RISE Together Fund

Fortifying Our Democracy: Civic Engagement Initiatives in Muslim, Arab and South Asian Communities

By Sheila Bapat, RTF Program Officer, and Deborah Makari, RTF Program Assistant

RISE Together Fund invests in cutting-edge Muslim, Arab and South Asian organizations committed to building a just, multiracial democracy. One of the many ways we do this is by bolstering nonpartisan civic engagement initiatives in our communities. This year, we face one of the most consequential elections in modern history; the crushing loss of civil rights hero Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days ago sent us reeling, and reinforced the importance of mobilizing in this moment.

This year also marked the anniversaries of two significant historical legislative wins for the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed 55 years ago, prohibited discrimination based on race and challenged numerous strategies meant to disenfranchise Black voters. We also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. While this legislation centered the right of white women to vote, it paved the way for women of color to demand representation.

We are emboldened by these hard fought victories of the past, and by the civil rights leaders we have lost. We are well aware of the work ahead to fortify our democracy. RTF is proud that our communities are rising to the occasion. 

Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities are participating in democratic processes like never before and are running for office in record numbers as part of a groundswell of civic participation among people of color, fueled by a steep rise in hate crimes and hate legislation aimed at these constituents. In a historic address last month, the Democratic nominee for President, Joe Biden, demonstrated the importance of reaching out to Muslim voters by speaking to nearly 3,000 attendees at the Million Muslim Votes Summit, hosted by Emgage Action. This was the first time a major party nominee reached out to our communities, further validating the work Muslim, Arab, and South Asian organizers have been doing around voter turnout for years. Data from 2018 shows increased turnout across communities of color, including Muslim communities and South Asian communities

In RTF’s original research from 2019, based on interviews with field leaders, found that Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities are motivated to participate in this historic election. Research released on October 1, 2020 from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding also shows increased voter registration among Muslim communities in particular. However, both reports make clear that we need deeper investment in the nonpartisan voter engagement infrastructure in order to ensure our communities are registered to vote, actually turn out, and stay engaged beyond the election cycle. 

Informed by this research, RISE Together Fund has invested significant resources to expand nonpartisan civic engagement in Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities. Below we offer a snapshot of some of the empowering work our grantees are doing to expand nonpartisan civic participation in our communities, despite  structural barriers and an ongoing pandemic. In addition to increased funding for these groups, we have partnered with a data scientist to improve grantees’ access to strong voter data. 

We amplify our grantees’ successes in the hope that other funders will take note so we can build their capacity to continue their work well beyond this one election cycle. A healthy and inclusive democracy demands sustained civic participation from diverse communities and our grantees give us much hope of a future that includes all of us.


Some of the work of our newest grantees includes:

MPower Change

Just weeks after national shelter in place orders were announced, MPower began organizing nonpartisan Vote By Mail strategies. MPower will continue engaging in national nonpartisan get out the vote efforts through the fall, including training grassroots organizations on local vote by mail requirements.

 

CAIR-Arizona

As the only Muslim organization that belongs to the OneArizona coalition, CAIR-Arizona is strengthening nonpartisan voter registration and engagement in the state for the remainder of 2020.

 

Reviving Sisterhood 

Based in Minneapolis, Reviving Sisterhood is committed to amplifying the voice and power of Muslim women. They are actively phonebanking to Muslim women voters to ensure strong participation throughout Minnesota.

 

 

Three of our long-standing grantees have excelled in adjusting their work to the current moment:

Justice for Muslims Collective

JMC is a Muslim women led organization committed to dismantling institutional and structural Islamophobia. Their nonpartisan voter engagement strategies focus on Muslim women voters in the DC/Maryland/Virginia metro area, with the goal of reaching at least 12,000 voters this fall.

 

 

Georgia Muslim Voter Project

Working in key counties, Georgia Muslim Voter Project offers robust nonpartisan voter registration and engagement activities. They successfully pivoted to virtual efforts when COVID-19 hit, using a Quick Response (QR) code to register voters at grocery stores and other local businesses.

 

Greater Birmingham Ministries

GBM works in communities that have faced ongoing efforts at disenfranchisement, most notably Black and Brown Alabamians. Their voter engagement strategies include restoring voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals and joining lawsuits to remove barriers to absentee voting during the pandemic. GBM is a member of the #StandAsOne coalition and Vote Safe Alabama coalition to increase nonpartisan voter engagement throughout the state, including in Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities.

 


The organizations highlighted are just a few of our grantees who are doing great work to increase nonpartisan civic engagement. Feel free to reach out if you would like to learn more.