Collaboration Key to Advancing Arab Americans’ Priorities
By: Heba Mohammad/Arab America Contributing Writer
As Arab Americans continue to confront challenges, both new and ongoing, collective response is required to move the community forward. An attitude of cooperation has long served the community well, and recent successes are a testament to the power of collective action.
In the last few months alone, Arab Americans have successfully mobilized to make their voices heard in local, state, and national communities. Included in those successes are efforts regarding National Arab American Heritage Month, school textbook & curriculum modifications, and presenting a shared voice on policy priorities to both presidential candidates and Congress.
On the final day of April, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a resolution “[e]xpressing support for the recognition of April as Arab American Heritage Month and celebrating the heritage and culture of Arab Americans in the United States.” This resolution topped off a month of resolutions, proclamations, and celebrations across the country that recognized April as Arab American Heritage Month.
In total, 109 different proclamations—at the local, state, and federal level—in at least 26 different states were issued recognizing the month. Each proclamation shared common elements, and that is no coincidence. Many Arab Americans have advocated with local officials in previous years to secure proclamations in their communities (notably, Montgomery County, MD has a long history of AAHM proclamations), and in recent years advocates have moved to a collaborative strategy to spread a shared message of Heritage Month as far and wide as possible.
This strategy initiated by Arab America brought together a grass-roots network of advocates from all corners of their respective states and encouraged them to work together in securing National Arab Heritage Month proclamations. From New York to California to Texas to Ohio, and several states in between, Arab Americans worked in sync to raise the profile of the community, its contributions, and its history throughout Arab American Heritage Month. The efforts are a resounding example of the power of joint efforts.
In the Washington, DC Metro area, a group of advocates founded the National Arab American Women’s Association (NAAWA), and they have been working collaboratively on top community priorities since day one. NAAWA’s educational outreach committee has taken on the challenge of reviewing school textbooks for anti-Arab biases. When they find textbooks that malign Arab and/or Arab American history and culture, they leap into action to work with the school board to find a suitable replacement or supplemental materials.
The committee recently secured supplemental materials in Virginia’s Fairfax County School District, and are working on a national campaign to improve textbooks and curriculum in every state. This campaign to improve public education curriculum is predicated on a collaborative model, much like the model they used locally in Virginia, to achieve their goals.
Improvements to education are not the only policy area that benefits from collaborative Arab American advocacy. A collective advocacy voice from Arab Americans has made policy advancements possible for decades. In this spirit, community members, leaders, and organizations often work together to determine policy priorities and the asks that must be made of representatives at all levels of government.
An annual example of this cooperation is Arab American Leadership Days. This conference, co-hosted by the Arab American Institute, National Network for Arab American Communities, Network of Arab-American Professionals, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, convenes advocates in DC for two days of learning, sharing, and advocacy on Capitol Hill. This opportunity allows attendees to share their own experiences, local challenges, and community needs in order to produce a collective national strategy and messaging points for the year.
The implementation of this shared strategy and messaging points in localities across the country presents a unified voice on policies that are particularly impactful to the community. Pragmatically, when advocates are able to deliver a message repeatedly to their representatives’ offices, and from multiple constituents, the chances of moving their policies increases.
The effects of unified voices on policy are also playing out on the national stage as the country prepares for the 2020 election. Presidential candidates are facing repeated questioning on their position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The questioning has become so anticipated that multiple candidates go to town halls prepared with responses. Candidates’ preparations are a testament to the value of shared goals and messaging among communities.
These examples of recent work in the Arab American community demonstrate how cooperation only enhances the work and outcomes. If anything is to be accomplished on current community priorities, including a full and accurate 2020 census count, free speech protections, and an end to discriminatory policies like the Muslim & Refugee Bans, then the only option is to work together for the common benefit of the entire community.
As Arab Americans look to the future, the seen & unforeseen obstacles necessitate a collective response with all hands on deck. Consider this your call to action. If you are not yet engaged in community advocacy, there is an organization or organized effort waiting to welcome you. Reach out today, and join the efforts to uplift your community.
Heba Mohammad is a National Field Coordinator for the Arab American Institute.