By Hena Zuberi, TML, 03 May 2016
Tasneem Ahmed rode in from Virginia with a bus full of delegates from around the country to Capitol Hill. The grandmother who is a retired computer scientist came —along with 330 others —to ask her Congressmen and Senators to denounce anti-Muslim bigotry. It was her first experience with lobbying.
Around 330 delegates from more than 28 states came to meet with elected officials and congressional staffers during the “record-breaking” second National Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2016.
Ahmed walked into the ornate hall in the Cannon House building where each state had a table. Some states had delegations that were 20 people strong like New York and California. Other states had smaller contingents. Virginia was a surprise with a handful of delegates.
Here, Robert McCaw of CAIR National gave training on the ins and outs of lobbying to the delegates. Prior to the event a series of online seminars was available to train registered participants in valuable advocacy techniques and prepare them for congressional meetings.
“This is a day we put our votes in action,” stated Nihad Awad.
After a prayer by Imam Khalid Griggs, with “1 million voter drive” buttons on their lapels, the delegates walked to the Rayburn, Hart and Longworth buildings to meet with elected officials or their staffers.
GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his congressional staff refused to meet with Muslim constituents during the second National Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.
Unlike many of the delegates from states like Alabama and Texas, the Maryland delegation was met with warmth and smiles at almost every office that they visited. Most staffers offered positive support for the resolution against Islamophobia proposed by Rep Mike Honda of California and agreed to take a closer look at the nationwide concerns about the federal Countering Violent Extremism programs (CVE) that were being put in place in several U.S. cities.
“Given the low-level of Muslim community confidence in government-led CVE, the USCMO believes that Congress should at least ensure: 1) Greater transparency and accountability of government led CVE programs, 2) Oversight of any future programs, 3) Freedom of speech & privacy protections, and, 4) Anti-discrimination & profiling protections,” read a statement by the council.
A delegate shared how friends and family members have had unwarranted visits by federal agents. Another personal story shared was about an agent leaving money at the home of a Muslim encouraging him to spy on his community.
The Maryland delegation, led by Zainab Chaudry, included an electrical engineer, a mom of four, the former president of one of the largest Muslim organizations in the country, and two relief aid workers (the writer was also a member of the delegation).
The issues that the delegates asked each member of their state’s Congress and Senate to address were those that all Americans could stand behind. In December 2015, after following weeks of anti-Muslim bigotry and acts of hatred, Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Mike Honda (D-CA), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and André Carson (D-IN), along with 63 original cosponsors, introduced legislation condemning violence, bigotry, and hateful rhetoric towards Muslim-Americans. So far no Republicans have co sponsored the non controversial HR 569.
The delegates also requested their House offices to support and co-sponsor the Credit Access and Inclusion Act of 2015 which was introduced by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Millions of Americans lack credit scores or have scores that are too low to gain access to affordable credit. The problem disproportionately affects young people, Muslim Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, and immigrants, many of whom can’t establish a credit score without taking on credit debt. H.R. 3035 would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to allow utility and telecom companies and landlords to report on-time payment data to credit reporting agencies—helping those with little to no credit build their credit scores based on a full picture of their payment history. The office of Congressman Andy Harris M.D. leaned against the bill as the Congressman is fiscally conservative. Staffer Tim Daniels said that the bill would also place undue burden on landlords.
Congressman Van Hollen’s Legislative Assistant Virdina Gibbs met with delegates and assured them of the Congressman’s support of the anti-Muslim bigotry resolution. She also informed them Van Hollen, who last month was elected to the Senate seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), along with Elijah Cummings was a co-sponsor of H.R.4833 – Food Deserts Act of 2016.
23-year-old Saad Malik of ICNA Relief relayed his personal experience as a relief worker with food shortage in inner cities and requested the support of House Representatives for the Food Deserts bill, which would establish a revolving fund to provide low interest loans for the operation of for-profit, nonprofit and municipally owned stores in many urban and rural communities by providing loans for the operation of grocery stores in food deserts. Under this bill, thousands of under-served families would get access to the affordable food they need.
According to USCMO, an umbrella group for Muslim organizations around the country, a total of 225 meetings with congressional offices were completed. Tahira Amtul-Wadud, an attorney out of Massachusetts, had the best day ever meeting her Congressman.
“I truly believe that the Muslim community is a new born infant compared to other minority communities. I encourage all Muslims to register to vote and stay connected to their congressional representatives to convey hate [crimes] or acts of bigotry as well as positive activism by their local community to show that we as Muslims are working together to making this world a better place,” said Ayad Youssef of Tampa.
Some delegates wished that the issue of Syria and refugees was included in their roster.
For Shagufta from Virginia, it was a learning experience. Many had a deeper understanding of issues after listening to the concerns of those who were more well versed with the issues. Some delegates felt unprepared to speak on the topics and advocate on behalf of others, and others were very comfortable and were grateful for the opportunity to learn the ropes of lobbying. “We have to follow up with our representatives in their district offices,” voiced Amin Ezzeddine to his fellow delegates.
Over 5000 bills cross the Congressional floor and often Congresspeople and their staffers are not aware of the various bills. The system is made to be lobbied, said Congressmen Keith Ellison.
Article Courtesy: Muslim Link