Posted on September 03, 1996 in Washington Watch
The call came on Thursday at 4:00pm. The White House had made a list of those invited to join the President on the podium after he delivered his acceptance speech and I had been asked to be a part of the group.
I, of course, said yes and proudly took my place on the podium representing the Arab American community.
I had been to the convention podium before: in 1984 to nominate Jesse Jackson for President and in 1988 to lead the Democratic Party’s first-ever debate and floor demonstration for Palestinian rights. But this visit to the convention podium marked a truly significant turning point.
Throughout the week in Chicago there were signs of the new respect and recognition accorded to Arab Americans and to our community’s accomplishments.
We arrived in Chicago with the largest ever delegation of Arab American elected delegates and party leaders ever to attend a national party convention. There were fifty of us, compared with a mere four in 1984. And this time we were part of the mainstream of the party.
As co-convener of the newly founded National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee (NDECC), I addressed a Clinton/Gore press conference on Wednesday and was a luncheon speaker at the NDECC event that same day.
Wednesday night over 1000 gathered at the Arab American tribute to the Democratic National Convention. The Arab American community in Chicago did an extraordinary job of bringing together so many diverse elements of the community. It was an impressive gathering attended by the White House, Clinton/Gore, and Democratic Party staff as well as hundreds of delegates and other guests. The event featured a tribute to the late Ron Brown by his son Michael Brown and a stirring address by Reverend Jesse Jackson. Also speaking were an array of Arab American leaders and elected officials including: Greg Simon, Senior Advisor to Vice President Al Gore, U.S. Representatives Pat Danner, John Baldacci, and candidate for the U.S. Senate, Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub.
On Thursday night, following the President’s address, I joined the President and his other guests on the podium. The first to greet me were the chairman of the Party, the Clinton/Gore campaign manager and members of President Clinton’s senior staff and Cabinet. They praised the work of our community and many indicated that they had already been briefed on our successful event.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala proudly wore and “Arab Americans for Clinton/Gore” button which she then offered to Mrs. Gore when the Vice President’s wife expressed a desire to have one of her own. This might be dismissed as a little sign, but for those of us who have been working since the days of Arab American exclusion, that moment spoke clearly of the success of our community in entering the political mainstream.
President Clinton and the Vice President thanked me for joining them; “thanks for all your people are doing,” the President added. It was again a richly deserved moment of recognition; not a personal one, but one for a community that has endured a great deal of hardship and has worked very hard to overcome political exclusion.
Some critics will dismiss this moment and others I know will criticize it. But I know better and so do the thousands of Arab Americans who have worked to make a place for our community in the political mainstream and who now find their pace within the political process.
Have we accomplished all that we must to secure our rights, to take our respective place in our country—of course not. But are we on the right path? And are we in a place where our views and concerns can finally be heard with respect? The answer is, of course, yes.
And I was proud and humbled to be a part of making that yes possible.
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