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ADC Convention: Election year meet brings activists together
2008-06-27 11:09:11

By Delia Habhab and Will Youmans - Friday, 06.20.2008

The Nation Press -

WASHINGTON Arab Americans from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. last weekend to attend the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)'s Annual National Convention at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Founded in Washington, D.C. by U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk in 1980, ADC serves as the country's largest and most prominent Arab American grassroots, civil rights organization.

Held at the scenic Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington for the first time, the convention resembled those of years past.  Visitors scaled up and down several floors to attend panels, banquets, and visit exhibit booths that displayed arts, books and music.

he conference, "Securing the Principles of Liberty," was buzzing with electoral year excitement and a wide recognition of the need for greater Arab American political participation. ADC's national convention has grown into the largest annual national gathering for the Arab American community.  Its agenda dealt with the community's most important issues. 

During the first day of the conference, Friday, June 13, ADC focused on increasing Arab American familiarity with Capitol Hill, where the legislative branch of the government is located.  ADC sponsored an orientation, a luncheon, and meetings with Members of Congress for ADC members. 

t is vital Arab Americans get more involved with their representatives.  Outreaching to their government representatives does have an impact, a message brought home by speakers at a fundraising reception, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Aram Hamparian, of the Armenian National Committee.

Following the reception, a gala banquet was held in the hotel's main ballroom.  The program began with a chapter "role" call, where the leaders of different ADC chapters from around the country spoke about the initiatives they are currently engaged in.  ADC Greater Detroit Chapter President, Atty. Mona Fadlallah, spoke to the audience about the grassroots efforts the Detroit Chapter has been leading in coordination with the ADC Michigan Office.

The Friday banquet featured remarks from Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who captivated the audience with a resounding and inspirational speech.

"The current dilemma that we are in is due to the type of dichotomized thinking that separates people," said Kucinich.  "This type of thinking is the precursor to war.  The so-called 'war on terror' has been a dead end. We need to learn to communicate with each other."

 "America is at the threshold of a new possibility," he continued.  "That new possibility must be reflected in a type of diplomacy that respects the rights of all people, and is willing to negotiate. We need to take America in a new direction."

The evening concluded with the presentation of the Jack Shaheen Mass Communications Scholarships, awarded to deserving Arab American students who excel in media studies.

The morning of Saturday the 14th featured panels on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, American politics and Arab American art.

The foreign policy panel focused on perceptions and misperceptions, and how to gauge them accurately.   It featured remarks from Dalia Mogahed, a polling analyst with the Gallup Organization; Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Association; and David Khairallah, a professor at Georgetown University.  They considered the path of American foreign policy and how those in the region are responding to it.  Some of the panelists also speculated about what the next presidential administration will need to do to fix America's reputation abroad.  The panelists agreed that unless the next president completely reviews the fundamentals of the U.S.'s foreign policy, it is very likely that the problems being faced abroad will continue.  They also discussed the current problems in Iraq, and the potential for war with Iran.

Outreach officials with state and national political parties were featured on the "Getting Involved in U.S. Politics" panel.  It was a hands-on workshop designed to encourage attendees to become more active.  The "Arab American Authors and Literature" event included leading Arab American writers Nathalie Handal, Evelyn Shakir, Susan Muaddi Darraj and Susan Abulhawa.

This convention, like those in the past, also previewed films and documentaries.  The creative talent behind several of the films were present for discussions, giving attendees an inside look into their work. Among the films featured was the award winning Palestinian film, "Arna's Children."  Filmmaker Juliano Mer Khamis engaged in a discussion with the convention's participants after the film's screening.

Syrian Ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, was both a guest and a speaker at the convention.  He appeared on a panel that discussed the Iraq war. It considered the tragedy of the refugees, and the humanitarian impact on Iraq and surrounding countries. The panel also presented the voices of human rights workers on the front-lines with organizations such as Refugee Council USA and Amnesty International USA.

On the domestic side, ADC tackled the "The Role of the Police: Striking a Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Civil Liberties."  Panelists considered developments in immigration, such as local and state law enforcement officials enforcing federal immigration law.  It also raised the issue of law enforcement officials' efforts policing ethnic communities.  This panel included representatives of the National Council of La Raza, the Police Foundation and the Asian American Justice Center – groups ADC works with frequently.

A sensitive topic among Arab Americans, the disaster in Darfur, was the subject of one panel. A professor and researcher with decades of work in Sudan, a Sudanese refugee and academic, and an Arab Canadian graduate student working on sustainable development in Darfur, brought diverse and interesting perspectives. 

  They all agreed that U.S. advocacy groups, such as the Save Darfur coalition, over-simplify the Darfur crisis.  They rejected the simplification of the conflict as being between Arabs and Africans, citing the fact that most of the people of Darfur,  of all backgrounds, stayed out of the fighting.  Also, they noted that many tribes and parties often switched sides.  They did not agree on how to proceed, however. 

The Hon. John Conyers (D-MI), who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, headlined the civil rights luncheon.  Conyers spoke about the role that Arab Americans will play in the coming months, as the country faces a crucial turning point.  He commended the crowd who had gathered for the luncheon for their efforts to make an impact on the political playing field.

"What you're doing here today is absolutely critical to what it is going to take to make America work," Conyers stated.  "I encourage your efforts.  We are at a truly historic point in time, and we are in this struggle together."

During the luncheon, ADC honored the "Legacy of MLK & RFK: 40 Years Later" and announced awards for "Friends in Government," and the "Pro Bono Attorney of the Year," an annual award given to pro-bono attorneys who have worked closely with ADC over the years. Special recognition was given to the attorneys in the LA 8 Case, who celebrated a victory after 20 years. The "LA 8" refers to the two-decade long court battle to prevent the deportation of eight Palestinian and one Kenyan immigrants.  They were politically active.  ADC presented their attorneys with a Lifetime Commitment for Justice Award and recognized the life of one of them, Michael Maggio, Esq., in memoriam.  Atty. David Cole accepted the award on behalf of his associates, thanking ADC for standing by the LA8 during the course of the 20 year-long case.

 "I am delighted to be here today among so many heroes of the civil rights struggle," Cole said.  "ADC has been with us since this case began.  They didn't give up, and without their help, we never would have prevailed."

As is the annual tradition, ADC also gave a special commemoration to the late Alex Odeh, an ADC director in Southern California assassinated by a pipe bomb 23 years ago.  The chief suspects, members of the Jewish Defense League, are thought to be in Israel, which refuses to extradite them. 
Other panels focused on the perception of growing sectarianism in the Arab World, the impact of U.S.  policy and the war on terror on global civil rights, and what youth and college activists are currently involved in.  The final round of panels tackled the problem of development in the Arab World, and the Palestinian refugees.  These panels closed out a day of exhaustive talks on many issues of concern to Arab Americans.

Day two of the convention concluded with an awards banquet that honored individuals who exhibited a passionate dedication to the Arab American cause.  ADC honored Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, with the Global Leadership Award for his unwavering commitment to promoting peace and justice in the Arab World, and for his humanitarian efforts during the tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of  the Emir, was recognized with the Global Humanitarian Award for her ongoing efforts to promote education and social reform in Qatar.  Both awards were presented to a representative from the Embassy of Qatar at a ceremony earlier that week.

The banquet also featured remarks from presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who presented the Rose Nader Award to Mariam Said, for her years of outstanding social and humanitarian work.

 Sunday's events included a panel entitled "From the Victim's Mouth," which focused on individuals who have experienced various forms of discrimination.  The panelists included a victim of a hate crime, and a man who experienced employment discrimination.  The speakers shared their experiences with the attendees, followed by a question and answer session.

The convention concluded with a luncheon entitled "Palestine: 60 Years of Dispossession," which hosted Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestine National Initiative, as the keynote speaker. Barghouthi spoke at length about the state of the people living in Palestine and the dire need for change in the region. 

 The three-day evADC+memberent covered an extensive variety of subjects and ideas, and worked to further emphasize the need for Arab Americans to become actively involved in the political process as the upcoming presidential election approaches. ADC National Executive Director Kareem Shora said that this year's National Convention succeeded in shining the spotlight on Arab Americans at one of the most critical points in the country's history.

 "This year''s convention was by far the most efficient, smoothly-operated, multi-day event the organization has hosted in its 28-year history," Shora said. "The fact that it was held in a historic presidential election year made it an especially important convention, as it sent a strong message to both Senator Obama and Senator McCain that Arab Americans were in the nation's capital to define themselves; they will not allow others to stereotype them, and they will be an active and integral part of this great mosaic they call home.

Delia Habhab is a writer for The Arab American News and serves as ADC Michigan's accounts administrator. Will Youmans is a writer for The Arab American News, and was awarded the Jack Shaheen Scholarship for Mass Communications at the 2008 ADC Convention.

Source : arabamericannews
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