Posted by Kristin McCarthy on October 30, 2015 in Blog

Presidential candidates Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Governor John Kasich (R-OH), Governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addressed the Arab American Institute’s National Leadership Conference in Dearborn, Michigan to outline their understanding of the Arab American community and our issues.

Ahead of every presidential election year, AAI invites every Republican & Democratic candidate seeking their Party’s nomination to address the conference and persuade the Arab American to vote in their favor. There are over 3.7 million Arab Americans, nationwide, highly concentrated in some of the most politically contested states including Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The Arab American community has one of the highest rates of voter participation among ethnic minorities with over 88% of the Arab American community registered to vote and of those registered, 90% say they are likely to vote in upcoming national elections. The Arab American vote has become a nationally courted constituency for Democrats and Republicans alike. Below are highlights from the candidates who were able to join us.

Below are selected quotes and videos of each candidates' remarks:

Governor O’Malley addressed the more than 200 attendees gathered from 17 states in person on Friday, October 23rd after a private meeting with recently re-settled refugees from Syria and Iraq. O’Malley spoke against anti-Arab bigotry and in the need for the United States to do more in light of the refugee crisis. 

Governor Martin O’Malley (video): “We need more political involvement, not less. That’s why the Yalla Vote campaign is important…We need everyone to be fully involved in society, and even in these troubling times, that includes Arab Americans.”

“If you want to talk to someone who is passionate about the American dream, talk to a new American… We are a nation of refugees. It is in our DNA to step up… While we must do everything we can to keep our country safe, we cannot let fear defeat compassion… Solving this is difficult. Saving little kids shouldn’t be.”

Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Governor John Kasich addressed the attendees via video on Saturday.

Senator Lindsey Graham (video): “To those of you who are trying to create a dialogue in the Arab American community to affect the political process your timing is perfect. We need more involvement not less...To you and all those who believe in this idea called America – don’t get disheartened. I know times are tough and some things are being said that are not within the spirit of who we are. These times will pass, and our goal is to make sure we replace the dialogue of today with something more productive.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (video):  “At a time when the Arab American community is being profiled by law enforcement and targeted by right wing extremism, AAI’s mission of fostering civic engagement is exactly what we need. The brutal murders in Chapel Hill last February, the New York Police Department’s unconstitutional surveillance program, and a young boy’s treatment for bringing a homemade clock to school is forcing America to confront a truth minority communities face every day. We strive for a justice for all but we often fall short.”                   

Governor John Kasich (video): “Everyone needs to take a moment to try and understand one another. That’s the way I run the state of Ohio to make sure all voices are heard.”

The Arab American Institute's Executive Director, Maya Berry, says of the conference “AAI was built 30 years ago to empower Arab Americans. The response at our #Yalla2016 conference shows just how much that enterprise has worked. Arab Americans are successfully advocating for policy solutions to the issues that matter most to us—from civil rights and profiling to Palestine and Syria. Now, we are stronger and our allies greater in number. This is Yalla Vote coming to fruition."