In 2000, I registered, but didn’t vote. I didn’t care who won. Or so I thought. My silent “protest” against the candidates and the process didn’t feel triumphant. It felt irresponsible. I am glad I didn’t live in Florida in 2000, as my apathy might have determined an election.
Looking back, I had no good excuse for skipping out. The truth is, there wasn’t one. To me, both candidates — George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, and Vice President Al Gore — were blasé or disappointing, or both. Neither impressed me enough for my vote. But, the bottom line was that one of them was going to be my President. That single fact should have been reason enough for me to vote.
As an “undecided” in that election, I was a primary target of both campaigns. I was a critical decision maker, and I wish I’d taken the time to make an informed decision. I wish that I had seriously considered my choices, listened to the candidates and learned about their platforms. Instead, I blocked them both out and stayed home on Election Day.
I can’t undo the past, but I haven’t — and won’t — miss an election again. My vote and my voice count too much. I have learned that if you take the time to learn about the candidates, though neither may be perfect, one will emerge as the better choice.
This election cycle, as a minority and a woman, my vote is critical; and continuing demographic shifts and the “browning” of America guarantee that I will be more and more pivotal in every election cycle.
I am gaining political clout as an American Muslim, too. According to the 2012 report Engaging American Muslims by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 1.2 million American Muslims are registered voters. Votes cast in battleground states including Ohio, Virginia, Florida — also states with large American Muslim populations — will almost positively determine the 2012 U.S. Presidential race.
Not living in an electoral battleground state, my vote is still important, but I need to do more. In addition to voting, I believe my ability to “get out the vote” and help and advocate for others vote is invaluable, particularly in battleground states. Last election cycle, I volunteered in and for my nearest battleground state, Pennsylvania. This time around, I plan to do the same.
I don’t even have to go that far though; there are numerous ways locally to make a difference this election. Just look a bit beyond the electoral map and you will see that at least 30 states have critical senate and/or congressional races. According to Roll Call, there are 14 competitive senate races and 59 competitive congressional races. Perhaps you may live in one of those states or congressional districts. Additionally, every state has critical local and state races. These races are impacted by every voter, every volunteer and every donor.
So, as an American Muslim, my vote is increasingly crucial politically, but what about socially? Peer pressure is proving to be a motivator this election, and so if you are active on Facebook or Twitter, you are socially crucial to this election.
In 2007, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs published Strengthening America: The Civic and Political Integration of Muslim Americans, which examines the challenges and opportunities for greater American Muslim civic and political participation. One of the less intuitive but equally important recommendations was, “Improve media coverage and public understanding of Muslim Americans.”
This week’s Newsweek cover, Muslim Rage, and the hilarious twitter meme that followed underline both the need for improved media coverage and the fact that we as American Muslims can successfully frame (or reframe) our own narrative.
To that end, in the last 45 days of this election cycle, the editorial teams of Altmuslim at Patheos, Altmuslimah, Illume, Aziz Poonawalla’s news and politics blog at Patheos and I will be working collaboratively on the series, “Election 2012 – American Muslims VOTE!”
This 45-day election-focused series seeks to promote civic engagement; improve media coverage and public understanding of American Muslims; and support our media and our (present and future) writers. It will be anchored by a series of articles by American Muslims on the election and reinforced by articles in national blogs and mainstream publications that are also authored by American Muslims.
This series is supported by the research and expertise of American Muslim organizations, including the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Articles will be hosted or linked to Patheos’ Muslim Channel and News and Politics Channel, Altmuslimah and Illume. And, all articles will be housed on this special topics page on Patheos.
We hope you will support this effort by “liking” and reposting the articles on Facebook, by tweeting and retweeting on Twitter (#MuslimVOTE) and by sharing on reddit and other sites.
As evidenced by #MuslimRage, we know we can make a difference and get noticed. It was an effective way of using humor to defuse and transform a negative Muslim narrative into a more positive one. Our vote and our opinions matter. This election, let’s work together to strengthen both.
This election cycle Zeba Iqbal is spearheading the campaign Election 2012-American Muslims VOTE! She is also part of the ad hoc group M4O 2012. She is a founding member of the National Muslim Democratic Council. In 2008, Zeba worked with MPAC on their Muslim GOTV strategy with a focus on Pennsylvania. Zeba was the Executive Director of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP) in 2010 and 2011; and a 2009-10 Fellow of USC’s American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute. She lives in New York City, and currently works at Princeton University.
Tweet your thoughts on this article, on the series, and the 2012 election at #MuslimVOTE.