Aziz Shares the Power of Words at Intern Brown Bag
Posted by Guest on June 17, 2019 in Blog
Among the many lessons Nadia Aziz learned in law school, one continues to resonate: “If you’re going to write something, write it as if you are writing with a scalpel.” Aziz, who currently serves as the Co-Interim Director and Policy Council at the Stop Hate Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, shared this insight, alongside several others, with our interns as part of the Arab American Institute’s brown bag lunch series. The series allows AAI interns to explore the wide variety of career paths that members of the AAI community have taken in Washington, D.C. and beyond.
Aziz wanted to highlight the power and influence of words because, in many ways, words have defined her career. Aziz decided to become an advocate for marginalized communities in middle school, and she has held firmly onto that goal ever since. In college, when Aziz got the opportunity to meet then President Barack Obama, she didn’t miss a beat. Aziz used her words and the few seconds she had with the President to articulate the need to prioritize Palestinian human rights.
For her undergraduate thesis, Aziz decided to research how the prominence of Arab American issues and candidates had changed in the post-9/11 era. Aziz investigated how the words and rhetoric that policymakers, journalists, and others, used in discussing the Arab American community in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected the presence of the community in public life. Her research introduced Aziz to AAI through our legislative scorecards for Members of Congress.
Within months and fresh on the heels of her graduation, Aziz joined AAI as a communications intern. In that role, Aziz learned how to craft the words AAI uses to communicate with the Arab American community, policymakers, and the public. Learning to use words to motivate and drive people to action led Aziz to a volunteer manager position on a local Congressional campaign in South Carolina.
Reckoning with the consequences of words became a full-time job when Aziz rejoined AAI in the build-up to the 2016 presidential elections. The bigotry and hate directed at Arab Americans uttered by some of the country’s most prominent public figures made her role as the Government Relations Director particularly difficult. Nevertheless, she continued fighting for civil rights and advancing legislation to protect the vulnerable. During her time at AAI, Aziz advocated for a crucial set of words: section 407 of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018. There, Aziz helped outline requirements for improving air carriers’ nondiscrimination policies and practices.
Today, Aziz works on a different set of rights. Through her work at the Stop Hate Project, she defends survivors of hate crimes by helping run a hotline available to survivors in addition to advocating for legislation like the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer Hate Crime Prevention Act. The bill will encourage law enforcement agencies across the country to train their officers to identify and report hate crimes.
Aziz must also thread the needle of advocating for improved response to hate crime without encouraging more drastic measures like a new domestic terrorism criminal statute. The former has the potential to introduce law enforcement to new ways to address hate crime while the latter may simply enable the prejudice that already permeates our criminal justice system.
How does Aziz do it? She plans, with a meticulous attention to detail, every word she says, using strategy and tact to make nuance more accessible. Policymakers are wont to debate every word of every 1000-page piece of legislation, but Aziz’s resolve helps ensure that the words with which our policymakers ultimately legislate and govern are meaningful, effective, and empathetic.
This post was guest-authored by Daniel Buchman, a Summer 2019 intern at the Arab American Institute Foundation.