Last week, the Democratic National Conventions unveiled their platform – the blueprint for the future of the Party. As social media pundits rushed to comment live, I saw a familiar piece of advice (perhaps first popularized by this 2019 tweet) re-surface in virtual debate: voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport. As the analogy goes–there might not be a route that gets you exactly where you want to go, but you get on the bus that takes you closest to your destination. I’ve come to realize that when I use my political conscience as a guide, my stations aren’t even on the map.
I am a Palestinian American. My family is Muslim. The mechanics of US party politics were not designed for us. They weren’t designed for my BIPOC siblings. In many cases, the vehicle of the Democratic Party isn’t getting us any closer to our stops. The Biden campaign did not flinch at the opportunity to prove that during this convention. Democrats invited Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour to speak during a “Muslim delegates and allies” assembly, but then kicked her away the first chance they got. The scandal was emblematic of the larger dilemma for American Muslims, Arabs, and Middle Easterners: the party wants our vote, but they aren’t willing to work for it.
We’ve been on this bus route before, the path is predictable, disappointing, futile. The drive of party politics is more circular than progressive. It might look like the bus is headed in our direction, but always, and without fail, they turn away from our interests.
In my young life as a member of the American polity, I’ve experienced a string of let-downs: belonging marred by vilification, hope disillusioned by defeat. The Republican Party rolls out raucous machines of violence against our communities, and the Democratic Party quietly engineers more respectable ways to maintain the same repression.
The Bush administration enacted the Patriot Act, but the Obama administration created Countering Violent Extremism – a pernicious surveillance program that targets Muslims. Republicans created scapegoats of my community and Democrats built them a surveillance state to keep up the ruse. Bush started the wars in the Middle East, but Obama kept us there. It was during the Obama administration that we broadened a reign of terror in the form of drone strikes over “non-conventional warzones”, killing hundreds of civilians in places like Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. George W. signed away our tax dollars in a 10 year contract to the Israeli occupation; Barack upped the ante with the largest military aid package in history.
Trump moved the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and bartered away Palestinian self-determination. The Biden campaign team has made clear that they will continue to dance with apartheid. The Trump administration has slapped the Palestinian community in the face and punched us in the gut. The Biden administration would leave us on the ground to bleed out.
There is a history here. Republicans come to the Muslim community armed, and Democrats return wearing wires. We know that Donald Trump is an open Islamaphobe, but “not Trump” is simply not enough. The reason the Democratic Party fails to progress promptly is because they take advantage of communities tormented by white supremacy on the Right. Why should Muslim voters be excited about a party that consistently pushes a quieter but still Islamaphobic regime?
Most white folks take for granted that their candidate will respect their self-worth. I cannot. How can I feel good about voting for someone who repeatedly disrespects my core values? Year after year, the democratic establishment makes hollow appeals to American Muslims & overlapping communities, but bombs our cousins, surveils our brothers, and jails our friends. My community should not have to leave our dignity at the door in order to enter the Democratic Party’s “big tent”.
I know this election is bigger than us. It’s bigger than any one community. It is perhaps as big as our democracy itself. We have to give it everything we’ve got, but that shouldn’t mean we have to give ourselves up. To defeat a fascist leader in 2020, Joe Biden is going to have to prove to us that we have a democracy worth saving. He should conduct a party that will recognize the humanity of all its passengers. If he wants to represent a vote for decency, he needs to advocate for the dignity of our communities.
To be clear: I am not alone. There are 3 and a half million Muslims in this country – Black, brown, and otherwise, who should be respected by the political party claiming to serve us. And we’re not just talking about Muslims. These issues: Palestinian human rights, foreign wars, and government surveillance, are increasingly urgent for American voters of all stripes. A clear majority of people in the US are uncomfortable with surveillance of Americans. 62% of US adults say the Iraq war was not worth it. Two-thirds of Democrats have an unfavorable view of the Israeli government. Jewish Voice for Peace, an expressly anti-Zionist camp, is one of the fastest growing Jewish groups in the country. Our communities are powerful: increasingly so.
When I first discussed the public transit voting metaphor I was surrounded by my Palestinian immigrant family. As is typical of Arab gatherings, we were engrossed in a potluck and politics. I brought the za’atar manaqish (fluffy bread baked with traditional herbs) and a plea that my loved ones cast a vote in the upcoming election. At some point, I naively offered the bus framework to the group.
My uncle put down his kebab skewer to illustrate his response with gesticulations. “If one bus is going to the right and one bus is going to the left, but we’re trying to go forward, why should we get on the bus?”
For many people in my community, the choice this fall is not between voting for Donald Trump and voting for Joe Biden, it’s about whether to vote at all. It’s a question about inclusion, participation. Based on the Party’s recent comments, it seems like team Biden wants to make that choice for many of us. I hope they reverse course before it’s too late. When I cast my ballot this November, I’d like to take my dignity into the voting booth. But I have a feeling I won’t be able to.