From making sure the youth of today is politically active to protesting alongside the tribes at Standing Rock, Rashad Al-Dabbagh is here to make an impact.
Al-Dabbagh founded the Arab American Civic Council in Anaheim, home to the treasure known as Little Arabia, in 2011 and serves as its executive director. “There was and is a need for an organization that speaks and fights for Arab American needs,” Al-Dabbagh says.
During the election cycles, Al-Dabbagh and others from the Arab American Civic Council canvass the streets, and in 2016, they launched a Rock the Vote campaign aimed at the local Arab community and hosted voter-registration booths, candidate forums and presidential-debate watch parties. According to Al-Dabbagh, more than 3,500 households participated in voting after registering through their campaign. “There are a lot of issues in the community,” he says, “and I felt that those within the community were voiceless.”
After Donald Trump’s election, one of the President’s first executive orders was to place a travel ban on Muslims. The council and Al-Dabbagh quickly took action with marches, town-hall meetings and calling local representatives via phone banks.
The ban was eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court. But the council and Al-Dabbagh didn’t stop looking for ways to offer supportive environments and projects to help immigrants and refugees. “One of the projects we worked on was the reference resource guide specific to the Los Angeles area,” Al-Dabbagh says. The Refugees Welcome Guide gives information on resettlement; what people need to do as soon as they arrive in the United States; and where to go when in need of health care, housing and food assistance.
Al-Dabbagh not only tries to get the elders of the Arab American community involved, but he also focuses on keeping the youth interested in Orange County politics. The council even offers internship programs to foster future leaders; those who apply are assured they will not be turned away or judged based on religious identity, background or political party.
The council also “took the lead on getting April [marked] as Arab American Heritage Month,” Al-Dabbagh says. “And we got the state of California to claim it as so.” More than 100 proclamations were issued by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the Anaheim Union High School District, California’s state Senate, the Fullerton City Council and many others.
Al-Dabbagh believes helping those in the Arab American community, as well as sharing knowledge with others, is an ongoing project. “We want to change out part of the narrative of who people think Arabs are,” he says. “We want our history to be recognized and to be talked about in a positive light.”