DEARBORN- A new group is mobilizing Arab American women to get them politically active in the 2012 presidential election.
Arab American Women for Obama (AAWO) was formed by Jumana Judeh, president of Judeh and Associates, a real estate appraisal and consulting firm.
|From left: Debbie Dingell, wife of Democratic Congressman John Dingell, Jumana Judeh founder of AAWO, and Rose Khalifa, one of the group's committee members discussing strategies to get Arab American women mobilized in the nationwide presidential election this fall.|
AAWO currently has a committee comprised of 20 professional Arab American women. "I'm drawn to President Obama because he represents the democratic values that I believe in," Judeh said.
To reach Arab American women the group plans on forming a telephone chain, where one woman calls an additional five women. House gatherings that include women and their neighbors are also expected to be held.
They also plan on reaching women by making visits at community events, churches and mosques. "I will tell you one way or another we will reach Arab American homes, either by a personal call, robo-calls, or by mailers. We will get inside the home," Judeh said.
Members of the committee plan on meeting again soon to move forward with their efforts to support the president.
Judeh recently met with a representative from the Obama campaign, who mentioned bringing in someone from Washington to provide the group with additional tools it may need. Training seminars will also possibly occur.
"There is a lot of Arab American women who want to be a part of this movement, because they believe this movement speaks to them," Judeh said. "I have yet to go to a Arab American woman and say I'm organizing a Obama campaign and heard her say, 'I don't want to really get involved.' Everyone is saying 'yes, tell me what to do.'"
The race in Michigan between Obama and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney will be close considering Romney grew up in Bloomfield Hills, an affluent suburb in metro-Detroit, and his father is a former Michigan governor. Michigan residents may feel pressure to support one of their own, in a traditionally democratic state.
|Committee members of the AAWO. The group is expected to get Arab American women talking about |
U.S. President Barack Obama, and to encourage them
to go out and vote.
Arab American women are often portrayed negatively in the mainstream media. The movement AAWO is launching will allow the public to look at Arab American women in a positive way.
Judeh says the majority of voters are women. "I think women make a huge difference," she said, adding it's statistically proven that women vote more than men.
Judeh is a delegate for the democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina that's approaching.
She cited policies and accomplishments of the president that she supports. Judeh says the economy has turned around since 2008, when the economic crisis was at its height.
"Things are picking up, I see it when I talk to people. People are excited, now they have hope. If you would have talked to them three or four years ago, people would say 'well you know, I'm barely holding on, or I filed for bankruptcy.' There are jobs, people are coming back to Michigan," she said.
Judeh noted that Romney initially criticized the auto bailout. Romney has been quoted as saying, "let Detroit go bankrupt," a statement his campaign and its supporters say was taken way out of context.
Judeh says Michigan's survival depends on the auto industry. "Imagine what would have happened if GM or Chrysler were allowed to go bankrupt," Judeh said.
"I haven't heard anyone who really understands the economy in Michigan criticize or say that the Obama administration shouldn't have bailed out the auto industry," she said.
Judeh also noted the president's address to the Arab World in Cairo Egypt as positive.
Judeh, an Arab Christian says the president didn't label the Islamic world as a threat; something crucial and much needed in a post 9/11 era where anti-Islam sentiment is a major issue.
Arab Americans are generally conservative in their religious beliefs. Recently President Obama openly supported gay marriage. Personally the group is conservative, but social issues are not at the top of its list of concerns.
"When you don't have a job, when you can't pay your bills, when you're unemployed, when you have college bills for your kids to pay, who cares whether the president came down on the side of supporting gay marriage. That is totally irrelevant," Judeh said.
When the committee gathered to discuss issues they feel the strongest about, the topics of education, the economy, drugs, crime and immigration emerged.
Some wanted to make sure that certain programs in schools are funded properly such as bilingual services, and there are educational resources available for the less fortunate. The economic issues women confront on a daily basis was at the top of the list.
While foreign policy and other issues are important, the group has decided to focus on issues that affect their lives personally.
"The issues for us as Arab American women are jobs, our kids, education and opportunity," she said. Judeh noted that she supports the president's attempts to make
healthcare more affordable.
She says Obama has praised immigrants in a way that no other president has. "He makes it seem like it's a good thing to be an immigrant. He's really acknowledged them. I think that is so important, he put a face on immigrants, and that's a good face."
The president highlighted the importance of immigrants and their contributions recently when he announced a two year policy that's subject to renewal, and would allow undocumented immigrants who came here before they were 16, and are not security threats to stay in the country temporarily.
Judeh says college loans and interest rates have become a major issue for women who have children pursuing higher education.
President Obama has also made attempts to get the cost of college down, by urging congress to take action that would prevent interest rates on college loans from increasing.
Judeh says that democrats have fought to preserve funding for schools. Last year republicans slashed $1 billion from education in Michigan, a move that drew sharp criticism from democrats.
Judeh is the founder of the Arab American Women's Business Council, which provides women with the resources they need to be successful.
Much of her life work has centered around helping women, and giving them a voice.
She grew up getting bullied by her peers in high school because she was an Arab American. At the time Judeh was the only Arab American at the school.
"That's not a very pleasant place to be. Because I experienced so much discrimination I want to be there for a woman, because there was no one there for me."
"I never had anything handed to me. I always had to work for everything I have in my life, and no one was there for me to reach out to."
On several occasions when she's helped young ladies, they have come back to thank her for making a difference in their lives. "My life is about something bigger than me. At least that's what I believe," she said.
Historically the voice of the Arab American women has been silenced by men in the community who led political efforts, and women took a back seat according to Judeh.
"Well I think the Arab American woman now is smarter, and she knows that she has options and she is not going to take a back seat and have someone speak to her needs other than herself."
Judeh has been active in the community for decades, and says at one point when political and strategy meetings would take place she was the only woman in the room, and would have to force her position because no one would ever call on her or listen to her opinion.
But things have changed since then. Women are included in business and political settings in a way they never were before.
"Now we speak about her (Arab woman) in different settings, that is a long way," Judeh said. Men in the community have been extremely welcoming of the different positions women in the community are taking on.
Youth encouraged to join AAWO movement to get Arab women to vote :
The group is encouraging the youth to come out and get involved in their efforts. Judeh notes that they have skills in social media and other areas that are much needed.
"I would beg the youth to get involved because whatever we do they are the beneficiaries. They need to come on board because this is not about me, this is about them, and their own future." To join the group email Jumana Judeh at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 313.277.1986.