By Zeba Iqbal
There were so many wins on election night. President Barack Obama was re-elected; Nate Silver’s statistical model and basic arithmetic trumped punditry; and women and communities of color swung the election. And, American Muslims — not particularly courted by any political party — came together to get the vote out, make their voices heard and help sway local elections of anti-Muslim candidates as well as the presidential election.
The nation’s first African-American President won a second term after the most expensive Presidential race in history. In Hawaii, the first Hindu was elected to the House of Representatives, and the first Buddhist to Senate. And in Illinois, the first Thai-American, also a decorated Iraq War veteran was elected to the House of Representatives. The number of women in the Senate hit a tipping point increasing from 17 to a record-setting 20 seats. The House of Representatives is not far behind, with 81 women (19 percent out of 435). It doesn’t stop there. In New Hampshire, women swept all the major races, and the state now has a female governor and the first all-female congressional delegation.
On the voter side, we knew minority voters were critical, but exit polls reveal just how significant they were this election season. Minorities swung this election decisively for President Obama, much to the Republicans’ chagrin and surprise. For example,,in the battleground state of Florida, which was officially called four days after the election, President Obama won by less than a percentage point — 50-49.1 percent, or 74,000 votes.
The Influence of American Muslim Votes
We don’t have sophisticated polls and models in place to track our American Muslim voter numbers, but our votes did make a difference. We were part of the winning minority vote, and in crucial races lower down the ticket, the impact of our votes was even more visible thanks to the amazing local ground efforts of American Muslims. Consider two examples. In Florida, the ground game and tireless efforts of two American Muslim organizations, Emerge and United Voices for America, were pivotal in Patrick Murphy’s narrow defeat of Islamophobe Allen West for his congressional seat. Allen West has yet to concede, but Patrick Murphy was declared winner of the House of Representatives seat by the state on Saturday and won by just over 2,440 votes. And in Virginia, GOTV efforts by American Muslims encouraged voter turnout, electing Democrat Tim Kaine to the U.S. Senate.
Numerous formal and informal groups of American Muslims actively got out the vote online and on the ground in various parts of the country. And as Election Day grew near, these groups gained momentum and visibility. Some focused on registering voters and voter education while others were involved in voter persuasion. Others took part in phone banking, canvassing, door knocking, fundraising, publishing voter guides and organizing events like town halls, debate parties and election viewing parties in Washington, DC, Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.
The social networking campaigns also served as a platform for information-sharing on political organizing efforts by American Muslims across the country. By Election Day, #MuslimVOTE had more than 2,500 tweets and thousands of retweets; and the Facebook event had almost 400 participants from around the country.
Additionally, the election series “Election 2012 – American Muslims VOTE!” brought out the American Muslim voice. By Election Day, the special topics page (hosted at Patheos) featured more than 25 election-related articles published between September 20 and November 6, 2012 on Patheos, Altmuslim, Altmuslimah and Illume. Across platforms and on Facebook, the articles in the series received more than 250,000 page views, with the most popular articles being Aziz Akbari, Game Changer in Fremont Mayor’s Race by Nashwah Akhtar, On Tuesday, It’s All About the Economy by Suhail Khan, A Voter’s Guide to Obama/Romney Health Care Policy by Khadijah Gurnah and Shifa Mohiuddin and A Muslim American Meets Paul Ryan by Aziz Poonawalla.
How Committed Are We to Gaining Political Empowerment?
Despite the challenges of continuing anti-Muslim sentiment, this election season was a win for American Muslims. American Muslims worked collaboratively at many different levels to organize and educate voters; and some had the opportunity to represent American Muslims at the national conventions and presented our views and key issues to the parties . Key Islamophobic representatives were defeated, while others won only by narrow margins. The efforts of our elected officials, our delegates at the conventions and the numerous organizers and volunteers on the ground and online, along with our donations and high voter turnout moved us further down the path of political empowerment.
As we look back on this election and forward to future elections, we are at a critical turning point as a community with regard to political empowerment. We are making great progress, but we have a long way to go. This seems an ideal moment to ask ourselves this question – are we willing to make a long term commitment to seeking lasting political empowerment? If we are, are we ready to take the long view, to overlook the short term frustrations and invest in the infrastructure needed to strengthen and increase our base of informed and active voters, volunteers and donors?
By pursuing a vision of political empowerment, we are not seeking symbolism over substance. We are investing in the future of our community and paving the political pathways our community needs to make our voices heard on substantive issues. Like any process, it will be a slow and imperfect path, but the progress is worth it.
We started this campaign because we knew we wanted to make a difference this election season; and because we wanted to defuse and transform negative American Muslim narratives into more positive ones. Our vote and our opinions matter; and this election, we strengthened both. Thank you for participating in and supporting the “Election 2012: American Muslims VOTE” series and the #MuslimVOTE campaign.