Midwest Arab community learning to make an impact in the elections
By Sadaf Ali, MMNS
Dearborn-April 4: â€œMake an Impactâ€ was the theme of a two day voter engagement training sponsored by ACCESS and the Arab American Institute at UM Dearbornâ€™s Professional Education Center (PEC).
The training was facilitated by Wellstone Action Network, an organization which works with people across the United States in focused advocacy campaigns on progressive issues.
According to Nadia Tonova, Advocacy Coordinator for ACCESS, the participants leaned about photo registration process, how to recruit and retain volunteers to help with grassroots campaigns, as well as create ambassadors for the community.
â€œThis training is really going to let people be active this election year,â€ she said.
â€œWeâ€™re teaching them how to get others engaged,â€ said Valerie Smith, Midwest Organizing Director of the Arab American Institute.
Tonova says that this is the first time a detailed training has been presented to the community and she hopes it will create a strong base of volunteers in the Arab American community.
â€œThis is a chance for Arab Americans to make a change,â€ she said.
Smith says itâ€™s imperative that Arab Americans, not only register to vote, but try to get involved in the election process to get their voices heard.
â€œThere are concerns about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, concerns about civil liberties, but they are also concerned about getting the community involved. Getting them to have enough faith to participate and motivating them to express their concerns in the electoral field,â€ she said.
However, Salem Ghandour, a University of Michigan Dearborn Graduate Student, says that there are many other issues that Arabs need to focus on.
â€œWeâ€™ve boxed our community into foreign policy. But first and foremost, are their children getting the education they deserve? Are they getting the opportunities they deserve because this is why our parents came here in the first place,â€ he said.
According to Smith the numbers of Arab Americans is significant enough in Michigan and Ohio to make both potential swing States.
â€œUnlike other States, the Arab American community does have enough numbers that is a very close election, which this may be, they can make a difference. This is a non-partisan State and we have members of the community on both sides,â€ she said,â€ Candidates need to get engaged.â€
Linda Mansour, a resident of Toledo, found the training to be well worth the drive.
â€œItâ€™s important for Arab Americans to learn. Weâ€™re behind the curve, as far as, getting politically engaged,â€ she said.
When comparing the previous election year to 2008, Smith says there is a big change.
â€œWeâ€™re seeing a lot of people on the Democratic side very motivated and engaging in primary campaigns. Arab Americans Republicans are not that enthusiastic this time around,â€ said Smith.
â€œI think Obama has set the stage for this election. He set it is way Iâ€™ve never seen before,â€ said Mansour, â€œIâ€™ve also never seen the youth this engaged before.â€
â€œLast election year I didnâ€™t pay attention to the primaries, but this year is a lot more competitive,â€ said Ghandour.
But learning the process is the main objective for Mansour.
â€œIn order for us to make a difference, we need to learn how to make a difference.â€