Posted by Joan Hanna on October 14, 2015 in Blog
On September 30th, AAI and the Philadelphia Arab American Development Corporation convened at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, PA for an Arab American Advocacy Day. The day of advocacy focused on a campaign spearheaded by AAI: the Pennsylvania Accountability Project, as well as other community issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis and increasing the Arab American vote by having Pennsylvania’s new online voter registration page translated into Arabic. This initiative aims to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry at the state and local levels of government in Pennsylvania. Two AAI staff members were joined by upwards of 30 people, including members of AAI’s National Policy Council, local community leaders, and Arab American and American Muslim Pennsylvania residents. The group met with many elected and appointed officials throughout the day, including Governor Tom Wolf, Lieutenant Governor Michael Stack, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortés, and over 20 members of the state General Assembly.
Fourteen years after the horrific acts of September 11th, Arab Americans and American Muslims still continue to face hateful rhetoric or actions directed against them, both in public spaces and in state legislatures. This notion is especially pronounced leading up to election cycles. For example in Pennsylvania, near the end of the 2011 regular General Assembly session – a year before the 2012 general Presidential election – now former Representative RoseMarie Swanger introduced House Bill 2029, which aimed to outlaw all foreign laws in the state. Five months before HB 2029 was introduced, she co-sponsored a memo that was intended to scare her colleagues’ residents into believing that Sharia Law was a credible threat to Pennsylvanians. HB 2029 experienced almost no traction until two months before Election Day in 2012, when HB 2029 was moved from the Judiciary Committee to the State Government Committee. The State Government Committee Chair, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, tried to schedule hearings for the next month, but they were ultimately canceled for scheduling reasons.
Moving forward, it is paramount that these elected officials are held accountable for broadcasting these types of beliefs that only serve to stigmatize entire ethnic and religious groups. That is why the objective of the Pennsylvania Accountability Project is to start a discussion with state officials to significantly reduce instances of bigotry and fear mongering ahead of the 2016 election cycle. In order to accomplish this, we asked each elected official that we met with in Harrisburg to sign our “Pledge to Combat Bigotry.” Governor Wolf, Lieutenant Governor Stack, Rep. Dan Frankel, Rep. Dan McNeill, Rep. Mark Cohen, Rep. Stephen McCarter and Rep. James Roebuck signed the pledge. Lt. Gov. Stack put it well when he said: “The Pledge to Combat Bigotry takes a strong stand against hate-filled rhetoric that can often lead to fear and division within our communities. Fear and division sow the seeds of mistrust and misunderstanding, and they ultimately threaten the freedoms that all Americans hold so dearly. I signed the pledge to lend my support to fight bigotry through education, communication, and advocacy." Thanks to Lt. Governor Stack, and the myriad others who signed, Pennsylvania’s more than 180,000 Arab American residents can proudly say that their political leaders stand united, arm in arm, with them.