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Monday June 11, 2012

Sara El-Amine: An Arab American on the Obama Campaign

Posted by Emily Manna at 10:12 am

Sara El-Amine has found her calling working as National Training Director for the Obama Campaign, but working in U.S. domestic politics wasn’t quite what she expected. “I always thought I was going to be involved in international politics, I think because I would go to Lebanon during the summers growing up,” said El-Amine about her early ambitions. “I saw the impact of war firsthand, which really makes you care.”

El-Amine grew up as the eldest of five children in a Lebanese-Irish family in Massachusetts, and went on to study diplomacy at Occidental College in California with plans to work for an international organization like the United Nations. After suffering the loss of a young cousin in the 2006 war in Lebanon, however, she graduated without a clear sense of purpose, or much of an idea for what she would do next. Then, in 2007, a friend lent her a copy of then-Senator Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, which she stayed up all night reading cover to cover.

The next day, El-Amine called the Obama Iowa campaign office and asked them to put her to work. Throughout the primaries, she worked in Iowa and eight other states to help the campaign secure the Democratic nomination. As the campaign began collecting victories across the country, she became more invested, and was eventually sent to organize in Virginia for the general election. “I got sucked in and we won,” she said, “in the beginning, I don’t think any of us were expecting to win.”

El-Amine has been with the Obama Campaign ever since, and now heads up the first ever official training program on a U.S. presidential campaign. When asked about her experience in politics as an Arab American female, she says that the campaign has been a great place to work because of its diverse staff. She says that multiculturalism and different beliefs are widely accepted on the campaign, and that her coworkers have been nothing but supportive, even occasionally attending Iftar dinners with her.

While admitting that the long campaign hours are difficult, El-Amine says that the process of revolutionizing presidential campaign training has been very rewarding. “We have a really sophisticated, intense training program,” she says, “which is the same all the way across the country.” Her department also runs the Obama Organizing Fellowship Program started in 2008, a program which has supplied the campaign with one-third of its current staff.

This year’s election, she says, should energize Arab American voters in particular. “I think we deeply believe in our elections and the beauty of our democracy. There are a lot of issues we care about; we care about the economy, we have strong family values and think we should have clean air and water for our children.”

El-Amine added, “I know that so many outstanding young Arab Americans are drawn to international politics and I think that’s fantastic, but I would also say that the thing I’ve learned most in the last five years is that there is an incredibly important intersection between what happens domestically and what happens internationally.” She emphasized the importance of “neighbors organizing neighbors,” and Arab Americans making things happen within their own communities. 

Tagged as Arab Americans, Arab Americans in Political Life, Arab Americans on the Move

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