

He says he has lost friends since the election because of some of his political views. "So I hope that I can be the reason that someone decides to talk to someone as opposed to just cutting them out of their life, or blocking them on Twitter," he says.

"I'd like for this to encourage other people to engage in more conversations with people that you don't agree with," Amdeen says.

"That's what it is all about," Weidknecht says. "I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who felt like that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kelly Moffitt.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's Friday and time for StoryCorps. Today, the launch of a new project - it is called One Small Step. And it's an effort to bring together Americans with differing political views. After the 2016 election, Joseph Weidknecht went to a Trump protest in Austin. He showed up with pro-Trump signs and a "Make America Great Again" hat. Amina Amdeen, a Muslim student at the University of Texas, was one of the anti-Trump marchers. They came to StoryCorps to remember the moment that brought them together.

AMINA AMDEEN: I noticed you with the hat. And I noticed that you were surrounded by some people. And I noticed that they were being kind of threatening.

JOSEPH WEIDKNECHT: I heard a click of a lighter right behind my ear. And there were about three people trying to light my shirt on fire with lighters.

AMDEEN: And then somebody snatched your hat off your head. And that's the point where I - something kind of snapped inside me...

WEIDKNECHT: (Laughter).

AMDEEN: ...Because I wear a Muslim hijab. And I've been in situations where people have tried to snatch it off my head.

WEIDKNECHT: Wow.

AMDEEN: And I rushed towards you. And I just started screaming, leave him alone. Give me that back.

WEIDKNECHT: I don't think we could be any further apart as people. And yet, it was just kind of like this common that's-not-OK moment. You are genuinely the only Muslim person I know.

AMDEEN: (Laughter).

WEIDKNECHT: I just - it's not that I've actively avoided. It's just...

AMDEEN: Yeah.

WEIDKNECHT: ...I've just never been in the position where I can interact for an extended period of time. So I guess my views on the Muslim community have been influenced by a lot of the news articles and things of that nature.

AMDEEN: I feel like a lot of times, in the media, you don't see the normal Muslim, the one that listens to classic rock like I do.

WEIDKNECHT: (Laughter).

AMDEEN: You don't meet that Muslim.

WEIDKNECHT: Can you tell me about where you grew up? What was that part of your life like?

AMDEEN: So I was born in Baghdad in Iraq. I moved to the U.S. when I was 10 years old.

WEIDKNECHT: OK.

AMDEEN: Being a Muslim girl, I stood out in almost every single way that you can in middle school, the worst time to stand out. What about you? How was it like when you grew up?

WEIDKNECHT: I was homeschooled, so it was a vastly different experience socially. It was - I didn't have, I guess, as many friends as most people would. I only went to a public school one year of my life. And I got in three fights, and I lost all of them.

AMDEEN: Aww.

WEIDKNECHT: (Laughter) I actually lost a lot of friends because of this election - because of my political stance. So I hope that I can be the reason that someone decides to talk to someone as opposed to just cutting them out of their life or blocking them on Twitter (laughter)...

AMDEEN: Yeah.

WEIDKNECHT: ...You know?

AMDEEN: I'd like for this to encourage other people to engage in more conversations...

WEIDKNECHT: Yeah.

AMDEEN: ...With people that you don't agree with.

WEIDKNECHT: What it's all about. I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who felt like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That was Joseph Weidknecht and Amina Amdeen at StoryCorps in Austin, Texas.

To learn how to add your voice to the StoryCorps One Small Step project, go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.