Political Dreams Realized…But The Work Has Just Begun!
Reflection by Reema Ahmad, Project M Director
The Electoral Revolution
While all eyes have been on the world changing in the Middle East, there has been a revolution going on in our own backyards in the southwest suburbs of Chicago…led by our very own Project Mobilize!
Project M is a non-partisan, non-profit political action organization dedicated to developing the civic potential in politically marginalized communities, being the year-round vehicle through which these communities organize around important issues, and advocating on behalf of the community to elected officials. Over the past year, this has meant working out of a full-time office in the southwest suburbs of Chicago on the Arab, South-East Asian, and Muslim American communities there.
The revolution began just one year ago with a simple idea: our communities are more than capable of seizing the civic rights and responsibilities that come with being engaged citizens of our local communities. We have the political capital, we have the know-how, we even have outstanding organizations that have laid a strong foundation of civic awareness…all that was needed now was an organization to funnel this talent and energy into more targeted political action.
Six months later saw these same politically marginalized communities make the leap from active, engaged citizens to leaders seeking to give back to their communities through elected political office. Project Mobilize recruited, trained, and ran 7 Muslim American Candidates for the spring elections that took place this past April 5, 2011.
They candidates came from all across the Muslim American community of the southwest suburbs. They are educators, lawyers, community activists, healthcare professionals, social service providers, and more. Despite their unique experiences, they only represented a portion of the diversity of talents found within the Muslim American communities of Chicagoland. Yet this was just the start, the beginning of the journey, from communities that are aware of the issues and working for change, to stake-holders with representation in the decision-making processes of our local governments.
Yes, our communities have been politically burned in the past. We have thrown our support behind elected officials who have not appreciated the voices of their Muslim American constituents, let alone sought to accurately represent their needs and concerns in elected office. Yet this is precisely where Project M is changing the landscape, by bridging this disconnect in exhibiting the deep commitment the Muslim American community has to the political process and to the American Dream of giving back to our communities through meaningful involvement in government.
Project M Candidate and newly-elected Bridgeview Library Trustee Ahmed Aduib underscored this point during his campaign. “It took [our] community a while to realize that we need to start getting active, we need to start pushing…this country is our country just like anyone else,” emphasized Aduib, “I was born and raised here, so I might as well start making a difference here.”
This sentiment was the driving force behind each of Project M’s seven candidates throughout the election cycle. The realization that no one citizen can sit back and criticize how their schools are operating or about the lack of programs at the local library without taking a stand and making a concerted effort to be part of the change we wish to see throughout our local communities – positive change that would benefit all segments of the community.
In the months leading up to Election Day April 5, 2011, volunteers went door to door educating people on the importance of voting in this election. They distributed postcards with information on the candidates and where to vote to not only members of the Muslim American community, but to the communities as a whole. For the first time in the history of our local Muslim American community, we had a concerted effort leading up to a spring municipal election to bring people out to the polls.
On Election Day, while others sat out this opportunity to have their voice heard, Project M volunteers were at polls sites all across the southwest suburbs making sure the people who did come out to vote, knew exactly who they should vote for. Volunteers knocked on voters doors that day bringing them out to the polls to cast their ballot.
In all, over 50 youth were part of the electoral revolution that brought out hundreds of people to vote for local elections. Two of Project M’s candidates joined the legions of engaged citizens before them to become elected officials. And everyone involved learned that the journey towards greater political representation and civic involvement is a long one. It will take hundreds of hours and scores more individuals dedicated their time to education, mobilization, and outreach. It will take our community coming out in full support of these efforts, both physically and financially. But this effort is well worth the time, money, and resources expended on it, because as our brethren in other parts of the world have shown, political representation is a right worth our lives.
The Work Has Just Begun…
Election Day always comes as a climax in the political activities of our local Muslim American communities. April 5, 2011 was no different, with scores of volunteers of all ages out from before the polls opened at 6:00 AM to long after the last election tape was printed and results were announced. Every year our community takes what they can from these results and melts slowly back into the backdrop of political involvement. Not this year.
With the spring elections firmly behind us and a handful of newly-elected officials from the Muslim American communities – two from Project M alone – seeking to give back to their communities as a whole, now is the time to continue the political momentum built up during the election cycle. Project Mobilize is using the election results and information on increased Muslim American political involvement to show our elected officials that we are paying attention to the political process and want them to pay attention too!
It begins with our institutions, organizations, and mosques recognizing our own political potential and expressing that to our representatives, but the work does not stop there. As each of the Project M candidates will attest to, this round of political campaigns from the Muslim American community was just the start.
We need to educate ourselves on the importance of being involved in the local political process, so as to better understand just how similar our electoral revolution is to the changes many are so thrilled and active about in the Middle East. In the words of Project M candidate Itedal Shalabi, “people are dying for the democracy we have here…in America we don’t need a revolution, we just need to get more involved.”
More involvement starts today. In the coming months, Project Mobilize will be working with other local organizations to provide leadership trainings for our youth to ensure they are equipped with the skills to not only represent their community politically but also engage fellow community members and officials on issues and concerns affecting our schools, libraries, businesses, and more. We will be providing workshops throughout the community on politics 101 and how to get politically involved beyond running for elected office. We will be registering voters so more and more of our communities can ensure their voices are heard by elected officials.
And we will be running more candidates for local elected offices. The elections of November 2012 will be important for all Americans and Project M wants to make sure our communities are just as prepared. If you are interested in running for political office or expressing your political responsibilities another way, please contact Project Mobilize at 708-924-5200 or email@example.com.
It is time for our community to more fully assume our American identities – the identity that individuals such as Peter King have tried so diligently to deny. We are hard-working individuals that believe in democracy and the rights of all people. Now is the time to join our fellow Americans in acting on these universal values through increased political involvement. ‘M’ is for mobilize, get involved.
For more information contact Project Mobilize at 708-924-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.