Posted by Guest on April 27, 2018 in Blog

As a part of the Arab American Institute’s annual Leadership Days, attendees had the opportunity to meet with their members of Congress and advocate on Capitol Hill. The second day of the Arab American Leadership Day Conference, Friday April 27th, featured remarks from Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN), Congressman Hank Johnson (GA), Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI), and Congressman Keith Ellison (MN). Afterwards, Arab American constituents met with representatives from their respective Congressional districts.

Rep. McCollum spoke on her experiences working with the immigrant community in Minnesota and the need to combat the xenophobia and bigotry that these communities often face. She also commented on the progress of her Promoting Human Rights By Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act, which seeks to protect Palestinian children from abuse in Israeli military detention. Rep. McCollum emphasized that the children of Palestine deserve dignity and said the bill is one step in facilitating better conditions.

Other notable remarks at the breakfast came from Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Ellison presented a powerful call-to-action, imploring and encouraging Arab Americans to come to Congress and tell their stories. He reasoned to those in attendance that, “Who is going to tell them [Congress] but you?” Rep. Ellison emphasized the importance of Arab Americans being heard, especially regarding the direction of U.S. foreign policy towards Yemen and Syria. Brenda Lawrence’s address to Leadership Day participants echoed a similar vein. She urged young Arab Americans to register, vote and be heard. When asked about the challenging partisan nature on Capitol Hill, Rep. Lawrence poignantly quipped, “Silence is just as vicious as any hateful word you can say.” She added that people must speak up when they witness bigotry.

Following Friday morning’s breakfast AAI staff and Leadership Day attendees met with their Congressional representatives. Heba Mohammad, AAI’s field organizer, met with staff from the Wisconsin offices of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, to discuss surveillance reform, free speech, and hate crimes statues. AAI’s Yalla Vote Field Organizer from California, Johanna Mustafa, joined Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder of the Arab American Civic Council, and ACCESS member Salaam Sbini in a constituent meeting with Rep. J Louis Correa. The group discussed Rep. Correa’s stance on H.R. 4391: Promoting Human Rights By Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. AAI’s other Yalla Vote Field Organizer from Massachusetts, Stephen Austerer, also met with his representative, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, to encourage her office to get to know the Arab American and American Muslim communities on a deeper level.

The 2018 Arab American Institute Leadership Days ended on a high note, with a wide variety of Arab Americans from across the country, of all ages, converging on Capitol Hill to make the needs of this community heard. A special thanks to the offices of Rep. Betty McCollum Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Keith Ellison, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence and to the offices of all the representatives willing to meet with Leadership Days participants.

Mollie Todd is a Spring 2018 Intern at the Arab American Institute