As an Arab American surrogate for Bernie Sanders, there’s been a lot to think about since yesterday’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. I’m a former surrogate now, I guess.
Of course, Bernie had said from the beginning that he would support Hillary Clinton if he lost the nomination. So, yesterday was no surprise in the grand sense.
Why did Bernie do it now? Why didn’t he wait until the convention? For two reasons, I think. First, I believe he thought it best to deprive Republicans of a major talking point (“Those Dems aren’t united”) as they head into their convention in Cleveland. Second, and more importantly, I think he believed that he was not getting any more concessions from the Clinton camp on platform issues. And this is where our community is affected most greatly.
Different communities fell into Bernie’s camp for different reasons. Some on corporate reform, some on climate change, some on campaign finance, and so on and so forth. And the Arab American and Muslim American communities had our own issues as well.
Palestine, foreign policy, social justice, Islamophobia, mass surveillance. Those are our concerns. And the Sanders campaign spoke directly to us on these issues. It walked into our communities, sat down, and engaged with us.
We have nothing to regret for lending our voice to his campaign. We have nothing to apologize for. We had long been dehumanized and disenfranchised in presidential politics. We got energized and organized this year. We were the reason Bernie Sanders won Michigan, giving him the political capital to remain in the campaign through the end. We showed that when a presidential campaign speaks our language, we can deliver in a major way. We can make someone president. That is historic for our community. It is something for us to be extremely proud of.
Our collective activism for Bernie Sanders, and our ability to win him Michigan, also means that our community built its own political capital. We have been noticed (in a good way, finally). And it is precisely for those reasons that we cannot support the Clinton campaign.
While the Bernie movement got some major concessions from the Clinton camp and the DNC, on our issues, the party actually regressed. No amendments decrying overseas militarism. Nothing about curtailing surveillance of our community. And most notably, the DNC refused to recognize Israeli occupation, the illegality of Israeli settlements, the human suffering in Gaza, and the absurdity of the notion that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. The DNC even added a platform amendment condemning the non-violent, speech-based BDS movement. While Clinton might have progressed on some major items, she got more hawkish on our community’s core issues.
I was so inspired traveling around the country and seeing Arab Americans and Muslim Americans invigorated and energized as I advocated for Bernie. It was something I had never seen before. It was electrifying. It made me want to demonstrate and eat hummus every day (which is not too far off fom the truth anyway).
But, let’s be clear. If we seek to celebrate and preserve our communal political gains in 2016, we cannot turn around and support Hillary Clinton in the face of her rejecting us completely. We cannot throw away what we have achieved. Let’s stay involved. Let’s stay loud. And let’s make it clear that we are a moral community with red lines. We won’t be discarded, discounted, and disparaged.
A note to the Clinton campaign. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, as a whole, probably number about 10 million American citizens. Also, we just happen to reside in large numbers in some important swing states, like Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. It seems, by your actions, that either you take us for granted (“They wont vote for Trump, right?”) or you are completely inattentive and/or disdainful on our matters of interest. I wouldn’t be so dismissive if I were you. As we showed Bernie, we will respect politicians after they respect us. Pay attention, Mrs. Clinton. After they respect us. Never before.