Before 9/11, I was white—meaning, among other things, that I had the privilege of sitting out a presidential election to wait for the “perfect” candidate who fulfilled my demands for progressive purity.
But being Muslim and of Arab heritage, my world changed in the years after 9/11 as I was transformed by society from white to a minority. Consequently, I learned firsthand the pain of being defined by the worst in my community and having politicians then openly use that grotesque caricature to demonize us. And no one has been more vile on this front than Donald Trump, who made ginning up hatred of Muslims one of the centerpieces of his 2016 campaign, which resulted in more hate crimes in 2017 against my community than even in the year after 9/11.
In normal times, perhaps I’d be yelling about the fact that of nearly 40 speakers the DNC has chosen so far for next week’s convention, that besides Bernie Sanders, Liz Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rest are for the most part moderate/establishment Democrats (except for the two who aren’t even Democrats). The DNC could have done far better on this front and included more progressive voices and at least one Muslim American progressive such as Rep. Ilhan Omar.
But when the guy in the White House has called to ban my entire faith, inspired hate crimes against my community and made the lives of fellow minorities a living hell, these things don’t matter as much. And that’s the same sentiment many in other minority groups have shared as Trump has come for each of us at one time or another. When people of color call my SiriusXM radio show, I can assure you that none are talking the DNC line-up of speakers, but nightly they share how Trump has caused them real pain. This is not political, it’s personal with Trump, as we are fighting to survive.
Now though to the reality of 2020: Will other progressives who have the privilege of waiting for progressive purity sit this election out because in their view supporting the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket makes them a “sell-out to Wall Street” or any of the other reasons heard in 2016 why some wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton? In a word: Yes. Since Tuesday I’ve seen rumblings of that on social media from friends. In fact, I was already called a “sell-out” in a posting on Facebook by a fellow progressive for my full-throated embrace of Biden/Harris. Other progressives have expressed deep concerns about the ticket's failure to embrace “structural change” like Medicare for All and on criminal justice.
But so far at least, it appears there are far fewer demands for purity than what I saw in 2016. Part of the reason, obviously, is Trump’s toxic record in the White House. However, more than that, it could be that Biden has been working with Bernie Sanders’ team over the last few months, which has resulted in Biden embracing more progressive positions on certain issues such as climate and education. In contrast, after the 2016 primary, the Clinton and Sanders camps did not team up like this on policy.
Secondly, Harris is actually very progressive on core issues, receiving an 80 percent rating for her Senate voting record in 2019 from the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action, while Liz Warren trailed her at a 75 percent rating. Yet there’s no denying that while Sanders and Warren sought a wealth tax and railed against Wall Street, Harris has been supported by Wall Street interests.
Beyond criminal justice concerns raised about Biden/Harris, there’s also the issue of Palestine-Israel. Progressives—and not just Muslims or those of Arab heritage—have been very critical of Biden and Harris for their staunch support of Israel. Because I am of Palestinian heritage and have family in the West Bank, U.S policy in regard to the region is also personal for me.
Sanders was beloved by pro-Palestinian activists for his championing of Palestinian human rights and his unabashed criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. Biden is not Bernie. But Biden is still 100 percent better than Trump on this issue. For example, Biden has already publicly pledged to reverse Trump’s heartless decision in 2018 to end funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA.) This alone will have a real impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who look to this agency daily for food, education, health care and more.
Biden has also recently announced that while he opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, he defends the rights of Americans to engage in it and will oppose state action designed to penalize Americans who are active in BDS. (That’s a small but meaningful change from the 2016 Democratic platform.)
To those whose privilege—whatever that may be, from race to wealth—allows them to wait for perfection, this is the year the rest of us need your help. As a progressive, I know you’re moved by empathy and compassion. That’s what defines us. In that vein, join us in ending the reign of Trump’s cruelty, bigotry, racism and sexism. Trump has caused real pain to countless minority communities with his hate and discriminatory policies from banning transgender Americans from the military to smearing Black Lives Matter as a “symbol of hate” while denying systemic racism exists, to putting children in cages and ending DACA, to his Muslim ban that has separated families. The list goes on and on.
Activist Linda Sarsour summed it up well Tuesday after Harris was announced as Biden’s running mate. Sarsour, who was a visible part of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns, tweeted, “It’s no secret that I have disagreements with both VP Joe Biden & Senator Kamala Harris. But I know what I need to do—Elect the Biden-Harris ticket.” She then added a line that is vitally important for Biden and Harris to understand as well: We will “hold them accountable in the White House.”
Once we defeat Trump and elect Biden/Harris, it’s not game over and go home. Rather that’s just the first necessary step in ultimately achieving our progressive goals.