Posted by Joan Hanna on March 01, 2016 in Blog

Today, voters from twelve states will participate in Super Tuesday by casting votes in the 2016 Presidential primary or caucus. This phenomenon will give a broad range of people an opportunity to share their opinions from the ballot box, likely providing unstoppable momentum to the front running candidates for President. In key Super Tuesday battleground states like Massachusetts – where Bernie Sanders hopes for a strong showing against Hillary Clinton - and Virginia – a purple state in the General Election - Arab Americans are playing a critical role.

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Source: http://cambridgecivic.com

Massachusetts’ Nadeem Mazen, who is half Egyptian and an American Muslim, was elected to the Cambridge City Council in November 2013 and won reelection last November. In the short time that Councilmember Mazen has been in office, his achievements are numerous. He brought $1 million dollars of funding to the city to create the Out of School Time Coordination Office, which serves underprivileged youth in education, internship coordination, neighborhood outreach and other areas. Mazen has been an adamant supporter of increasing funding for affordable housing, and along with the rest of the council, voted to increase linkage fees of luxury apartment developers three-fold last September. Currently, he is working to push for a $15 minimum wage, a hotly debated initiative nationwide.

Before he entered the political scene, Mazen saw a deficiency of leaders from the Arab American and American Muslim community in Cambridge; Massachusetts is home to over 60,000 Arab Americans. He saw an opening to lead and train others, and took it. Mazen advocates for more Arab Americans to find a passion and driving duty for civic engagement and use it to serve and inspire their communities. Mazen’s own passion started in middle school, gaining more energy in high school and while in college at MIT. He participated in many multicultural and interfaith groups and clubs, kindling a strong sense of responsibility to be engaged in civic life, which has kept him motivated and dedicated to the causes that he cares most about: economic mobility, improving the electoral system, campaign finance reform, and keeping leaders accountable. Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign has resonated with Mazen on all of these issues, and he is a vocal supporter of the Vermont Senator’s bid for President. Mazen’s achievements as a Councilmember can also be attributed to joining his father, who is a professor, as he taught graduate classes on organizational human behavior, learning the intricacies of negotiations. Mazen has used this strategy to create real change in Cambridge.

Another crucial Super Tuesday state – and one of the most significant General Election states – is Virginia. Virginia is home to an estimated 60,000 Arab Americans, and enjoys a rich tradition of Arab Americans serving in the state’s leadership. 

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Source: Official Twitter account of Ramadan

The Arab American story unfolding in Virginia provides an important lesson for those who think their vote may not matter. Those people have not heard about David Ramadan’s election in 2011, when he was elected by just 51 votes; he is proud to have tripled his margin for his reelection in 2013, to 187 votes. This is especially remarkable, because the district he represented, District 87, voted for President Obama – twice. Ramadan is a successful businessman, community activist, and politician. He grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, attending an American prep school and researching the Constitution, American ideals, and the Republican Party’s philosophy of limited government. Still at the height of the Lebanese civil war, Ramadan was inspired from what he learned and attended college at George Mason University in Virginia, his future home.

Ramadan has been proud to fight for his district, in and out of office. From his extensive business and consulting background, Ramadan recognized the need to connect teens and the business community in a way that would benefit both parties. Ramadan introduced HB 2101: High School to Work Partnerships. The bill brought together public high schools and the business community in those districts to create apprenticeships, internships, and job shadow programs to help students gain exposure and experience with a variety of careers. During his first term as a Delegate, Ramadan introduced legislation to institute online voter registration and current voters are able update to their registration online as well. Online voter registration bills have become popular, especially in the last three years, increasing voter registration across the country. On July 23, 2013, Virginia’s online voter registration went live, and commenting on this accomplishment, Ramadan stated, “I am proud to have sponsored this legislation to assist Virginians to more conveniently participate in elections.  Online registration is secure and enhances the integrity of Virginia’s voter rolls; further, it saves costs and increases efficiency and access.” Ramadan has also been deeply involved with presidential politics. Last September, Governor Scott Walker announced that Ramadan joined his team as a co-chair of Walker’s Virginia campaign. 

The attention that Super Tuesday will receive tomorrow is predicated on the hard, oftentimes thankless work, of people like Nadeem Mazen and David Ramadan who are organizing, inspiring, and mobilizing on the ground. Local empowerment fuels the success of these primaries by driving civic participation to not only make it to the poll booth but to stay engaged in the political process. Mazen and Ramadan are two great examples of Arab American influencers who fight for, care about, and empower their constituencies in two important 2016 states.