by Tamara Tillman-Ayon
Politicians have always played an important role in governing our country. Yet as history continues to show, leadership is not often reflective of our diverse population and women are still battling to break glass ceilings.
Meet Annisa Karim.
Annisa is a candidate for District 3 in Collier County Commission in Florida and has years of leadership as the former Chair of the Collier County Democratic Party and board member of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus of Florida. Annisa is one of two American Muslim women pursuing political office. A dedicated environmental advocate, she has spent much of her life pursuing her mission to protect natural habitats and build the economy. Annisa is interested in policy changes that benefit not just Collier County, but also invest in and utilize our natural capital in Florida.
In her own words, Annisa believes Collier is the gateway to the everglades. "We need to have an amazing storm water management program that will help bring in engineering, solar and wind jobs. Our county has the opportunity to be on the front edge of technological innovation with jobs to protect our environment and help make us energy independent from fossil fuels." Collier is largely an agricultural county and food safety and security are top priorities for Anissa.
“We need to partner with the University of Florida and their extension program to ensure our food crops are free from exotic pests and protect our water resources by utilizing technology to ensure water is safe and affordable to residents and businesses in our community."
Anissa has worked in county government since 2007 and understands the importance of spending taxpayer dollars efficiently. She intends to continue her efforts in formulating good bidding processes to encourage the most cost efficient options for the county. “This is a venue for public involvement and making sure we are spending our tax dollars properly."
212 miles north of Collier County is Nuren Haider who is currently running for Orange County Commission District 1.
Nuren is an attorney and mother of three who recognized that a portion of her district was being ignored by current leadership. Nuren plans on investing in alternative transportation options including bike paths and sidewalks to ensure safer commutes and better connectivity between local hot spots including the airport and public transportation options. Nuren believes her years of experience working in construction management provide her a good understanding of planning and zoning as well as budgeting for projects. “As a mother of three, I am also great at budgeting,” said Nuren.
Orange County Commission has limited diversity which Nuren plans to address by implementing voluntary boards to encourage citizens to participate in local government.
Both Nuren and Annisa understand the importance of supporting diversity in their district.
"Collier County has very little diversity in their current representation. We don't have any minorities on the county commission yet our school districts are majority minority. I will implement a more inclusive hiring process to find qualified future employees with larger recruiting nets and reach out to Immokalee, a predominantly migrant town and everglades city, to make sure their citizens are aware of the jobs available,” said Annisa. “We can use data from social media to ensure everyone is aware of those jobs, do outreach, and still obey Sunshine Laws. Collier does have an advisory board and a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce but we could benefit from creating a coalition of the existing non profits to improve diversity representation.”
When asked how they felt about the current political rhetoric against Muslims in the United States, both women had very similar answers.
“We need to share our story and not be apologetic about being Muslim. These are our issues too. We should be connected citizens,” said Nuren. "We live in a country where we have a responsibility to be engaged physically. Most people are good hearted and open minded. We need to reach out and start conversations and get involved by helping someone run for elected office. We need to take advantage of volunteer opportunities to fight the rhetoric. We are a part of the fabric of American society and need to become more involved in our local communities. As a Muslim, I am engaging my community by running for office to help ensure we all play our role in protecting our future.” said Annissa.
The negative rhetoric we've heard about this election cycle towards the Muslim community is reminding American Muslims to stand up and speak out as advocates not just for their faith, but for their country and their local communities. American Muslims are not just showing up at the polls to vote; they are volunteering on campaigns, running for office and fighting the rhetoric through participation in the political arena.
Nuren and Annissa are great examples of a trend of aspiring minority candidates across the United States who are encouraged to build a stronger connection from their local community to a leadership that is more reflective of our growing and diverse populations.