A political action group is launching a campaign to encourage more Muslims to run for office, offering guidance and a community organizing playbook to help them get started.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries, one Massachusetts-based organization is launching a campaign to get more Muslim Americans involved in local politics.
The call to action is coming from Jetpac, an advocacy group that focuses on fair representation for minority communities. Starting Thursday, they’re calling on Muslim Americans to run for office, promising to support them with long-term guidance and comprehensive training in community organizing.
“We’re offering training to everyone who steps forward to represent the community against this increase in negative rhetoric from the alt-right,” says Jetpac Executive Director Shaun Kennedy. “We’ll train community leaders from the moment they decide to run until the moment they’re ready to declare their candidacy.”
Nadeem Mazen, a Cambridge city councilor and the first Muslim elected official in Massachusetts, founded Jetpac at the end of his 2015 campaign for reelection. He first ran for city council in 2013, hoping to get involved on local issues, and won by only six votes. He says a lot of people, including himself, saw that as a stroke of luck. But in 2015, he won by a greater margin than anyone else running. This was a wake-up call: evidence to him and Kennedy, then his campaign manager, that their work in the community and their organizing tactics were effective, and that they could use the same strategy not just in Cambridge, but all over the country, to elevate underrepresented groups.
“The work that Muslims do in their community is consonant with American values and very much lauded, I think, as behind-the-scenes work, service work, interfaith work, solidarity with all kinds of persecuted groups, but also just real work on boards and commissions and professional associations,” Mazen says. “It’s these people who see themselves as behind-the-scenes champions of American values who do so well in government. Because they’re humble, first of all, and America is craving humble public servants who aren’t just in it as career politicians.”
To Muslim Americans wanting to do that hard work—the work of going door to door, making connections, engaging and building community—Jetpac offers a playbook. The effort looks to programs like Emerge America for precedent in this campaign, which builds on their ongoing work in civic education and political advocacy.
Jetpac’s focus is on “ground game,” grassroots community action—what they call the meat and potatoes of organizing. The training they offer joins the lessons Mazen and Kennedy have learned first-hand in political campaigning with collation of best practices and research. Until now, the structure has been informal, and it will remain flexible to meet the needs of participants. “Some of our trainees have a year to prepare,” Kennedy says, “and can take their time with monthly workshops. Others don’t have that liberty and will go through two modules a week for two months.” The curriculum includes list building, campaign math, formulating your campaign message, social media outreach, fundraising, and more.
Previously, Jetpac has brought trainees into the office in small groups so they can network and support one another as they learn, but as the program goes national, many trainings will take place via teleconference and over the phone. Kennedy says he expects for most people, those meetings will happen once a week, “simply because there’s a decent amount of homework to do between sessions.”
Young Muslim Americans find themselves in a unique and challenging historical position, and Jetpac is poised to work with them. “We’ve been organizing towards it for the last 12 months,” Kennedy says, “and now, when we really need it, we’ve got this foundation, we’ve got this network, we’ve got the practices we can draw on to launch it at a national level.”
“The older American Muslim generation was quite happy to fly under the radar,” Kennedy says, to “not be a huge part of the political conversation, to go about their personal, their academic, their community lives without jumping straight into politics.”
But in a political environment that’s often intolerant and unsupportive of Muslims and Muslim organizations, Mazen says it’s time to recapture the narrative and “do the hard work of connecting us together.”