9/11 Should Serve as a Wake-up Call
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Newark, CA: The 9/11 attacks should serve as a wake up call for the seven-million strong American Muslim community to be pro-active and participate in the national political process. This was the message conveyed to the American Muslim community by speakers at the monthly educational forum of the American Muslim Alliance held on June 2 at the Chandni Restaurant. The speakers at the forum focused on “Emerging Patterns of California State Politics; Majority & Minority Relations.” They included former Senator and Chairman of the CA State Democratic Party, Mr. Art Torres; Prof. Cobie Harris, Professor of Political Science at the California State University, San Jose and Mr. Wilson Riles, Jr., a former member of the Oakland City Council.
Ms. Samina Faheem, National Coordinator of the American Muslim Alliance, introduced the speakers to the audience.
Senator Art Torres (Retired) who now serves as the elected Chairman of the California Democratic Party, was the first speaker. He told the audience that various immigrant groups should have communication in order to be politically effective. He referred to last year’s election of Mayor in Los Angeles where the Latino candidate lost because there was lack of communication between the Latino community and the African American community. However, he added that a new dimension has been created in the Los Angeles politics and now the Latino and African American leaders are speaking more and working together. (Samina Faheem, national Organizer of the AMA).
Mr. Torres, who served twenty years in the California State Legislature, eight as a member of the State Assembly and twelve as a State Senator, said that the emergence of demographic changes in California is very important for the political landscape. He pointed out that statistically new immigrants vote 80% more often than others. “In Santa Calara we see the Vietnamese community starting to emerge. It is also making its impact in the Orange County. More Vietnamese are becoming US citizens. The Democratic Party would be registering new voters.”
Mr. Torres pointed out that there was an awakening in the Latino community when social benefits were denied to undocumented immigrants in 1987. “When it was the electoral ballot in the gubernatorial campaign, the community polarized. This awakened the community that they have to participate in politics, this means that they became citizens and registered their vote. Now new immigrants are becoming citizens much more often than they did before. The 1987 polarization gave them reason to become citizens.” However, the Latino community did not become really active until the 1994 elections. It was a threshold moment for the Latino community. In the 1992 elections, the CA Assembly gained three additional Latino seats, expanding the Caucus membership to 10. Four more Latinos were elected to the Latino Legislative Caucus in 1994, bringing the membership to 14 and doubling the size in four years. In 1996, the strength of the Latino community was felt significantly both at the polls and in the CA State Legislature. Voter turnout increased by 40 percent, and 500,000 more Latinos voted. The number of new citizens voting also was a large factor in the 1996 elections. More than 250,000 Latino immigrants became citizens in California in 1996 and they cast ballots in record numbers.
About the protection of the civil rights of the Muslim community, Mr. Torres said that it was now their turn to struggle and fight profiling. “You should do what the Jews have done.”
Prof. Cobie Harris advised the Muslim community to follow the lead of the African American community in the struggle for civil rights and participate in politics. In Friday sermons, speak about the African American civil rights movement. “Play like the Jewish community. For them Democratic as well as the Republican parties are the same. Split 50-50 in Democratic and Republican Parties. Arrange fund raisers for both parties.”
Ethnic groups are important
Mr. Wilson Riles said that the population of African Americans is seven percent only but their political influence is much greater. However, he said, that because of the housing market, the African American is now going out of California, which has restricted our community’s participation in politics. He said that there are only 34% registered voters and only a very small percentage of the population votes. Therefore, only 20% population is making decisions. Mr. Riles said that in this context ethnic groups are important. “Political parties have very limited influence at grassroots level. We end up with a personality-related politics and not party-based politics.”
He went on to say that groups support those groups who they believe support their interest.
He said that that ballot is very complicated this is keeping away many of the African American community members from voting.
Pakistan Link – June 14, 2002