ISNA: Invasion of The ISNA Deaniacs!
About a week or so before the ISNA convention, I recieved an email from a friend that informed me that Governor Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committe would be at ISNA.
So this Friday when I went out to register for the convention I got my program book out and started marking up all of the programs that I wanted to attend but when I got to the last program I realized that I hadn’t seen the governor listed as speaker at any of the programs. Saturday morning I checked my email again and followed the links and sure enough this was supposed to be a confirmed engagement and I managed to find the session in the program booklet and confirmed that Governor Howard Dean’s name was not mentioned anywhere on that session.
Saturday when we finally got to the convention we were swarmed with flyers “Take Back America Rally” and sure enough there was Governor Howard Dean’s photo along with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Chris Cegelis of the Greater Chicago Caucus. Allright! I wasn’t just imagining things – this was actually taking place and I was going to make sure that we got to that room right before the session before it ended.
So we did, we got there and waited for the session before to end and waited for people to exit. Hmmm, not that many people left but at least we got seats in the middle of the room. Around me I could hear whispers of “Howard Dean” and I watched the youth all around me, all wide eyed, explaining Howard Dean to their parents, aunts and uncles.
It was quite interesting watching these fidgety late teens and twenty-something year olds turning their heads, looking towards the door anxiously awaiting Howard Dean. This was it – this right here, this vibrant young enthusiasm was what differentiated my generation from theirs. Not because they are Deaniacs, mind you, but because within these wide eyes you can see hope. You can see the innocence and yes the good naivety that none of us should ever have lost. You can see in their eyes the hidden solutions that they all carry to all of the problems of the world. You can see the simplicity of it all but somehow, somehow you just can’t see far enough to be able to touch it or grasp it, to feel it again.
It was that age that we knew it all, that we had all the answers. We swore we would never forget them; we’d never be one of “them”, one of the cynical, part of the problem. We swore we’d stay true but somewhere along the line – life and experiences happened. Somewhere along the line the world became complicated and somewhere along the line we compromised, just a little; never again returning to those magical moments of having all of the answers.
Still, maybe one day, one of these generations will learn to hold on to it. Maybe it will take my generation to remind them to stay true and not to compromise. Maybe we can learn to instill in them that hope, that innocence, that sheer enthusiasm and determination, afterall these are our future leaders. Around this room sat future congresspeople, representatives, activists, philanthopists, and maybe even a future president. In this room sat our fidgety hope for a better tommorow and maybe a not so impossible world peace.
This room full of people, seated in their chairs, on the floor in the aisles and the walls lined up with standing audience members rose to their feet, cheered and applauded as a smiling delegation consisting of Chris Cegelis, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Governor Howard Dean entered through the doors waving and smilling. For a few moments longer I was able to watch the enthusiasm of the younger generation and their fidgetiness, their little glances at one another expressing their excitement but when the moderator took the stand the crowd became silent and all of the fidgetiness was gone. The room took on a new found seriousness, focus, attention. Even during the short CIOGC video featuring stats on Chicago Muslims .. 400,000 Muslim, 100 places of Muslim worship .. it’s accomplishment of one of the most significant contributions to The Greater Chicago Food Depository of 21,000 pounds of halal meat the audience was still yet the anticipation was clear.
I should make note that ISNA itself insists that it is non-partisan and had invited republicans to this event but had no takers on the republican invitees – so the panel before us consisted of democrats. ~Way to go republicans~
The first speaker would be Chris Cegelis, Leader of the Greater Chicago Caucus. Chris Cegelis told us of the of marches and prayer vigils and how much she rallied against the Iraq war. She spent much of her time talking to people who went into this war and who were informed on the matter. Chris’s words: “I knew there were no wmd. If I knew this and my congressman didn’t know this – he needed to be replaced” brought the room to a roar of applause.
Her relationship with the Muslim community started because she herself is a person of faith. Catholic to be specific and of the Secular Franciscan Order to be even more specific. She believes in justice and peace and when she recieved a call from the Villa Park Office Mosque (Islamic Foundation) she accepted the meeting. It was during this meeting that she was surprised as the representative of the mosque actually interviewed her and wanted to know her values and such things. She seemed impressed by this.
Her parting words were “add Chicagoland Muslims, add to that Latinos and then add to that human rights activists and you have a majority. Ask yourselves what it would be for me to run for office….”
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur took the podium next and greeted us all with Assalamu Alaikum with an Alaikumu Salam returned in unison by the audience. She spoke about “the god we all trust” and how we are all here in the interest of America, in the world. She quoted George Washington on stamping out tyranny in the world and reminded us that “Liberty must be won by every generation anew. It is not free.”
She called on us (Muslims) to become involved in the political spectrum. She spoke about how she identifies with our struggle due to her Polish heritage and how it took Gino Beroni who took an interest in her community to draw her into politics. She spoke about Gino Beroni going around and asking “who’s missing” from the political landscape of the country – politically missing in action were Greeks, Slavs, Latinos, Italians etc.
Next came the analasis of why we were missing. “Ethnics are afraid of politics. Even today they are missing in action politically. Because we came from societies not free – we stayed out. Our ancestors .. they stayed and resisted.”
Regardless of the oversimplification of why we were missing in action politically she offered some sound advice such as taking our children to the voting booth to teach them about being involved in politics; to begin where we live; don’t be afraid.
“We need you. We need you not to be afraid. Write op-eds, editorials, letters to the editor. Don’t be afraid to take your vote to those waters..”
Next up would be our moderator once again to introduce our last speaker and once again there were whispers and once again the fidgetiness took effect. The moderator would begin his introduction with how he offered to arrange transportation to Mr. Howard Dean and how Mr. Dean had preferred to take the L – to which the audience laughed and clapped – knowing, excited looks were exchanged by those that were aware of this aspect of the governor and there seemed to be a certain pride in that, a rightful one of course.
Governor Dean took the stand: “It’s not non-partisan. We need to beat the Republicans!”
There was no doubt about it – he was a great speaker, a great motivator. He spoke about there being nothing more important than making our leaders accountable; that we need to return to morals; we voted for change.
What we needed was a party that looked like all of America he insisted. “This country was built on immigrants.” “There are very few native Americans; everyone else is an immigrant.” “Engaging all Americans is what Democrats try to do” and “it is no coincidence that Keith Ellison is a Democrat.” Now, these were the words I thought we needed to hear.
While it may be possible that comming from oppressed lands and being fearful may play a part in why we are missing from the political landscape of this country, those particular words I found to be somewhat demeaning and generally an oversimplification of our absence. Taking a look at what the Bosnian refugee community has managed to do in its short 15 year spurt of immigrating to this country these oversimplified statements need to be reevaluated. If 350,000 (mostly refugees) Bosnian North Americans, most of whom have witnessed an attempted genocide based on their religion, can come together to form different organizations capable of lobbying the governments of their newly found home then surely the absence of millions of Muslims from the politcal arena is more diverse in reason than fear and comming from oppressive countries but I’ll dwell on this in a later post.
Most of what Governor Howard Dean said was informative and motivating. He spoke about returning America to the land of moral leadership. Returning America to the beacon of light for human rights. Of course as can be expected from the Chairman of the Democratic National Commitee all of this could be done by electing Democrats. His statement on only 90 women in congress – being 63rd in the world in terms of women serving government was not good enough and that he won’t be happy until we have 300 women in congress brought the crowd to a roaring applause. That particular applause warming my heart; soothing my soul.
Moreso though, he spoke about the changing tide in voters and what that meant for both parties. Turns out our fidgety hope (those under 30) have been increasing in participation. In 2004 their generation showed a boost of 20% at the polls. 53% of their generation voted. In 2006 another 20% jump at voter turn out from their generation and most of this generation is registering as “no party” affiliation. “Their vote needs to be earned. This generation is much more comfortable with race and ethnicity. They want to deal with poverty, ecology and national healthcare. And while the older generation mobilized 800,000 people and would block an area; today’s generation mobilizes 800,000 emails and shuts down the server.” said Howard Dean.
However, I found myself concerned when he spoke about the war on terror. He started off that it was the people of faith standing up against George Bush when he didn’t tell the truth and went into Iraq. But he ended with “We need to bring this war to an end – change course – focus on the real war on terror which is not on the people in Iraq. Democrats will bring change.” To me, it was a dark reminder of the Democratic views on Pakistan and all I could ask myself is if this was just going to be a change on ground war or if it was going to be a real change in focus on how we fight this war. Saddly, I haven’t felt comforted by the Democrat’s strategy.
In the end, though, Howard Dean’s final words are the only solution to these concerns. His urging us to participate in politics is the only solution
“10% drop in wages for the Muslim American male since 9/11. Don’t pull back – stand up – say who you are and be proud of it. That’s how you achieve your goals.”
“Not one Muslim in politics came from a Muslim majority district.”
“The community is under seige with wire taps…” “Run for office. We need you to get fully into the American political process.”
He asked of us for the sake of America to get into politics “For the sake of America I need you to run for yourselves.”
That my friends was “The Take Back America Rally”
(and no – this doesn’t mean that I will ever run for any kind of office – but I’ll nag the rest of you to do so)