A community follows the lead of its elected officials and political leaders. When campaigns are directly and indirectly competing in a manner that generates a toxic rhetoric, however, certain communities feel rejected by our leaders and ultimately by their neighbors and fellow U.S. citizens. Throughout the past 12 years and the several election cycles since 9/11, Arabs, Muslims and South Asian Americans have been marginalized and campaigns have used these communities as political tools to stir up fear. One may think that these communities would feel apathetic, with the feeling that any potential involvement in the electoral process is futile. Remarkably, that's not necessarily the case here in Florida, where 29 electoral votes are hotly contested.
EMERGE USA, a civic engagement organization, recently conducted a poll across Florida on the 2012 Elections. The poll asked a series of questions to members of the Arab, Muslim and South Asian American communities. When asked if they plan on voting in the 2012 general elections, 85 percent answered yes. The incredible component is that of these constituents, an overwhelming 75 percent felt encouraged to vote as of the recent rhetoric against our communities. When asked what is the most important issue to them in the election, 49 percent said economy, 24 percent said healthcare and a surprising merely 16 percent said foreign policy.
Similarly to the non-voters, the 16 percent that represent the 100,000 Arab American undecided voters in key swing states, like Florida, remain residual especially when neither party has made a concerted effort to reach out to these constituents. Naturally these undecided voters have had a more challenging time channeling the increase of hate crimes, illegal surveillance of the Arab American community, moreover the current foreign and domestic policies of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and now the Syrian crisis that have been faintly if not in all nullity denounced by either parties.
Without question, these are all major concerns that should be raised by not just those who are subjected to them, nonetheless as an informed or misguided citizen. Any means of disenfranchisement of a group of people never results in enfranchisement of another.
According to a 2000 Census Bureau, around 77,000 Arab Americans, 63 percent being Christian and 24 percent Muslim, live in the state of Florida, a vital swing state. With an election as crucial as this, we could be the influential constituencies. We should advance further than the presidential race, and focus on local elections. Our vote can amplify our living conditions in all critical areas like the economy, education, healthcare and transportation. In the end, as Arab Americans we can potentially swing a state at stake like Florida, and we will see that this goes beyond the choice of a dull red or blue tie. This is an entire vibrant wardrobe that will either clothe us or leave us bare for the next four years.
As the old Arabic proverb says, "one hand cannot clap," cooperation from all sides are needed to accomplish anything. I know my fellow Arab Americans may feel exhaustedly defeated by the ongoing disregard and alienation of our own system, but when we are silenced, we should speak louder. When we do, we may not be heard right away, but we will be a little less defeated. As difficult as it is to be heard, it is impossible to be heard at all when we are doing nothing and when we are not voting. We need to continue to cast our voices, until the day are voices are detected.
Our brothers and sisters of the Arab Springs continue to use both hands, until the day they are granted this democratic right to vote. Exercise your right to vote. If you don't vote, it won't count. Yallah, make it count. My Arab American vote, counts.