Rida Hamida celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid last week with exciting and unexpected news. Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Created a New American Majority, invited the Palestinian-American activist to speak at a “Democracy in Color” event during the Democratic National Convention. “It didn’t even cross my mind,” Hamida says. “It was so humbling to be invited because I don’t see myself as a national figure, just as a person trying to make a difference in Orange County.”
But those efforts in making OC a better place, both politically and culturally, caught Phillips’ eye before, when he included Hamida’s work in his book and again when extending the invitation to the “Women of Color: Uniting the Party, Leading the Nation” luncheon launch. “We asked her to speak at our convention event so that more people can learn about her work fighting against anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry as well as her efforts to foster multi-racial coalitions,” Phillips tells the Weekly. “Her excellent work identifying and engaging Arab and Muslim voters led me to use her as an example in my book.”
In 2014, Hamida organized communities to volunteer for seven pivotal campaigns in OC during the midterm elections that’d help turn the demographic tide. She assembled twenty people (all women save for her teenage son) after reaching out to local Islamic centers and nonprofits. Hamida asked for Political Data, Inc, (PDI) numbers on Arab and Muslim voter populations. A consultant returned with a staggeringly low number of 525. Knowing that couldn’t be right, she asked to dig into the data and identified a much larger universe of voters, 62,912 to be exact, by looking at Arab and Muslim majority country identifications rather than Arab sounding last names. Hamida put the new data to good use in turning out the vote.
In Phillips’ Brown is the New White bestseller published this year, the author notes how pivotal that work proved to be in Garden Grove’s mayor race where Bao Nguyen squeaked pass incumbent Bruce Broadwater by just 15 votes to become the first Vietnamese person to hold that office, not only in the city, but in any major city across the U.S. “Hamida’s story illustrates the invaluable difference a campaign consultant with cultural competence can make in an election,” Phillips wrote in the book.
With OC having been majority-minority for more than a decade now, reports proclaim its elections to be on the cusp of change. “The majority of voters in Orange County together encompass women of color, Latinos, Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander and Arab American community,” Hamida says. “We use that model to build multi-racial coalitions in turning out the vote and in return win elections.” Hamida herself is the first hijabi in OC to work for public office, serving as a community liaison for Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. “Muslim-American women are stronger than fear, we do not allow Islamophobes to define or dictate our destiny, we are stronger than that,” she says.
Hamida’s multi-racial organizing work isn’t limited to electoral politics. In another volunteer effort, she spearheaded OC’s “Adventures of Al-Andalus” which brings Latinos and Muslims together. In tandem with Santa Ana Valley High School teacher Ben Vazquez, Hamida led Latino community members through a food tour of Anaheim’s Little Arabia, a simple act that generated big media buzz in the backdrop of Donald Trump’s bigotry against Muslims and Mexicans. “That created a movement that was bigger than us and spoke to people on a national level,” Hamida says. Al-Andalus isn’t just a cross-cultural undertaking, but a political one as well. “We are going to mobilize communities here on the ground against that hate rhetoric by turning out the vote in November 2016 at a presidential, statewide, congressional, county and city level.”
While Hamida plans to take the lessons of Al-Andalus to the DNC in Philadelphia, there’s more volunteer initiatives to speak of. During the month of Ramadan, Hamida also organized an Iftar event in Garden Grove where Muslims and the LGBTQ community shared a meal at dusk. For years, the activist has chaired the annual World Refugee Day event in Anaheim, but reached out to OC’s Vietnamese community to make common cause with Syrian refugees during their time of crisis. They held a #Walk4Refugees event at Miles Square Park in Fountain Valley last year to raise funds for Syrians.
“Rida’s proving to many that balancing domestic issues and global affairs is not only possible but a must for any U.S. Government leader,” says Suzanne Meriden, National Operations Director for the Syrian American Council. “I want to be at that DNC luncheon to witness what I know is the first in a series of triumphs not only for Rida but for Arab-American Muslim women in general.”
The relentlessness of Hamida’s work doesn’t go unnoticed by her fellow sisters in the struggle. “I met Rida throughout working in Orange County with my previous employer AFSCME International,” Karla Salazar, a Democratic Party and labor activist, says. The two women plan on working together in the future, but for now Salazar is excited that her friend and colleague is going to the DNC. “As women of color, we don’t get that attention. I’m happy that Rida is going to have that opportunity to share her experience of working across cultural, religious and community lines.”
Hamida is humbled by the all-expenses paid invitation to speak at DNC women of color luncheon event, where she’ll join former Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores, Georgia House Minority Leader Stacy Adams and San Francisco supervisor Jane Kim. “I’m taking Orange County with me to Philadelphia,” Hamida says with a smile. “We are going to have one voice in this movement when I come back.”