Posted on June 12, 2000 in Washington Watch

Summer is fast approaching, but for many of us that doesn’t mean vacation. Rather it means the heating up of the political season.

With the November elections less than five months away, Arab Americans are intensifying preparations for the fall contests.

For the past six months community activists have been engaged in laying the groundwork for the campaigns. The “Yalla Vote” national voter registration efforts mobilized thousands. Town meetings were convened in key states bringing the national presidential campaigns together with Arab American community members. Hundreds of Arab Americans were elected as delegates to their state Republican or Democratic conventions. At these state meetings Arab Americans were able to generate support for and pass resolutions on a wide range of important foreign and domestic policy issues.

Now as we pass the midway point in this election year, the pace of activity will quicken and become more demanding.

On the presidential level, Arab Americans will be fully engaged. There will be formally recognized Arab American committees working for both Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore. Both committees are led by prominent Arab Americans elected and appointed officials from their respective parties and include grass roots community leaders in key states across the United States.

While the delegate selection process is not completely finalized, it appears that a record number of Arab Americans have been elected as delegates to the national conventions. For the first time, this year’s Democratic Party delegate information form includes an “Arab American” category for identification purposes–this has made it easier to determine the number of Arab Americans elected as national delegates.

Though inclusion of this category (along with the Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnic categories) may seem inconsequential, it must be recalled that just 14 years ago the Democratic party would not recognize the establishment of an Arab American Democratic Committee. With this year’s inclusion of an Arab American category, the Democrats have given Arab Americans a level of unprecedented recognition as a constituency.

On the Republican side, the delegate selection process is still far from complete, but Arab American and American Muslim Republicans held a promising meeting a few weeks ago with candidate Bush. At that time, they were given assurances that a determined effort would be made to include the communities in the campaign.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties will hold their national nominating conventions this summer. As has been the case in the past four conventions, Arab Americans will host major receptions at both events. In Philadelphia at the RNC convention and in Los Angeles at the DNC meeting, local and national Arab American leaders have planned events to bring the party leadership together with the local community.

By September, with the conventions over, the 2000 campaign will gain momentum. The election will then shift to key states where the presidential race will be decided. This year’s battleground states include: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which are home to more almost 40 percent of the Arab American community. In each of these states, Arab Americans are planning candidate support work, voter registration, education and mobilization efforts.

It must also be noted here that in addition to Arab American activity on behalf of the Republican and Democratic candidates, both the Reform Party’s Pat Buchanan and the Green Party’s Ralph Nader (himself an Arab American) are attracting some interest and support among Arab Americans.

This year also features 33 Senate races and all 435 members of Congress are up for election as well. Here, too, Arab Americans will be fully engaged.

Of special concern to the community will be those elections where Arab Americans are competing for federal posts. Republican Senator Spencer Abraham (Michigan), the Senate’s lone Arab American, is facing a very difficult reelection bid. He has, so far, been successful in raising funds from Arab Americans across the United States. Many view Abraham’s survival as a critical test for the community.

With the recent retirement announcement of Democratic Congresswoman Pat Danner (Missouri) there are only five Arab Americans running for reelection–all appear to be quite secure. Since Danner’s son, Steven, a former State Senator, has announced that he will run to fill her seat and with Republican nominee Darrell Issa (California) almost a certain victor in his bid for a first term, it is very possible that the number of Arab American Congressmen will increase from six to seven in 2000.

At last count, at least 40 other Arab Americans are running in state and local races in November. Those will also generate community support.

There are several other key races where Arab Americans have begun to pay an important role in fundraising and support activities. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate race has attracted Arab American supporters in several states–as has Republican Tom Campbell’s California Senate bid. Arab Americans are also involved in Senate races in New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

If this were not already a full agenda, add key congressional races and other local contests to the mix, and the full weight of the 2000 agenda becomes clear.

And so with just five months left, Arab Americans will need to prepare to face the complex demands of the fall. The work will be intense and not easy.

Most other ethnic groups will face some similar challenges in engaging their constituencies to play a political role. Most Americans have become alienated from politics. But Arab Americans face an additional burden. Not only must we conquer the alienation and inertia that has come to affect the majority of our fellow citizens, but we must also face down the last remnants of opposition to our right to participate in the political process.

In the 1980s, the pro-Israel forces that sought to keep Arab Americans disenfranchised oftentimes succeeded. We have fought back and secured a role for the community–but some groups are still not reconciled to our involvement. A few Jewish American newspapers, for example, have recently attacked Arab American fundraising on behalf of some candidates and there are still elements in both the Republican and Democratic camps who are seeking to limit Arab American involvement in the presidential campaigns.

Arab Americans have learned that the best way to secure the rights of the community is to continue to organize and grow in political strength. At the end of the day, the stronger our vote the more secure our community’s role will be.

The record of the Arab American community’s progress is remarkable. When we look back to the political situation of Arab Americans just 20 years ago, and compare it to where the community is today–it becomes clear how far we’ve come.

But, because we continue to face opposition, our situation remains precarious.

The next five months will tell the story. Either we will continue to move toward recognition and empowerment, or we will lose ground. This is why we cannot rest.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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