On April 22, 2010, Muslim youth, leaders, and activists from all over Illinois will join in Springfield to lobby members of the Illinois General Assembly. This event, organized by the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago and sponsored by CAIR-Chicago and Zakat Foundation, is expected to bring together hundreds of Muslim Americans and advocates of the community. Last year, there were over 450 participants, and organizers are hoping for even more this year.
At a time when Illinois is facing a $13 billion deficit, 11.4% unemployment, and a proposed $1.3 billion cut to education funding, it is essential for community members throughout the state to come out and have their voices heard. We need to let our elected officials know that we are paying attention and will hold them accountable.
There are currently four main issues being advocated on Illinois Muslim Action Day (IMAD). The first issue concerns healthcare and public health. IMAD participants will be advocating for the passage of SJR 72: Equitable Access to Healthy Food and SB 3706: Education Nutrition Activities. SJR 72 addresses the fact that almost 30% of Illinois’ residents, including half a million Chicagoans, have very limited or no access to fresh, healthy food within a half-mile boundary of their homes. This lack of access leads to increased rates of cancer and diabetes within these populations. SJR 72 recommends the creation of an Illinois Fresh Foods Fund and will work to help erase the nutritional disparity between low and high income neighborhoods.
Additionally, SB 3706, if passed, would lead to the development of a nutrition and physical activity best practices database. This would be a voluntary program in which schools could share information on successful policies and programs, implemented at the local level, that are designed to increase student nutrition and physical activity.
The second issue being advocated at IMAD seeks to help prevent housing foreclosures. SB 3738: Foreclosure Prevention and Counseling would establish a foreclosure prevention counseling program, which would support pre-purchase and post-purchase home ownership education and counseling to those in need.
The third initiative of IMAD is to obtain state funding that would help provide English classes to immigrant communities that are in more convenient locations. Many immigrants have difficulty attending English classes at community colleges for a variety of reasons including time restraints, childcare problems, transportation issues, and cultural barriers. The We Want to Learn English Initiative (WWLE) has a goal of being able to provide English classes in the workplace, community based organizations, and places of worship including mosques and churches. Immigrants cannot integrate without access to English classes, and funding for WWLE would help them to overcome language barriers.
Finally, the fourth concern being addressed has to do with providing Arabic as a language option to Illinois students. Arabic has already been designated as one of the critical languages and funding is already in place to start implementing programs across the state. IMAD participants will be advocating for a pilot program to introduce Arabic as a strategic foreign language in five school districts across the state. The National Security Language Initiative, which is a government program begun under George W. Bush, notes that “speaking another’s language promotes understanding; conveys respect; strengthens out ability to engage foreign peoples and governments; and provides others with an opportunity to learn more about America and its people.”
IMAD is a great opportunity for members of the Muslim community to demonstrate, both to legislators and the wider Illinois community, their commitment to political and civic engagement. It is estimated that Illinois has over 500,000 Muslims, many of whom are active voters and should let their representatives know the issues that are important to them.
For more information or if you are interested in attending IMAD and riding a bus with CAIR-Chicago down to Springfield, contact Government Affairs Coordinator Reema Ahmad at 312-212-1520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.