DEARBORN — Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gathered at the Arab American National Museum on Tuesday, November 26 as part of an official campaign event for the Vermont senator, who won the Michigan Democratic primary for president in 2016.
The event, titled "Arab Americans for Bernie", was sponsored by Sanders' presidential campaign, and organized by Amer Zahr, a Palestinian American comedian and University of Detroit Mercy law professor, who is also a national surrogate for the campaign.
Supporters gathered to focus on organizing volunteers for the campaign. A diverse group of about 50 Arab Americans attended, including people from Lebanese, Palestinian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Sudani, from both Muslim and Christian American backgrounds. Supporters ranged from high schoolers to senior citizens.
"Enthusiasm is obviously very high for Bernie," Zahr said. "In 2016 Arab Americans helped him win Michigan. He is still, in my opinion, the candidate that most naturally fills our needs as Arab Americans.
"This campaign, we are not taking any of that for granted."
Zahr said he's been attending multiple campaign events for Sanders and that Sanders' campaign is the most diverse he's ever seen in terms of its supporters. Zahr also said he believes that Sanders has the best chance to unseat President Trump in 2020.
"He has a great chance to beat Trump," he said. "On top of that a lot of working class voters voted for Trump in 2016, but before they voted for Trump many voted for Bernie in the primary."
Sanders' campaign is pushing a message of diversity, economic equality and treating everybody with respect, Zahr added.
Another attendee, Narissa Ayoub, is a community connector for the Sanders campaign and has been working to get the word out in the Dearborn community.
"What this event did is it kind of made my job a little easier, to get members of our community into one space to show them how to organize and have greater impact and influence," she said.
She also said the campaign has been calling people all over America to talk to them about Sanders through weekly phone banks, and has worked to mobilize voters in South Carolina for the February 29 primary.
Ayoub said Sanders appeals to the Arab American community for many reasons, in large part because of his foreign policy.
"Absolutely I think Bernie has really caught the attention of Arab Americans," she said. "He's the only one who really acknowledges Palestine and is willing to cut funding to Israel.
"I think he does have a pulse on not just the Dearborn community but the Arab community at-large. That makes him a champion for us. I feel like he's pretty much the only one who has our best interest in mind and he is the closest we have who cares about our issues."
Nasser Beydoun, the chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League who supported Sanders during the last election, said it was a good start.
"It's still a little early, but it was the initial event," he said. "I think people aren't really focused on the election yet, but I thought it was a good start.
"Bernie Sanders by far has been the best candidate on our issues as Arab Americans, so I think we as Arab Americans need to support him and to show that we stand behind those who stand with us," he added, referencing Sanders' "balanced" approach on the Palestinian issue as well as his focus on civil rights, education, human rights and healthcare.