by Maysa ElSheikh
I had a very interesting experience at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last month. I felt more welcome as a young Muslim woman of color (WoC) than I did as a Senator Bernie Sanders Delegate. Muslims were seen and heard in a variety of positions from speakers to the custodian but Senator Sanders’ delegates were just expected to swallow a bitter pill and get with the program of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Like many other young people across America, I was energized by Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for presidency. Here was a candidate addressing key issues and speaking out against corporate America which has consistently used its big money to silence the dissent of average citizens. His campaign’s push for specific and concrete issues excited me in contrast to the vague and overreaching promises of too many other politicians.
After seeing a request in the campaign emails I received to be a delegate, my friends encouraged me to submit the application with them. At the time, I was still trying to understand the role of a delegate as I knew little about this process. Not too long after submitting my application, my name was on the Democratic ballot in Maryland’s 7th district! At that point, I realized Allah had chosen me to represent Maryland as a Muslim WoC at the DNC. I was not as experienced as the other chosen delegates but I had Islam. I was eager to learn and see what the DNC was all about.
I was welcomed at the DNC with many photo opportunities, expressions of appreciation for my participation, and several requests by news reporters to discuss my experiences as a Muslim American WoC. While Mr. Trump continues to rally hate in the country, he is also the reason almost every speaker at the DNC spoke of inclusiveness. Many Muslims were given the spotlight and Islam was referred to in many speeches.
It was so beautiful to hear Dr. Sherman Jackson give the invocation July 26, beginning with “Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem.” It gave me goosebumps to hear his prayer, the opening of the voting process in my country, begin with the name of Allah. I was inspired by the service, dedication, and representation of the Muslim Congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison. I lit up with joy every time I saw another hijabi or Muslim in Philadelphia from the custodial staff to volunteers, other delegates, as well as government and nonprofit staff.
The Muslim American Host Committee, yes, there was a Muslim American Host Committee at the DNC that graciously facilitated many opportunities and events throughout the week for Muslim delegates to gather and meet.
I hope that people around the world especially Americans, who saw speakers like Dr. Jackson, Khizr Khan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Debbie Almontaser on stage and in media clips realized that Muslims are an integral part of this country’s political process. I hope the Muslim presence at the DNC encourages other Muslims in the US to get involved in the political process and realize that our voices do matter so that each year we will return in even greater numbers.
While I felt welcomed for being a Muslim WOC, I did not feel very welcomed as a delegate for Senator Bernie Sanders, a sentiment many of his other delegates shared. My image representing the visual diversity of the Democratic Party, was appreciated more than my political opinions which differed from the mainstream establishment’s decision to nominate Hillary Clinton. The voices of Bernie supporters off-stage, who did not immediately give an endorsement of Clinton, were consistently drowned out by her supporters. As delegates, we were reminded hourly of the importance of optics for TV as we were handed the proper signs to raise on cue such as “Stronger Together,” “Do More Good,” and “Thank you.” Conversely, signs readings “Stop TPP” had to be snuck in by many to make an appearance in the convention center.
I was disappointed by the level of annoyance and complete dismissal on the part of many Hillary delegates when it came to Sanders delegates–as if our demands were childish or we were ruining the coronation ceremony. It seemed as if Bernie delegates were expected to immediately rally behind Hillary now that she’s won–ordered to “unite” and remain “well-behaved” so as not to disrupt history in progress.
Bernie Sanders gave many youth, working class people, and people from other walks of life hope in a system that clearly needs reform. After the Schultz DNC email scandal and the way many Bernie delegates were treated, many people who had regained hope lost it quickly. However, many Maryland Bernie delegates who were more seasoned in politics advised the younger ones that now was not the time to walk out. Now was the time to pressure Clinton to enforce the progressive platform her party drafted.
Moving forward, I want to make sure my hijab is not just used as a PR stunt for the inclusiveness of Muslims. I am determined that my voice be heard in this election as well as local elections. I believe it is my responsibility to share my experience so that other Muslims and youth can learn about the political process and become involved.
Consequently, my friend Basmah Nada and I created the blog HimarsandHijabis.tumblr.com, an effort we plan on continuing. More Muslims need to be present in the political process, otherwise we cannot complain that our voices are not being heard. We need to make sure Muslim voters are registered and remain steadfast in making local change.
Maysa Elsheikh is a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Anthropology. She is dedicated to empowering women and youth spiritually and politically as well as encouraging the Muslim American community’s involvement in civic engagement. She is passionate about social policy issues regarding immigration, racial and economic justice, as well as American relations with the Middle East.