Election day in Dearborn

It’s something nearly every community says each presidential cycle: we could be the community that decides the election. But for the Arab American community, especially in Dearborn, it could in fact be true. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes. In percentage points, that’s only a .3% difference.

Last Saturday in Dearborn, Adam Abusalah helped organize a Biden/Harris rally in the parking lot of the Hype Athletic Center. The list of speakers included Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), as well as former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed.

I spoke to Abusalah a few days before the event. He expected a big turnout and made sure all precautions were taken, such as requiring face masks and checking temperatures of all attendees.

But turnout was low and it underscored a challenge organizers like Abusalah face: how do you canvas in the middle of a pandemic?

Just before the state went on lockdown in March, Abusalah was one of the organizers of the Bernie Sanders rally in Dearborn.

“We spent a lot of time rethinking our approach to campaigning,” Abusalah said.

The change, however, was not just prompted by the pandemic and by Biden defeating Sanders. It was also the Black Lives Matter movement that pushed the 19-year-old Central Michigan University to reflect on his ideas and his approach to politics.

At Saturday’s rally, Abusalah was not phased one bit by the low turnout.

“What matter is that people turn out to vote and so far they have,” he said.

And he’s right. Interest in voting is high within the Arab American community, in part due to organizations like Yalla Vote, Emgage, and other groups. But there’s another factor, too.

“It’s Trump,” Representative Tlaib told me. “And I think we are seeing a huge interest from young people.”

Representative Debbie Dingell (in yellow jacket) and Representative Rashida Tlaib (in brown jacket) at a Biden/Harris Rally in Dearborn on Halloween 2020.

According to polls by the Arab American Institute, about 59% of Arab Americans support Biden and 35% said they support Trump. But Abusalah thinks support for Biden is higher than that in the Arab American community. “Almost everyone I know is voting for Biden,” he said.

Tlaib echoed those sentiments. She believes Trump has energized the Arab American community and made them feel like they have a special role to play in this year’s election.

“If there is anyone to take out the man who said we do not belong in this country, it is us,” Tlaib said.