October 30th, 2007 04:33 EST
Political Involvement, Arab Americans Learn of it's Importance
Dearborn, Michigan -- Hundreds of Arab Americans from across the United States gathered in a city with one of the largest concentrations of Arabs in the country to learn how they can make an impact in the 2008 U.S. elections.
Participants in the Arab American Institute's (AAI) National Leadership Conference October 25-28 in Dearborn, Michigan, met with political leaders and learned some of the skills to support and run political campaigns.
Community and political leaders, both Arab and non-Arab, offered advice to those interested in making a difference in their communities. They stressed the importance of participating in local politics by showing up for school board and town hall meetings, getting involved with a political party or running for office.
"If you want to keep the country the kind of country you want it to be … you need to be involved in politics, support candidates and run for offices," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate, told the participants.
Arab-American political candidates for all levels of office came to the conference to network and learn from those who already have won campaigns. Helping these candidates is an "opportunity to show that we support them regardless of party," said Rebecca Abou-Chedid, AAI's national political director.
CULTURE MUST BE APPLIED, NOT JUST APPRECIATED, SUNUNU SAYS
Senator John E. Sununu, a Republican from New Hampshire and a Lebanese American, told the candidates "it really isn't enough to appreciate the background, the heritage, the culture that we share. You’ve really got to apply it every day, especially when you are in office."
"You have to focus on the ways our community can bring a different perspective, different values, to the issues you will be asked to deal with every single day," he said. "You really can't let up."
Sununu told those working on campaigns that they play an important role by providing candidates with the information and education necessary to do their jobs.
That role is important "if we are going to be strong and successful as a community and really make a difference on issues," Sununu said. "Not just at the local level or the state level or the national level, but on a global level as well."
Conference sessions taught Arab-American activists about crafting a political message, running effective voter-registration drives, targeting voters, making telephone calls to prospective voters and supporters, and "the kind of unglamorous but nitty-gritty work of daily politics," said Abou-Chedid.
Although these jobs might seem tedious, learning these skills sends a national message that the Arab-American community is serious about political involvement, Abou-Chedid said.
"It is important to gather as a national group because you exchange stories, you exchange experiences," Abou-Chedid said. "It is always neat to have someone from western Pennsylvania tell a story to someone in southern California about what they are doing and the person goes back to California and applies it at home."
The conference was also an opportunity for Arab-American voters to discuss and debate issues that are important to them, such as Middle East peace, the economy, civil liberties and immigration.
Participants heard directly from many of the presidential candidates: Democratic candidates Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson, and Republican candidate Ron Paul spoke at the conference. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama addressed the conference via video messages.
Sarah Alfaham, a 21-year-old student at the University of Toledo, attended the conference because she was curious about the political process. The conference "showed me how important it is to be involved in politics no matter what."
Being involved in the political process at any level was a theme stressed throughout the weekend. "The opportunities for any group that gets involved [in politics] are enormous," AAI President James Zogby told participants. "You have to take advantage of it."
By taking a role in the political process, Zogby said, "you can change America."
For more information, see U.S. Elections.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Michelle Austein
USINFO Staff Writer
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