RTF Further Expands Civic Engagement Work Through Fellowship Pilot Program

RTF Further Expands Civic Engagement Work Through Fellowship Pilot Program - Proteus Fund

Since its inception, RISE Together Fund has supported grantees’ work to build community power in Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) communities in pursuit of a multiracial, inclusive, and representative democracy. An essential component of this work is the ability of our grassroots organizations to reach and activate larger segments of BAMEMSA communities on critical issues. Too often these efforts are stymied by lack of capacity, infrastructure, and access to community voter data.

Since 2019, RTF has systematically addressed these challenges, and as the next natural step in this work, this year, RTF has launched a new two-year civic engagement fellowship pilot program to encourage year-round civic engagement beyond elections through dedicated staff capacity. The grant program is being piloted with two organizations, CAIR-AZ and Arab American Civic Council. Both organizations will recruit and hire a civic engagement fellow, as well as work closely with Dr. Tom Wong, RTF’s data consultant who has supercharged grantees’ non-partisan civic engagement work through culturally competent data access and analysis.

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council, shared his perspective on the potential impact of the civic engagement fellowship grant for the organization.

Civic participation is a central element of AACC’s work. Why is this essential for building community power for Arab Americans?

Arab Americans have faced many challenges that led them to become intimidated and hesitant to participate in the democratic process. The root causes of these challenges are marginalization, structural racism, and lack of familiarity with the U.S. political system. When Arab Americans actively participate in civic affairs and have their voices heard, negative perceptions about Arab Americans will change, and our values will be reflected in policies made by representatives who understand our community’s needs.

How will having additional capacity in the form of a dedicated civic engagement fellow help to move your civic empowerment efforts forward?

With very limited capacity, the Arab American Civic Council has been reaching thousands of Arab American voters to encourage them to vote and engage with their elected representatives. In the 2022 primaries, we made 22,300 calls to voters and sent 5000 text messages to likely (Middle Eastern North African) MENA voters in Orange County. During the 2022 general midterm elections, we sent text messages to 31,054 cell phones on file and made 15,868 calls to landlines on file. In addition, we canvassed 2,733 likely MENA households in Orange County, primarily in the cities of Anaheim and Irvine. We did this with limited resources and only one full-time staff member who had other primary responsibilities in addition to one part-time and one temporary hire. With a dedicated civic engagement fellow on our team, we can make a much greater impact.

As a participant in this two-year pilot program, how do you envision or hope your experiences will have a lasting impact?

Our long-term civic engagement goal is to move Arab Americans from disenfranchisement to full civic participation. Arab Americans will be stronger with increased participation from all of the unique sub-groups and neighborhoods in Orange County. More specifically, we envision full Arab American participation in the affairs of the City of Anaheim that will lead to social and physical improvements in the newly-designated Little Arabia district.


(Photo of Rashad Al-Dabbagh by Michael Ziobrowski)