By Javeria Salman
The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) recently launched a new initiative “One America Campaign” to unite the Muslim American voice and encourage the Muslim community to get involved in civic engagement.
The initiative is meant to empower the Muslim American community by getting one million voters registered to vote during the upcoming 2016 presidential elections.
As part of the campaign, USCMO will organize three national events, a national community Ramadan iftar on June 18, a national voter registration day September 27, and national open mosque day on October 23.
“One America Campaign is a campaign to unite all Americans against bigotry and xenophobia,” said Naeem Baig, president of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). “In this election year some politicians are trying to create divisions among the American public but we aim to build bridges among all Americans.”
Oussama Jammal, Secretary General of USCMO said the campaign came about following the “attacks in Europe and especially San Bernardino and then the extreme Islamophobic rhetoric that was coming out in the public and political discourse, we saw that there is an immediate need to respond.”
He added, “One of the biggest and most important responses that we can do is to get active politically. As a 501c3, we cannot tell people who to vote for and who not to but we can certainly ask people to get involved in the political process.”
USCMO launched the campaign with the first ever town hall meeting focused on civic engagement and what the Muslim communities can do for the 2016 election at the 41st annual ICNA-Muslim American Society (MAS) convention over Memorial Day weekend in Baltimore, Maryland.
Zahid Bukhari, Executive Director of ICNA Council for Social Justice, said the town hall meeting gives people a chance to see what’s going on at the ground level among Muslim communities this election cycle.
“It’s just more on a practical level, what’s going on, what should be going on, what are the do’s and don’ts of doing voter registration, or asking Muslims to get involved, and how to interact with the elected officials, how to interact with the system,” said Bukhari.
“We thought about what we should do collectively for Muslims to re-narrate their own message and their own image,” Bukhari.
Robert McCaw, the director of the government affairs department at the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR), who lead the town hall meeting, said the Muslim community is faced with two considerable challenges this election season.
“We have to unite the most diversified religious community in this country as one block of voters that can express our joint, shared intersectional concerns,” said McCaw. “And we also have to engage with elected or want to be elected officials who are proposing policies that may be to our benefit or to our detriment.”
McCaw added this campaign is about engaging in the political process at the local, state and federal level.
During the town hall meeting, audience members not only heard from a few of the representatives of the organizations in USCMO but also several community leaders from New York, Virginia and Maryland.
The panelists presented what their local Muslim communities are doing during the election and what are some ways to get Muslim communities across the nation actively participating this election cycle.
McCaw said CAIR, a founding member of USCMO along with ICNA and MAS, is actively engaged in bringing together the One America Campaign along with the other UCSMO members.
He added that CAIR chapters across the country are coordinating with other USCMO partner organizations to make sure the campaign is effective at every level.
McCaw said the “overall goal” of the One America Campaign is also to coordinate with the broader non-Muslim community.
“It’s not just registering Muslims, it’s making sure that our intersectional community allies, our minority community allies, that they are getting registered,” said McCaw. “Because really their issues are our issues when it comes to major policy.”
Sam Rasoul, the first Muslim member of the Virginia House of Delegates of the 11th District was also present for the launch of the campaign.
“With regards to civic involvement any opportunity we have to get the community more involved I’m very excited about,” said Rasoul. “We need to bring it back to what voting and civic duty does for you as an individual. It’s not important to go vote so that someone can get elected, it’s important to go vote because that’s important for you, that’s your civic duty.”
Rasoul added that it is important to be involved in public policy for the individual’s sake.
“We [Muslims] need to build our own capacity that way we can have a critical mass of folks to help to impact public policy,” said Rasoul.
Bukhari added, “We like to be counted, we like to have some impact in the public policy. Muslims should not be feared, Muslims should be respected and the Muslim voice should be heard.”
There was also a booth set up at the convention center to hand out free posters, flyers, pins, caps, and postcards regarding the campaign. It was set up right across the registration section so that it can be easily recognized by the attendees. The booth also included voter registration forms from various states for people to be able to register to vote at the convention.
USCMO leadership, during the main session of the program, all walked on to the stage to show solidarity and willingness to work together to fight bigotry and xenophobia.