There were some stark differences between the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The Salam, I Come in Peace project was an effort to distribute flower pens in Cleveland, during the RNC, in order to create opportunities for Muslims to interact with delegates and ease fears about Islam and Muslims.
My expectations were framed by my experiences at the DNC when it was in Charlotte, NC in 2012. The actual televised convention in the evenings can only be attended by delegates and guests. But during the day delegates at the DNC attend meetings such as the Small Business Owners Council, the Interfaith Council, the Women’s Caucus, and others, which were open to the public. I assumed the same would be true at the RNC.
However, the RNC doesn’t provide those opportunities. The delegates spent their days in closed sessions. The only way I found to interact with delegates was to try to find them on the streets as they waited for shuttles or walked to events. But there were so many other people distributing things (many of them protesters) that delegates were hesitant to engage. When we did have those occasions, Republicans were grateful for the opportunity and we had some meaningful conversations. (We gave out over 2,500 pens)
Connecting with a Republican lobbyist
My experience at the DNC in Philadelphia was different, mainly because I was able to attend the Women’s Caucus where I heard some inspirational speeches in the company of delegates, volunteers and the general public. I was able to distribute flower pens and have great conversations. When I said I was there to create a positive image for Islam and Muslims the responses were like, “I’m so sorry you feel you have to do that” and “I have Muslim friends”. It was heartwarming and I felt loved. With every interaction I was purposeful about letting Democrats know I had a positive experience at the RNC. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that we were treated well and had good conversations; they said it gave them hope.
The Women’s Caucus at the DNC
Another big difference between the two conventions was the level of fear surrounding the RNC. Considering that Trump rallies have a history of violence and that there were so many people carrying weapons, friends and family were afraid for me. I was concerned people would recognize me as the Muslim woman who stood in silent protest at a Trump rally and would consider me the enemy. I’m happy to report I didn’t encounter any violence.
Police Presence at the RNC
My experience at the DNC was very pleasant, but it was almost too easy. I felt like I was ‘preaching to the choir’. The conversations I had at the RNC, although more difficult to come by, seemed to have more impact.
Many Trump supporters tried to explain that Trump is not Anti-Muslim, he’s just trying to “keep our country safe against terrorists”, but his recent behavior shows me otherwise. In belittling Mrs. Khan, by insinuating that she was not allowed to speak because she is Muslim, he is demonstrating his deeply-seated disdain for Muslims and Islam. Watching him, his advisors and supporters go on a McCarthyesque witch-hunt to try to discredit Mr. Khan is indicative of the life Muslims would face under his presidency.
It is more important than ever for American Muslims to find opportunities to interact with Republicans face to face. I plan to attend whatever Republican rallies I can, not as a protest, but to distribute flower pens and put a positive face on Islam and Muslims and say Salam, I come in peace.