CC ISSUE: MAR 2012 Last updated: Mar 8, 2012
Illinois Muslim Action Day: Shadowing a Senator
Adham M. Sahloul
I was in the 10th grade when CIOGC organized its first Muslim Action Day in Springfield in 2009. It was a very exciting plan, to go to our state’s capital to lobby our representatives for Illinois-centric policies. It was a big step forward for our community in the wake of the 2008 presidential election, which resulted in record numbers of Muslims registering and showing up to vote. I remember knowing very little about the topics that we were going downstate to advocate for. My job that day was to be an honorary senate page.
At that time, I had only a mere interest in political affairs, but I can recall quite clearly the pride that I held that day as someone who was representing his community. Of course, I was enthralled by the prospect of meeting and spending the day with a state senator, as well as sitting in the senate chamber in the midst of the decision-making that keeps Illinois running. Each page has their own story to tell.
My day went from breakfast at the governor’s mansion to meeting Sen. Michael Frerichs and spending the day with him, talking about what mattered to me in government and in my community. Along the way I met Nia Hassan, a powerhouse and brand name around Springfield; Joe, the sergeant-general of the capitol, who told the pages some of the “secrets” of the chamber; and our own local state senators.
The highlight of my day was when Nia and Sergeant Joe took me to the senate seat, once occupied by a younger Barack Obama. I still have the picture of me sitting in that chair, smiling, imagining just how much of that seat I had yet to fill. I look at that picture and think about that community activist who grew into one of the greatest visionaries of this era. I was a young Muslim, Made in America, sitting in President Obama’s old chair. And so I thought: why can’t we do it?
My life adopted a entirely new outlook from then on. That summer in 2009, I joined the Junior Statesmen of America and studied U.S. government and politics at Georgetown University for their summer school. Afterward, I interned at Gov. Pat Quinn’s office and worked on his campaign in DuPage County. I am now a freshman studying political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Last summer, I had the pleasure of working at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in D.C. as a government affairs intern. That exposed me to a diverse community of Muslims seeking to serve their country and work for the advancement of their communities.
I made a decision on the first Muslim Action Day, to undertake the challenge of building myself into a better person for my God, my country and my community. For my friends and I at MPAC, as well as all of the other young people working to counter the paradigms that we have lived by for so long, we still have a long way ahead of us. But there is no better way than to do it collectively, just as we congregate in Springfield. It is important that we also think strategically, just as groups like CIOGC understand the big picture and what it takes to get our communities’ voices heard and involved in creating a better, stronger America.
I encourage each and every student in high school to apply to the senate page program in the future (even if your parents want you to be a doctor). And I urge everyone to bring at least two friends and come down to Springfield with the Council. As it has been popularly stated, democracy is no spectator sport, and each of us has a fard ayyn to believe in and contribute to their country. We need a revolution in the way that we view our role as citizens of this nation and the way we view the efficacy of our participation. It would be a sad case indeed if people in another corner of the world died just to live dignified lives and feel like they were actually a part of their societies, while we in the greatest nation on the planet willingly surrender our freedoms and social agency to an outdated manner of doing and thinking about things.