By Naila Aziz Ahmed –
A firsthand account of how voters, including Pakistani-Americans, burnt the midnight oil to save the day the negative images of President Barrack Obama as well as Mitt Romney flashed on the screen day and night. Half-truths, twisted facts, and just down right falsehoods depending on which side you supported.
Romney’s running mate was a Tea Party favourite, who really believed what he said. Chattering with friends and getting angry was not going to work.
To get the president re-elected, I started by giving money. In that the Democrats got all my personal information, including my email. There were robot calls on my unlisted number and emails — at least 20 — a day made everything urgent. This was not the time to sit back and think that you were doing the right thing by going to vote.
One needed to be proactive and invest in the outcome of this very important election process, especially when the other side seemed to have plenty to spend.
Pakistani-Americans have come to the conclusion that they need to be involved in the political process of this country and hopefully, many of them need to also do more than that — run for office if they want to change things, for instance.
One day my phone rang, the caller telling me that his group were volunteers at the Obama headquarters, and if could I come in and help them? The caller told me that if I could come over to the McLean office, they would tell me what to do. I agreed.
I learnt quite a bit about how the political process plays out in this country. No-one takes anything for granted. Obama could have been voted out. What impressed me was how organized and single-minded they were. I would get there and go to one of the leaders of the group.
“I am here to help, what would you like me to do?” I would say. I went so often that everyone became familiar with my name! They were always smiling, always thankful that we volunteered, and happy to show us what they wanted us to accomplish. We were mothers, immigrants, CEOs, students, neighbours, workers, realtors, lawyers, doctors, former armed forces people…there were even teenagers, elderly and the physically-challenged. We represented America.
“Do you want to be a part of the telephone bank or canvassing?”, I was asked. I chose the first of two activities. They gave me a script, the gist of which I would say was a page containing names and numbers on which one marked what happened when one called. It was very scientifically done. The entire state of Virginia was divided into counties, and then into suburban areas and streets.
Pakistani-Americans have come to the conclusion that they need to be involved in the political process of this country and hopefully, many of them need to also do more than that — run for office if they want to change things, for instance
Then, they handed me one of their phones and a pencil to start. “Hello”, I said, “My name is Naila…..” I would start, and tell them why I was calling. Was it 100 calls? Was it 350? I don’t remember. Many times, I would say that I was an Independent voting for the president. Sometimes I would say I was a naturalized American, a Pakistani-American other times.
The last day of volunteering was to make sure that people remembered that the next day was the voting day. Did they have a way to get to the polling precincts?
If not, I was to give the phone to one of the team leaders, who would arrange for them to be picked up. There were refreshments for people who helped.
Once we got word that one of the headquarters did not have enough “boxes” that contained the names of voters. People were asked to volunteer, and immediately, several got up and said they would go to Centerville, not around the corner.
I saw so many minorities. There were Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Japanese, and Latino — the whole lot. There were neighbours, who walked in and asked what they could do to help. One person couldn’t have done this.
But all of us working together and cooperating — as my mother had said years ago — can work miracles. Every minute of the evening or afternoon that I was there, there was a constant stream of people who came and went and did what had to be done. It was organized and well thought out!
Years ago, my mother Begum Aziz Ahmed founded two organizations in the United States when my father was posted here: Friends of Pakistan and the Muslim Women’s Association. Both are still active today.
I recall that I was in the drawing room of the Pakistani embassy and I heard her saying. “Why do you think that Americans are so successful?”
The room full of women, some 80 or so, gave their ideas. “Wealth”, “minerals”, “immigrants” — each one said something different. Finally, my mother concluded, “Two words, Organization and Cooperation. That’s why. They are highly organized, working on committees six months in advance and they all cooperate with each other. They don’t work against the other and they don’t undercut each other, neither do they join a committee for show”.
Indeed, my mother made sure that every member of the Pakistani embassy — from the highest to the lowest staff — was at every meeting and participated in programmes to showcase Pakistan, its culture and traditions to the Americans. I’d like to think one can change a nation if one listens and acts on those two words!
So, I remembered that lesson and that is what we did when we helped at the Democratic headquarters in McLean. And I am not even a Democrat. I am a registered Independent voter. I just thought without a doubt that the Democrats represented the way forward and Romney, the way backwards with deep influence of the Tea Party loyalists!
The Democrats, I felt, were a more inclusive party, while the Republicans represented everything that I felt was regressive.
But surely, no-one can do anything alone. And no-one can sit back and think that others should do something while they relax. And for this election, every Pakistani-American that I know helped get the president of the United States re-elected.
But the real heroes were the team leaders of the Obama headquarters who put so much of their time and energy selflessly. We worked hard, we worked together. We did what was required and many of us did more than was required. And the next day, we saw what our hard work and sacrifice brought. The president claimed a resounding victory!
We gave him the state of Virginia and I was told by another Pakistani-American that he had also worked in Maryland, but that instead of calling Maryland, which the president won by at least 62%, he and all the volunteers were busy calling Virginia voter rolls as Virginia was a swing state.
What an amazing experience it was to see democracy in action and feel that in a small way, I had something to do with the success of the president being re-elected!