Posted by Guest on April 28, 2017 in Blog

294A1847.JPGArab American Leadership Days 2017 started on Thursday with a community conversation on effective advocacy strategy and a timely debriefing on surveillance, immigration, hate crimes, and Palestine. 

To open the morning’s discussions, Maya Berry, Executive Director of AAI, began by explaining the importance of using local advocacy as a tool to address the many challenges facing the Arab American community and prompt change throughout the country. AAI’s Advocacy Roadmap is an example of this ‘act local’ approach; it contains scripts, guidelines, and tips that are invaluable to those interested in changing how the Arab American community experiences American society from the ground up.

294A1850.JPGEach attendee received a copy of the Advocacy Roadmap prior to entering the conversation and was able to pose questions in the opening panel discussion. The first panel addressed the most effective ways in which Arab Americans can mobilize and advocate for issues affecting our community. The panelists, representing AAI, NNAAC, NAAP and ADC, discussed the changes that each organization made in response to the new administration’s political stances. These included actively combating the travel ban by providing attorneys to those affected and predicting the ways in which new policies may affect Arab American children. 

They also conversed with the attendees about the controversy surrounding census data and the importance of adding a MENA category to the Census. Berry described the troubles that the community has faced in the long effort to make sure Arab Americans are counted.

294A1936.JPGThe speakers and attendees wrapped up the panel by emphasizing exactly how important community and local government engagement is for remaining vocal in politics and in creating change throughout the United States. During the second half of the day, a panel of experts briefed our leaders on issues concerning the Arab American community.

On the topic of surveillance, Adam Bates from the Cato Institute addressed the different manners in which the government has subjected Arab Americans to both overt and hidden surveillance. He examined the different ways that the government and local police forces have violated the privacy of Arab Americans and utilized profiling to create subjective watch lists and track the movements of community activists. An example of overt surveillance is the NYPD Demographics Unit. According to Bates, "for 11 years, they set up cameras in Arab and Muslim neighborhoods, they infiltrated Arab and Muslim student organizations, they infiltrated civil rights organizations.” Furthermore, 11 years of this invasive and warrantless surveillance provided the NYPD with zero leads. Even though the program was a complete failure, there are currently government officials attempting to revive it. Representative Peter King (NY) has advised President Trump to implement the resource-exhaustive and bigoted program nationwide.

294A1952.JPGGregory Chen from American Immigration Lawyers Association explained why appellate courts will be focal points in the battle against immigration restrictions for Arab Americans. Chen also stressed the effectiveness of using personal stories and building coalitions with other community activists. Additionally, Jen Smyers from Church World Service discussed how the Trump administration’s immigration policies have created additional impediments for refugees to be admitted.

Johnathan Smith from Muslim Advocates explored how President Trump’s rise to the presidency was also accompanied with a rise in hate crimes. Smith explained that a key issue regarding hate crimes is that they are massively underreported. This massive underreporting can be attributed to the fact that many communities are fearful of law enforcement. Smith recommends tracking and extensively reporting hate crimes to enlighten Members of Congress and show them that this narrative of “randomness” in perpetrators is false; it’s a widespread issue.   

294A2001.JPGFinally, Dima Khalidi from Palestine Legal discussed anti-BDS legislation and other domestic policies aimed at silencing support for Palestine throughout the United States. She explained how multi-million dollar efforts from Israeli advocacy groups and their government have created an anti-protest environment in which they can easily equate support for Palestine with anti-Semitism. 

The first Leadership Day ended with a thoughtful Q&A between the panelists and attendees. 

On the second and final Leadership Day, Arab American leaders convened on Capitol Hill to discuss key issues affecting the community with Members of Congress. 

AAI’s Maya Berry and NNAAC’s Ahmad Abuznaid made opening comments to the coalition of leaders before they attended their meetings.

294A2181.JPGOverall, Berry advised the group that under the current administration, the largest issues are the recent rise in hate crimes, underreporting of hate crimes, surveillance, and healthcare. She noted that although the strength of the Arab American community lies in the diversity of issues the community addresses, taking the initiative to support surveillance reform is especially critical because Arab Americans and American Muslims make up a large part of the national conversation on surveillance practices. Additionally, both surveillance and healthcare access impact multiple facets of life for the Arab American community, and therefore addressing them is critical to productive conversations.

Although the advent of the new administration has strongly affected Arab Americans, Berry also mentioned that it is important to recognize that many critical issues are by no means strictly partisan. Whereas the Trump administration has clearly espoused damaging policies regarding immigration, for example, Democrats have also supported detrimental Obama-era policies that laid the groundwork for the current administration's impending anti-immigrant crackdown. Because bipartisanship can both help and hinder goals that are important to the Arab American community, she encouraged the leaders present to be steadfast in their advocacy towards both parties.

After the leaders convened to strategize for their meetings, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX, 18) addressed the group, conveying her desire for increased Arab American engagement with local and federal government. Her words of encouragement were timely and well-received.

Overall, the Leadership Day participants posed insightful questions, and demonstrated their dedication to improving the lives of Arab Americans and American society.