#Election2020: As a Syrian American, don't tell me not to be 'political'

#Election2020: As a Syrian American, don't tell me not to be 'political'
As a daughter of immigrants, I'm proud to cast a ballot that represents all of those who cannot vote but who endlessly give back to this country, writes Leena Zahra.
3 min read
26 Oct, 2020
Demonstrators hold a Syrian revolutionary flag at a protest against Trump's Muslim Ban [Getty]

Don't be "political", I hear. I see the groans of disapproval as people share posts, articles or Instagram stories about the US election. But why the stigma and negativity? Why has extreme divisiveness and an aversion to "bad news" overcome people speaking up about politics and policies?

As a proud Syrian American, I'm so grateful to exercise the right to vote, and eager to mobilise others and show empathy for people we don't know. What an honour and immense privilege to have an impact, individually and collectively. Our voices and votes truly matter.

There are roughly 330 million people in the US. That's 330 million individuals, stories, livelihoods, hopes and fears that are impacted by voting. We all have issues facing our communities.

With a heavy heart, it would be remiss of me to not mention that the US has 
topped 1,100 deaths a day during the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to stress this loss in our votes. We need to honour the individuals, families and stories of those who we have lost, and advocate for strong policies that will protect American lives.

When I hear 'don't be political', I become emboldened

Voting (literally) ticks the box, but it's so much more. It is bigger than ourselves. It's knowing that the impact of global health pandemics is all-encompassing but also disproportionate. It's realising we must resist allowing our communities to become divided. When we vote, we vote for our communities, seen and unseen. When we vote, we envision a world for the next generation. What do we want that to look like?

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When I hear "don't be political", I become emboldened. My parents came to the US 30 years ago, when immigrant professionals were being sought out and celebrated. Nowadays, to become a green card holder or citizen, your worth is tied to the amount of money in your account, your status, your passport and faith affiliation. 

Through fear of not knowing we have turned to isolation and scapegoating. That's not the America I know. The America I know is welcoming of all faiths, beliefs, backgrounds and perspectives. It does not turn its back on those who want to give back. It celebrates difference, and takes action when we see our neighbours targeted and marginalised.

I'm voting early. I'm voting early for those who can't, for loved ones, friends and acquaintances who don't have that right, but who endlessly and selflessly give back to this country. I'm voting for the sacrifices my parents made to build a life here.

When I visited Syria every summer growing up, I was curious and outspoken, maybe too much so for my own good. But I'm grateful that in the US I'm encouraged to stand up for what matters through voting, which makes you question everything. No one can take that away.

Ultimately, I'm voting for those who have been fighting decades-long battles for their right to human dignity, freedom and liberty: their right to vote

Ultimately, I'm voting for those who have been fighting decades-long battles for their right to human dignity, freedom and liberty: their right to vote. I'm voting to amplify the voices of those who have fled horror. I'm voting to combat the discriminatory Muslim Ban, to advocate for a revitilised refugee resettlement program (less than 1 percent of Syrians have actually been resettled and 5.6 million still remain outside of Syria). A lack of human rights directly correlates with authoritarianism, which many close to me have spent years fighting.

I'm here to say there's good news: you can contribute to the outcome that will affect millions of lives. If that makes me "political", so be it.

#Election2020, let's vote for those who can't.

Leena is a Syrian-American non-profit advocacy specialist and co-founder of Syrian Americans for Biden.

Follow her on Twitter: @zahraleenz