Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Blog

By Johara Hall

2012 Summer Intern

Jack Hanna, the Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Democrats’ Southwest Caucus, has been an active member of the Arab American community and a longtime member of the Arab American Institute. As an Attorney at Law practicing in Pennsylvania’s Indiana County and member of the PA Bar Association, Hanna has been an integral part of his local community as well. Most recently, Hanna ran for delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district and won along with Lauren E. Mahoney, Patricia Jane Jones, Al Ambrosini, James T. Davis, Cybil E. Moore.

This isn’t Hanna’s first time in the political sphere; he has been officially involved in Democratic Party politics for twenty years, and ever since high school, has had a particularly keen interest in national politics. Hanna said “being a delegate for the DNC is something I always wanted to do. In fact, I first ran for delegate in 1976. I was finally able to attend my first convention in 1996, and this year serve as delegate in Pennsylvania’s 9th congressional district.” He continued, “I’m very honored and find it very rewarding attending the convention as an Arab American, allowing me the opportunity to be an important part of the American political process while also representing Arab American interests in presidential politics.  I also have the opportunity to advocate for the human rights and political interests of Arab Americans in the American political arena.”

As part of his work as Chair of the Southwest Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Hanna has assisted the Party in the democratic delegate selection process in Western Pennsylvania and recruited delegate candidates for the DNC Convention in January and February this year. He also assisted the Obama campaign in 2008 performing the same duties. Locally, Hanna has been involved with state party ethnic outreach programs and serves as the Western Pennsylvania coordinator. Hanna described the outreach programs he organizes as “multidimensional” in that they target various ethnic groups including Arab Americans, South Asians, Latinos, and traditional European groups. Hanna is currently working on organizing an ethnic heritage event in August that “will be used as a launch for recruiting different ethnic volunteers from their respective communities to perform voting duties and registration efforts as a means of having the ethnic groups of Pennsylvania become more active in the political realm both on a local and national level.” In addition, Hanna has assisted many statewide Democratic Party campaigns in the past and this year aided Kathleen Kane obtain the nomination for Attorney General as well as gain party endorsements.

Hanna’s interest in politics stemmed from his father. “My father was involved in politics (he was quite active in the 1960’s during Kennedy’s campaign) and throughout my youth, I acquired quite an interest for politics which has really been a lifelong inspiration for me.”  Hanna’s father is of Syrian descent; his grandparents immigrated to the United States and Pennsylvania from a village forty miles from Damascus in the early 1900’s along with a group of other Syrians from the same area.

When asked about the Arab American community in Pennsylvania, Hanna said “the largest groups of Arab Americans are in the Eastern part of the state, with a large Syrian population in Allentown, north of Philadelphia--a great deal of second and third generation Syrians and Lebanese also live in Western Pennsylvania communities around the Pittsburgh area.” Hanna added, “more recent Arab American immigrants have come from all over the Arab world including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan and are concentrated in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.” The Arab American community has become more vibrant throughout the state as a result.

As the Arab American community grows in Pennsylvania, Hanna feels that being a part of an organization like AAI is increasingly valuable because it “firstly and most importantly educates me regarding Arab American issues and policies. Secondly, it creates an opportunity for me to meet fellow Arab Americans, and socially that is something I very much value. To be able to develop a network to better understand ways to politically promote the self-interests of Arab Americans is greatly valued and extremely helpful in my work.”

Hanna added “our community and our country and the world will not change if we don’t become involved in the political process. I think people have a duty to make a contribution to their communities, and their country, to improve the world and make it a better place for their families, children, and the future generations. He followed by giving advice to fellow Arab Americans interested in running for political positions, saying, “it is a long-term process that requires one to develop a network of political and community contacts as well as be involved in political activities on a consistent and long-term basis. And if you do that, your chances of becoming a delegate or have a political impact significantly increase, and if you don’t, it is very difficult to make that happen.”

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