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'We're Not Visible': Youth-led Organization Wants Politicians To Hear Concerns Of Muslims

Aviva Okeson-Haberman
KCUR 89.3
Around 40 people attended a nonpartisan town hall hosted by the KC Muslim Civic Initiative.

A youth-led organization is working to get more Muslims involved in politics.

In front of a crowd of about 40 people at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City on Sunday, KC Muslim Civic Initiative organizer Deena Essa urged attendees at this nonpartisan town hall to vote on August 7.

“I also want Muslims to use this as kind of like a stepping point for further activism or for further engagement civically, because we really lack in that in our community," another organizer, Daniah Hammouda, told KCUR. "And I feel like there is more investment when they see the actual candidate talking to them.”

The town hall featured candidates running for Missouri’s U.S. Senate and fifth congressional race, though incumbents Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver did not attend.

Instead, the crowd heard from McCaskill challenger Angelica Earl and Zaki Baruti, campaign manager for McCaskill's other challenger in the August primary, Carla “Coffee” Wright. They were joined by independent Craig O’Dear and Republican Jacob Turk, who is running against fellow Republicans Kress Cambers and Richonda Oaks in the primary for Missouri’s fifth congressional district.

Credit Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Waleed Al-Shaikhli, Fatima Al-Shaikhli, Osama Ehtesham, Daniah Hammouda, Kareem Hammouda and Maryan Burale helped organize the town hall.

The candidates fielded questions about the Black Lives Matter movement, union rights, banning immigration from five Muslim-majority countries, and U.S. aid to Israel. That last topic drew the most response from the audience after O’Dear said he wouldn’t stop aid and Turk said he didn’t know enough to comment.

Hammouda said organizers reached out to all of the candidates running in the senate and fifth congressional races.

Hammouda said she doesn’t think politicians pay enough attention to the concerns of Muslim voters.

“I feel like they don’t see us. We’re not visible,” Hammouda said, adding that politicians will pay more attention to the needs of Muslims once they show candidates they can “potentially vote you in and out of office.”

Hammouda said she hoped attendees took away a feeling of empowerment from the event. “It makes them feel like their voices matter and that’s really the goal is that to give Muslims a social, political presence that we don’t really yet in this country,” she said.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.

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