Several weeks ago I participated in the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy day at the U.S. Capitol. Hosted by CAIR, the three-day event brought representatives from the American Muslim community and over 20 CAIR chapters to Washington, D.C., where we met with a third of the House of Representatives and a quarter of the Senate.
In total we met with 168 congressional offices, 112 Democratic and 56 Republican. Some of these offices were longtime allies while others we met with for the first time.
We were there to discuss important issues that are affecting our community. One of these is the misapplication of federal watch lists such as the no-fly list to strand and pressure American Muslims traveling abroad. We also briefed lawmakers about acts of religious profiling and discrimination along the northern border and sought their intervention. Finally, we voiced support for immigration reform and anti-bullying efforts like the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
In just three days of meetings, we received overwhelming support from Congress on these issues, including definitive actions to address them. In the months ahead I hope that positive results from these meetings will be felt not only by American Muslims but all Americans.
And while CAIR remains committed to protecting the civil liberties enjoyed by all Americans and will continue our annual Hill visits, a few days of advocacy is just not enough to create significant change in Washington.
For these visits to be truly effective, lawmakers must already have strong relationships with the American Muslim community in their states and districts. The growing voice of Muslim citizen advocates needs to be heard.
These relationships should start early on — perhaps when a neighbor announces candidacy for public office — and span the life of political careers, starting with local offices and progressing to members elected to state legislatures, the governor’s mansion, Congress, or the presidency.
As Muslim citizen advocates we need to invite candidates running for office to speak at public forums and gatherings hosted by Muslim community centers and houses of worship. Officials can also be asked to attend public and private religious celebrations and everyday events.
It is critical for Muslim communities to continue organizing Muslim advocacy days at state capitols across the nation, like the ones already being hosted in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington state.
Political capital is built over years by active Muslim citizen advocates donating their time and resources to candidates who reflect their views, regardless of political party. In turn, political capital is spent by Muslim communities visiting elected officials to let them know how they as public servants can help address important issues.
Let’s not wait for CAIR to host next year’s Capitol Hill advocacy days. We can start now by becoming more politically engaged and cultivating relationships that will benefit American Muslims for years to come.
Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR’s national headquarters on Capitol Hill.