By Amina Iqbal
We live in a country where we have the freedom to practice our religious and cultural beliefs, voice our opinions, and have the opportunity to vote. Voting in itself is a huge blessing as it allows us to voice our interests and select our leaders. However, our leaders need to know â€œusâ€. They need to take our opinion into account and understand that we care about the issues at community, state and government levels. They should know that we want to see the education system improved and the roads and infrastructure to be in a better condition. We need jobs, better health care and immigration reforms, just like any other Americans. We would like to know how and where our tax dollars are spent. We are aware of all these issues and discuss them regularly with our friends over chai. How about if we have these same conversations with our representatives over coffee and actually start effecting a change?
Most of our local representatives and senators have meeting/coffee hours multiple times a month in their own districts. They wait to hear from their constituents, from us. I had the opportunity to attend coffee hours and also have met with several state senators and representatives in Lansing. I assure you, after only a couple of such meetings the representatives will know you by name, your words will count for so much more, and a healthy relationship will develop.
State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (8th District) stressed the importance of the politicians â€œconnectingâ€ with the communities. Other elected officials expressed interest in attending non-political community events where they can meet and greet their district members in a casual environment. We are a vibrant community. We usually have a lot to say. Michigan Muslims are diverse and have the ability and desire to contribute. This is one of many avenues that we can utilize to empower our community and build healthy and sustainable relationships with our leaders.
Letâ€™s engage in our communities, communicate with our representatives, congratulate them on fights they fight on our behalf and express disappointment when they donâ€™t. We need to serve on local schools board, volunteer at shelters, attend city council meetings and vote in elections. This is the meaning of civic engagement. We can have chai with our friends, but letâ€™s also have a cup of coffee and make new friends.