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The Muslim-American community began the year 2015 in tragedy and ended it in an unnerving sense of uncertainty. In the first months of the year, we were shaken by the hate crimes which killed Hamza Warsame in Seattle and UNC Chapel Hill students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha, and Razan Abu Salha in North Carolina. The escalation of conflicts throughout the Muslim world and the media’s focus on the refugee crisis in Europe prompted the kind of reactionary rhetoric that almost always arises during the months-long election season in the United States. From armed protests outside of American masjids to far-fetched calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Muslim Americans are being treated as objects, not subjects, in the national conversation about security, immigration, and radicalization.
There is a simple reason that every presidential candidate competing in the primary elections is talking about Muslims instead of to Muslims, and that is that they have yet to see Muslim voters come to the polls and participate politically in an organized way. Unlike the African-American and Latino communities, Muslims are not regarded as a key demographic whose votes can sway a national election, or even most local elections.
Muslim Americans who want to make an imprint on the political scene need to demonstrate to candidates the value of their support. This entails building up a constituency of voters who will respond to the candidate and party that speaks to their values, their needs, and their political concerns.
The Georgia Muslim Voter Project
To combat these problems, a group of Georgia Muslims is launching the Georgia Muslim Voter Project (GAMVP) to fill the need for civic engagement and voter education in the Muslim community. The project’s goals are:
a) to register 5,000 new Georgia Muslim voters in anticipation of the presidential election in November. b) to provide an array of registration drives, voter education programs, civic engagement workshops, and other services targeted at Georgia Muslim voters. c) to attract a critical mass of Muslims throughout Georgia to the polls.
The Georgia Muslim Voter project has officially launched, and its activities throughout 2016 will include outreach events, such as voter education presentations, civic engagement workshops, and voter registration booths. The GAMVP volunteers will also organize civic education workshops in an effort to ensure that any political capital Georgia Muslims cultivate with their representatives will continue to grow with our burgeoning numbers of young voters. Though the GAMVP is based in Atlanta, workshops and other programs will also potentially take place in Athens, Augusta, Macon, and Savannah throughout the year.
Events and other project news will be posted on the Georgia Muslim Voter website.
Battling disillusionment with the democratic process
As anyone who even casually follows U.S. politics knows, our national voter turnout is low, even following the media blitz and constant debates that characterize a presidential election year. From 2000 through 2012, eligible voter turnout hovered between 54%-62%. Midterm election turnout is lower, hovering around 40% every election year. Even in these contentious 2016 elections, there is a widespread sentiment among voters that their vote won’t make a difference. Partially thanks to our outdated electoral college system, many voters see their (non-swing) state’s party affiliation as a foregone conclusion, and that no amount of get-out-the-vote efforts will realistically turn California red, or Georgia blue.
They’re not exactly wrong, but for the goals of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, that’s not the point. Demographic information collected during the comparatively well-attended presidential elections informs the campaign strategies of congressional, gubernatorial, and local candidates, all of whom will represent your interests in Congress, govern your state, and administer your cities and counties. A high turnout of Muslim voters in Georgia is the first step to making our political presence in Georgia known to the people who zone cities, run police forces, administrate school districts, and allocate funding to universities. It is an indispensable step to integrating ourselves into the political systems of this country (for example, it’s probably not a coincidence that Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American congressman, hails from a state with a large Muslim population.)
The Georgia Muslim Voter project intends for this get-out-the-vote campaign to be a first step -- a springboard for more focused civic engagement with the hope of fostering a culture that encourages Muslims in Georgia to help create and participate in a vibrant civic life in their communities.
The Georgia Muslim Voter project is a volunteer-run initiative, and is accepting donations -- all funds will go directly to informational materials and event costs. Please contact us to request a speaker or workshop at your masjid, school, or community center, or just to send us your ideas! The Georgia Muslim Voter Project is pending 501(c)3 status.
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