In Wisconsin, patriotism begins with voting

In Wisconsin, patriotism begins with voting and a drive-in at the mosque
5 min read
28 Oct, 2020
Comment: My family immigrated to America hoping for a better life. Voting is one of the ways we build the future we dream about, writes Palestinian-American community organiser, Amanda Ali.
This election the community has come up with creative ways to encourage voting [Getty]
Driving past Milwaukee's well-known Amanah Market, I couldn't miss the freshly painted Arabic mural on the side of the building. The words "We are the power of society" are a testament to the creative ways the Muslim community in Wisconsin is showing up differently this year.

The mural was painted by my friends and young artists Amal Azzam, Nayfa Naji, Aya Mustafa and Wajiha Akbar, and it's exciting for me to know that young Muslims are finding ways to make their voices heard.

Amanah Market is just a couple of blocks from the Islamic Society of Milwaukee (ISM), the largest mosque in Wisconsin, serving the community for nearly 40 years. With an estimated 15,000 Muslims residing in Southeastern Wisconsin, and with that number growing every day, it's a safe space for the community to come together, pray and host gatherings.

Today, though, something different is happening. In the parking lot of ISM, I can see rows of cars parked ready for a screening of the film "American Muslim", a movie that tells the story of five Muslim Americans in Brooklyn and Queens, dealing with the impact of the Muslim Ban and navigating what it means to be an American Muslim.

As the audience settles in, young Muslim volunteers from 
Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance, Leaders Igniting Transformation and Vote Mob walk through the parking lot going car-to-car, to hand out swag bags filled with voting pamphlets, hoodies, t-shirts, sanitizer and sweets from a local Muslim owned restaraunt. All the while, talking with community members about voting in a safe and socially distanced way.

With Wisconsin in the spotlight as a swing state, Muslims here need to start recognising the importance of their vote

This creative initiative is a final push to talk to Muslims about voting, with the election just around the corner and early voting already underway in the state.

The positive and excited energy here is in stark contrast to my mood from after the final presidential debate that I watched with my cousin, sister and mom in our living room. Hearing President Donald Trump say, "I am the least racist person in this room." despite his actions and words showing quite the opposite made all of us angry. The American people are being lied to straight to our faces and I know it.

I really started considering the impact of the Muslim vote in 2016, when Donald Trump won. That day hit me hard, and I definitely wasn't prepared for the next four years. With policies like the Muslim Ban and anti-Muslim rhetoric pouring out of the administration, I felt an attack on my identity, and needed to get involved.

Watch: Trailer for the docufilm 'American Muslim' that was screened at the
Islamic Society of Milwaukee's pop-up drive-in [YouTube]

Now, four years later, here I am working on getting Muslims out to vote amid a pandemic. So much has changed, but also so much is the same. Conversations around healthcare, unemployment and education are at the forefront once again, but can't be discussed without also mentioning "Covid-19", "coronavirus" or "the pandemic".

Read more: Our Arab American forefathers left us a legacy we can't afford to ignore

With Wisconsin's 217,000 confirmed cases so far, and the pandemic showing no sign of slowing down, I've had to get creative about the ways I talk about voting. Social media has been a saving grace in reaching out to people and I've been spending hours each day on Zoom calls, hosting virtual vote parties, text and phone banking, and creating multilingual voting infographics. I hope all this will be enough to get Muslims to the polls.

With Wisconsin in the spotlight as a swing state, Muslims here need to start recognising the importance of their vote. In 2016, Donald Trump won Wisconsin by nearly 23,000 votes. With an election so fiercely fought and so close, voters in swing states, and especially young ones, have a key role to play.

Muslim owned businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores and even printing shops feel the effects of the pandemic every day, when they have to choose between keeping their business open or their health. Muslim essential workers such as doctors, nurses, firefighters and police officers are putting their lives on the line to protect and save those affected by the virus.

family, health and careers are at stake, and I strongly believe this is the time our vote can make a difference, and I want others to believe it too.

Our teachers have adapted to the quickly changing virtual learning environment to help students and parents adjust to the new education system. I know Wisconsin's Muslims are feeling the pressure of the pandemic. Their family, health and careers are at stake, and I strongly believe this is the time our vote can make a difference, and I want others to believe it too.

As a Muslim American, I am proud of my dual identity but like many, I have grappled with navigating both parts without losing sight of one or the other. I've often thought about how they might work in harmony, and I think voting and being a part of the democratic process is an opportunity to showcase my American identity while upholding Muslim traditions and values.

My family immigrated to America hoping for a better future and life. Voting is one of the ways to build the better future we dream about. Politicians elected into office are supposed to represent us. I'll be voting for the candidate that represents me the most and recognises the value in both parts of my identity - my Muslim one and my American one, and I hope my fellow Wisconsinites do too. 

Amanda Ali is a Palestinian-American Muslim organiser focused on social justice issues affecting the Wisconsin community and beyond. She was born in Racine, and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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