Potus and Flotus: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
The glitter and glamour of 2008 was not on display this election, but the concerns and challenges facing our nation brought citizens out in record numbers to re-elect President Obama.
While a diverse coalition of communities came forward to vote, the hopes and dreams of those participating to re-elect the President were clouded by four years of performance that hasn’t met expectations from 2008.
The American Muslim community overwhelmingly voted for President Obama’s re-election.
According to the American Muslim Voters and 2012 Election survey released by CAIR, over two-thirds of the community supported President Obama prior to the election.
An informal poll found that out of 650 voters contacted, 95.5% went to the polls on Nov. 6 with a whopping 88% casting their votes to re-elect President Obama. Many of these respondents were in the 5 swing states that President Obama won.
With the incredible level of political engagement, ILLUME has sought out opinions of community leaders to present their reflections on the election and what political activism will look like over the course of the next four years.
Interestingly enough, regardless of the politics of the responders, the key challenge identified overwhelmingly deals with the issue of the community lacking focus on policy goals.
Zeba was the Executive Director of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP).
Helping President Obama was important to me. I also wanted to work with my fellow American Muslims to help them understand the critical role we all play in the political process.
Political empowerment is a positive endeavor and an investment in the future of our community in this country. It is a long road that starts with informed voters who over time become volunteers and donors. Moving forward on this road requires self-determination, a commitment to our political process, collaboration, coordination and a lot of strategy.
This election, I spearheaded the online #MuslimVOTE article series and campaign with ILLUME, Altmuslim and Altmuslimah. I wanted to encourage the community to vote, to get out the Muslim voice on election-focused topics, and to create an online space for coordination and sharing of information on political organizing efforts by American Muslims across the country.
Social media is an influential space with a broad reach. It is also an easy and inexpensive way to collaborate and share information. #MuslimVOTE was very successful with approximately 30 articles written for the series, and almost 400 participants on Facebook.
Online efforts need to be complemented by ground efforts and vice versa, There were some amazing local ground efforts this year.
To start with GOTV efforts by Muslims in the battleground state of Virginia encouraged voter turnout electing Tim Kaine to the US Senate, and helping to keep Virginia blue for President Obama.
A second example is the election day GOTV efforts of the Arab American Association of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. And finally, Emerge and United Voices for America in the hard fought race for a US Congressional seat in Florida. Both organizations worked tirelessly to help Patrick Murphy defeat Islamophobe Allen West in a very close race.
Demographics played a huge role in this election and will continue to in future elections. The demographics favor us and so strengthened and amplified planning around efforts like the ones mentioned above both online and on the ground will benefit the community in 2014, 2016 and beyond.
Salim Patel is the President of the Passaic (NJ) Board of Education and he serves as Chairman on the board of The SMILE Organization.
What did Obama promise back in 2008? He promised Hope and Change.
It became the mantra of elected officials across the land. Even I used this within my inaugural address. That hope, in policy terms, was a new direction in terms of healthcare, foreign policy, and most importantly the economy.
I do not see how any President can ever deliver on all their promises no matter how noble. American Muslims have to understand that the political arena is more analogous to a marathon than the 100-meter dash.
The community sentiment is that over the next four years we will see an Executive that shows more of a “backbone” because he does not have to seek re-election.
However, what is missing from the equation is that the Executive is part of a political party and that for the next candidate of that party to successfully run for that position the current Executive has to work with his party.
Therefore, no executive is independent but rather they are beholden to the internal politics and future survival of their party.
As the American Muslim community has engaged in politics there has been exponential maturing in the four years since 2008.
They are more vocal on key policy issues that resonate with not only the Democratic Party but with all Americans no matter what side of the aisle they fall upon.
This will result in a snowball effect in 2016 where you will see a stronger and more vibrant campaign coming out of the Muslim community that may be unprecedented due to the evolving nature of elections in this digital media age.
Linda Sarsour is the director of the Arab American Association of New York.
It's 2013 and we are still waiting for the promises of 2008 to be fulfilled. I get it. It's frustrating. It makes us angry.
We feel like the community has been played for a fool. Instead of complaining about all of the promises that weren't kept and all of the additional terrible things that have happened since - drones, wiretapping, passage of NDAA, and increased deportations - I want the American Muslim community and more specifically our institutions and activists to become more effective in doing something about it.
We are the jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none. We are spread too thin and have no organizations focusing on specific issues.
Instead, we combat Islamophobia, encourage civic engagement, campaign to pass Muslim holidays in local school districts, and try to save stranded American citizens overseas - all in one organization.
In the next four years, I want to see our community become more sophisticated in our organizing. To start this process, we must map our resources, identify experts in different arenas, and invest in building institutions addressing particular priority areas.
In order to get there, the community also needs a national strategic plan. This might seem like a daunting task but the first step is for the leaders of the Muslim community to come to the same table, renew our intentions and be prepared to push a progressive agenda.
This agenda has to build on the political power and influence that the American Muslim community already has.
A progressive agenda will ensure that it protects not only our community’s rights but also benefits other marginalized communities in the United States thereby putting into practice fundamental principles of Islam: to despise oppression, to speak out against injustice and to act toward changing inequality.
Faisal Qazi is the President of MiNDS (Medical Network Devoted to Service), a Southern California based community development non-profit that provides specialty healthcare to uninsured and addresses food disparities in underserved communities.
In response to a very pointed question from a Tele-Mundo participant on broken promises on immigration during the late part of his campaign, President Obama was very clear in that he had made no explicit promise to discharge a favor to any one particular group.
On the other hand, he suggested how he vowed to work on behalf of everyone and to attempt to solve some of the country's major problems on behalf of all Americans.
For American Muslims, this idea is currently a bit abstract but likely in part due to the fact that in 2008, there was no one specific issue that was defined as our community’s cause celebre, at least with certainty.
Yes, the civil libertarians assumed that spying on American citizens, deployment of agent provocateurs at mosques and the drone strikes with their large-scale toll on innocent civilians would cease to exist.
But it didn't happen and this phenomenon took to its natural course of progression in the light of national security discourse and perpetual culture of fear emanating out of Washington much to the disappointment of the said civil libertarians.
The lackluster response to Islamophobia, avoiding visitation of American Muslim mosques by the President and failure of Syria policy became obvious issues that were the source of significant disappointment.
However, as in 2008, over 90% of Muslims (70% as suggested by a cursory Pew survey) once again voted for the President and surprisingly with some degree of enthusiasm.
Once again, no clear-cut issue was defined as this community's number one policy priority or demand. In the field of policymaking, this lack of definition for specifics usually wouldn't yield the change desired.
Winning an election is just one step and perhaps the less important than organizing around specific issues immediately thereafter for the American Muslim community. The new Obama administration should not be abandoned as it was in 2008. The American Muslims need to remain steadfast and be the backbone while pushing it to deliver.
Amanda Quraishi is a blogger, interfaith activist and technology professional living in Austin, Texas.
President Obama, since 2008, has been able to move forward on important progressive legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Affordable Care Act, while simultaneously working with the public and private sectors to bring the U.S. back from the brink of financial disaster.
He had an ambitious set of goals when he started, and while he didn’t accomplish everything he set out to do in his first term, I think the country is a better place after four years of his leadership.
Like most American Muslims, Guantanamo Bay is more then troubling. While Congress takes part of the blame for keeping it open, President Obama campaigned on the promise to close the facility when he was elected in 2008, and I can’t help but be disappointed that this wasn’t accomplished during his first term.
In his second term, President Obama is going to continue focus working on the financial recovery of the nation. He’ll also take a hard look at ways to update our domestic infrastructure and explore alternative energy sources. These issues might not seem pertinent to American Muslim concerns focus on human rights and civil liberties challenges or ignored by various branches of government.
It is important for American Muslims, regardless of our individual issues of interest, we all need to stay vigilant to make sure the government does not exceed constitutional limits.
The level of organization seen in this election by the Muslim community, for all levels of government, was impressive and mature. The community has a broad range of perspectives and this election was a clear indication of our diversity.
With the next Presidential election in 2016, this range of voices will give us a unique opportunity to engage all political spectrums and push our solutions and policy concerns for the challenges we face as a nation.
Haidar Ali Anwar is the MSA West President which is a non-profit organization representing the Muslim Student Association across the West coast of the United States.
Haidar Ali Anwar
While in 2008 I didn’t follow the Presidential elections, I did get a chance to attend President Obama’s inauguration and it was inspiring.
Reflecting back I believe strongly that President Obama performed well given that he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, two wars that had no end in sight and a international community that no longer saw America as a leader but rather a bully and in some instances an aggressor.
Given the state of our nation, I am thankful that President Obama was re-elected for a second term. I think this election highlighted the role American Muslims can play in national politics, especially as it pertains to Muslim college.
Many Muslim organizations encouraged political engagement through voting. For example the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations released their voter guidebook, which was a means of helping Muslims see how Congressional represented voted on key legislative areas that reflect the communities interest.
Similarly, the Muslim Student Association West regularly communicated to the thousands of students across the West Coast about voting, various propositions impact to student life as well as basic information found in voter guides.
The future of American Muslim political organizing will remain consistent with past election cycles because the overall national issues are predominately focused on the continuing economic challenges.
While the American Muslim community desires to organize around political issues like closing Guantanamo and ending the unprecedented use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, it would seem impractical.
However, with the large number of young college age Muslims becoming politically engaged, there will be an impetus for national organizations to gain political maturity in order to engage and stay relevant to this new crop of activists.
Pamela K. Taylor (http://www.pktaylor.com) is co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance and strong supporter of the woman Imam movement. You can read her thoughts at Newsweek-Washington Post “On Faith” blog.
Pamela K. Taylor
In 2008 President Obama promised some important things - to get us out of Iraq, to close Guantanamo, to forbid torture, to fix the economy and to this in bipartisan fashion with the Republicans.
He has delivered significant promises but not all of them.
The blame for Obama’s failures during his first terms is not solely his, rather, the recalcitrant members of Congress, namely Republicans.
One relevant example is how Republicans moved to make it illegal for President Obama to move prisoners from Guantanamo to the US when he took steps to close it down.
This is not to say that there aren’t grave concerns about President Obama’s independent actions- from indefinite detention, the use of drone strikes, and now extrajudicial killings of American citizens overseas.
With President Obama no longer focused on his actions affecting his bid for re-election there is now an opportunity to begin to see clearer stances, clarifications of doctrines and also his desire to establish executive legacy.
The American Muslim community can capitalize on this to build momentum.
The President won by tens of thousands of votes in key states – six of the seven swing states. All of these states are where the Muslim vote accounted for more than the number of votes he won by, and exit polls indicate that 95% of Muslims voted for him.
American Muslims can use these statistics to demonstrate the power of the American Muslim vote and begin to negotiate policy concerns. President Obama’s re-election is not just a national victory, but rather, we need to tell ourselves the story of how we are powerful and we made it possible for President Obama to win a second term.
There are, however, challenges to organizing Muslims around elections that is beyond getting out the vote and that is the fact that we lack focus. There are multiple issues and multiple directions by which the community can rally around.
A key way to address this challenge is to identify two or three items that we can more or less agree on as a community - healthcare, civil rights, or a specific foreign policy.
To be effective in achieving our objectives, being able to identify the three or four issues for the community to work around is critical.
Around this a Muslim MoveOn organization can be created to continue the civic engagement beyond the vote.
Politics isn't just about voting once in a while, or lobbying your Congressman its about civic engagement: being on the Parent Teacher Association for your child’s school or running for the School Board, mosques providing volunteers and funding for soup or homeless shelters more often then once a year.
This means helping to identify and supporting Muslims to participate at local public city council meetings and eventually running for local office.
Sarah Moussa is a young Arab and Muslim American community leader in Sacramento, CA.
I am proud to have voted for President Obama, both in 2008 and again in November. I’m proud to be a part of his legacy of promoting equality, access to resources, and justice for all.
I recognize his flaws, but in the face of the Republican Party’s candidates propagating Islamophobic fear-mongering, I certainly had no interest in voting for the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, as Commander-in-Chief.
Coupled with Romney’s flip-flopping stances on almost every issue and his inability to relate to middle class Americans, there was little left for me to consider supporting him.
I’m not the only American Muslim who voted for Obama, however.
American Muslims overwhelmingly supported the re-election of President Barack Obama.
In fact, minority communities like ours were one of the biggest reasons why Obama was re-elected - our voice made all the difference.
But not all minority communities who voted for him were entirely pleased with Obama’s performance over the past four years.
Latino Americans are frustrated with lack of promised immigration reform – and many members of our Muslim American communities have called Obama the “lesser of two evils”, citing his inability to act on Syria, drone strikes in Pakistan, wiretapping phone lines, and the lack of closing Guantanamo, among many other concerns.
I agree – these are issues that should have been better addressed and resolved.
But by whom?
Finger pointing aside, we all play a role in accountability.
The President and his Administration must be held accountable to his promises, primarily by his own integrity to maintain the promises so many of us relied on in deciding to give him our vote.
Even more importantly, our community should hold him accountable simply because it is in our best interest to do so.
Unfortunately, we just don’t have the political infrastructure to do so quite yet – we individually contribute to candidates and hope for the best, but we have yet to build a mobilized, collective voice to endorse candidates and hold them accountable.
Over the next four years, it is imperative that the Muslim American community create a political advocacy system to hold leaders accountable, mobilize our community and our voice, and empower our very own leaders to be at the decision making table.
Without it, we will continue to spiral into a future of voting between the lesser of two evils.
Hironao Okahana is an affiliate of the Orange County Chapter of the New Leaders Council and was a 2011-2012 Fellow of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.
Leading up to Election Day, there was a tangible sense of enthusiasm to make Muslim votes relevant in national and local races from a great number of American Muslim community leaders and activists.
Since being a Muslim is not a mere label, but rather a manifestation of traits and actions that resonates from one’s faith. As such, a critical step for Muslim leaders is to take civic participation beyond just getting out the vote.
The idea of civic engagement is something that is welcomed by the community, but perhaps not something fully embraced or appreciated as a “core” of being American Muslims.
I fear that is because ‘civic engagement’ is not quite seen as something that is grounded to an individual’s faith, but rather seen as an independent action.
Until an individual embodies civic engagement as an integral part of their faith, Muslims will continue to struggle with building a cohesive political strategy.
The debate on voting may have been largely settled, but the idea of how voting works in relation to the community’s political power is still vague and often leaves people uncertain how voting alone is relevant to the lives of American Muslims.
Consider for instance what exactly a Muslim vote means for the community?
The challenge for the 2016 Elections (or even the 2014 Mid-term Elections) is for the Muslim community to mature in its political engagement and its participation in public discourse.
Leaders and institutions need to help connect the dots between civic participation and being a Muslim. A strategy to pick low hanging fruits might have made sense for the 2012 Elections, but looking toward 2016 (or 2014), we must build community capacity to tackle larger political challenges, beyond just voter guides and courting likely voters.
For Muslim votes to be something more than a label and be something rooted to high morals and strong values, the work starts with capacity building.
Muslims need to embrace and incorporate civic participation into their American identity and civic participation is not limited to voting.
We need to challenge ourselves to show our community the depth of the democratic process that goes beyond voting.
And, political and civic discourse must become something that is talked about not just by us, organizers and political enthusiasts, but by our community-at-large.
We have to build capacity of our community, so that instead of them asking us to tell them how they should vote, they’ll be telling us how we can better represent their values in public discourse beyond on Election Day.
Souheila Al-Jadda is a Peabody award-winning television producer and journalist. Her opinion pieces have been published in newspapers in the United States,
Many people may have felt that President Obama did not achieve enough during his first term.
It is important to remember that President Obama had his hands tied in his first term because of the Republican majority in the House refused to cooperate with him.
Even in that environment he delivered on health care reform, a major political coup and one that benefits all Americans.
Americans should expect that President Obama's second term will be much different than his first term given the political bi-partisanship in Congress and the Republican majority in the House.
Given that environment, President Obama will likely be more active on foreign policy issues, especially with regards to Syria and the Middle East without engaging us in any other military entanglements.
Thus far, the US has been pretty hands off with the move toward democracy in the Middle East, which may be a good thing because the people of the region need to determine their own destiny.
Where the American Muslim community can play an active role is to make sure that American foreign policy is geared toward providing assistance in building their democracy.
Given that the process of change is not over, as witnessed by developments in Jordan, our policy stance will have an impact on how the rest of the people in the Middle East will perceive the US stance if they choose to make demands for certain rights and freedoms, particularly people in Saudi Arabia.
Mohamed Elibiary is a “Texas Republican” active in the American Muslim community and the Republican party for the past 20 years.
The key issues so important to Muslims like civil liberties and war related issues require reform efforts from within. The nature of the constraints required to bring in the Executive Branch privilege never succeeds when it is driven from inside the political party holding the White House. It requires a party not in power to drive the political debate toward constraining the Executive privilege.
American elections are nearly always cyclical, so we can expect some Republican congressional gains in 2014 followed by an intense two-year partisan electoral cycle focused on picking a new President in 2016.
That leaves perhaps eighteen months before congressional and media attention shift towards the 2014 midterm elections.
During that time President Obama’s attention will be focused on fiscal policy negotiations, implementation of Obamacare and possibly comprehensive immigration reform.
White House foreign policy work will focus on the Iranian nuclear program, drawing down military forces in Afghanistan, pivoting to East Asia and possibly mitigating the Arab Spring transition.
With an extremely full domestic and foreign policy plate already and less than two years before our political system relegates Obama into a lame duck president, Muslims activists wishing to advocate for policy reforms outside these priority policy areas will find only superficial traction in Washington DC.
The lesson to draw from these macro forces is that the Muslim community must learn to advocate within.
For Muslims to find their issues catching traction their advocacy must be supported by liberty minded conservatives as well as the Obama Progressive-Minorities coalition. Or as the old Arab saying states, one hand can’t clap.
Bush, and by extension Republicans, socially integrated Muslim voters in the 2000 election, and Obama, and by extension Democrats, did the same thing in the 2008 and 2012 elections.
For Muslims wanting change, organizing reform is harder to achieve then social integration and it will require Muslims to achieve a bi-partisan consensus for their policy objectives in 2016 and beyond.
Attorney, community organizer, and civil rights advocate Zahra Billoo is Executive Director for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
I think that President Obama’s re-election, even with the disappointment that many of us carry from his first term, provides opportunities to change the political landscape and build political power.
My hope is that without the fear, or work of a re-election campaign, President Obama will be able to take a more fair and even-handed approach to civil liberties and foreign policy issues. That includes closing Guantanamo and actually ending our wars abroad.
One of the things that has been referenced a lot, of the things that he’s done well, is ending the war in Iraq. But we have bases that remain open in Iraq, and that’s just one front. Further, though the number of “combat troops” in Iraq has decreased, the number of mercenaries has increased.
There’s also the drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen among others when it comes to problematic approaches to foreign policy.
The signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, specifically sections 1021 and 1022, was incredibly frightening.
Many likened it to giving the President the same authority we saw abused with the internment of Japanese Americans and said it was more problematic than the Patriot Act.
Further, the President’s secret kill lists which have been used to extra judicially target suspects and assassinate US citizens has moved us into a new era where indefinite detention and summary execution are what we target those who we view as suspects with. Due process seems a thing of the past.
It is going to be important for his supporters, but also all Americans, to hold him accountable to the promises that he made on these issues in 2008, but was unable to deliver on for a variety of reasons.
We can hold President Obama and his administration responsible by first, realizing that the organizing and activism around politics and policy issues starts now.
Just because the election is over doesn’t mean we relax and still get what we want from the administration.
The opposite is true in fact, we are less likely to get what we want from the administration, what we believe to be in this country’s best interests, if we sit back and relax.
As a community, we can effectively apply pressure, as was evidenced by the countless defeats of Islamophobic legislators across the country, but how do we wield our political clout?
We need to focus in on a shortlist of policy goals that the various community organizations, activists, artists, bloggers, Imams and congregations can create local and national coalitions around.
These coalitions can work toward achieving those goals by lobbying and applying pressure on elected officials thereby holding President Obama and his administration accountable.
More than anything however, we need to effectively mobilize our own grassroots to take their concerns and ideas beyond Facebook and Twitter and to join our staff.
In the end, our policy makers represent us both when it comes to what we do and don’t do.