Ruwa Romman: first Muslim and Palestinian woman elected to the State House of Georgia
Ruwa Romman recalls the sadness she felt when an 8-year-old girl sat in the back of a school bus watching her classmates point to her house and burst into vicious laughter.
“There is the bomb lab,” they mocked in another attempt to brand his family as terrorists.
On Tuesday, the same girl – now a 29-year-old community organizer – made history as the first known Muslim woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and the first Palestinian American elected to office in the state.
After 10 months of relentless campaigning, the Democrat said she is eager to begin representing residents of District 97, which includes Lake Berkeley, and parts of Duluth, Norcross and Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County.
As an immigrant, the granddaughter of Palestinian refugees and a Muslim woman wearing the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, the road to political office has not been easy, especially in the very Christian and conservative South.
“I could write chapters about what I went through,” Romman told CNN, listing the many ways she faced bigotry or discrimination.
“Every time I was ‘randomly’ selected by the TSA, the teachers put me in a position where I had to defend Islam and Muslims in the classrooms who were being taught the wrong things about me and my identity. …it has colored my whole life.”
But those hardships only fueled her passion for civic engagement, especially among marginalized communities, Romman said.
“What I am has really taught me to seek out the most marginalized because they are the ones who have neither the resources nor the time to spend in the corridors of political institutions asking for the help they need,” he said. she declared.
Romman began in 2015 working with the Georgia Muslim Voter Project to increase voter turnout among local American Muslims. She also helped establish the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy and civil rights organization.
Soon after, Romman began working with the wider community. Her website boasts, “Ruwa has volunteered in every election cycle since 2014 to help turn Georgia blue.”
She said her main goal is to “put public service back into politics,” which she plans to do by helping to expand access to health care, close the economic opportunity gap, protecting the right to vote and making sure people have access to lifesaving care like abortion.
“I think a lot of people overlook state legislators because they think they’re local and don’t have much impact, not realizing that state legislatures have the most direct impact on them. “Roman said. “Every law that has made us mad or happy started somewhere in the state legislature.”
Romman said she always wanted to influence the political process, but never thought she would be a politician.
The decision to run for office came after attending a Georgia Muslim Voter Project training session for women from historically marginalized communities, where a reporter covering the event asked her if she wanted to run for office.
“I told her no, I don’t think so, and she ended up writing a nice article about Muslim women in Georgia, but she started with ‘Ruwa Romman plans to run for office,’ and it wasn’t the case”. Roman says. “But when it came out the community saw it and the response was overwhelmingly positive and everyone kept telling me to do it.”
Two weeks later, Romman and a group of volunteers launched a campaign.
She was surrounded by her family, friends and community members who were the basis of her success. Together they knocked on 15,000 doors, sent 75,000 text messages and made 8,000 phone calls.
Her Republican opponent John Chan did not fight fair, she said.
“My opponent had used anti-Muslim rhetoric against me, saying I had ties to terrorism, at one point emphatically supporting an ad that called me a terrorist factory,” she said.
Flyers supporting Chan’s candidacy insinuated that she is associated with terrorist organizations.
Chan did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
It was the same kind of bullying Romman faced as a schoolgirl, she said. Except this time, she wasn’t alone. Thousands of people supported her.
“What was amazing was people in my neighborhood texted me his message and said, ‘This is unacceptable. How can we help? How can we get involved? How can we support you? ?’ and it was such an amazing moment for me,” she said.
It was also ironic, Romman added, because her passion for her community and social justice is rooted in her faith: “Justice is central to Islam,” she stressed. “It inspires me to be kind to others, to care for my neighbors and to protect the marginalized.”
It is also rooted in her family’s experience as Palestinian refugees, who she says were banished from their homeland by Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
“My Palestinian identity instilled in me a focus on justice and caring for others,” Romman said. “Everyone deserves to live with dignity. I hope Palestinians everywhere will see this as proof that showing up and working hard can go down in history.
“I may not have much power over foreign policy, but I sincerely hope I can at least remind people that the Palestinians are not the nuisance, or the terrorists, or any other terrible slander that society puts on us. inflicted,” she added. “We are real people with real dreams.”
According to the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Romman joins three other Muslim Americans elected to state and local offices in Georgia this election cycle.
The other three candidates, all Democrats, were Nabilah Islam, the first known Muslim woman elected to the Georgia State Senate, Sheikh Rahman, elected to the Georgia State Senate, and Farooq Mughal, elected to the Georgia State House. .
“We had Muslim representation at the state level in Georgia, but these wins mean Georgian Muslims are more represented than ever before because we now have more gender and ethnic representation for Muslims,” the director said. group executive Shafina Khabani told CNN. “Not only will we have representation that looks like us and matches our values, but we will have the opportunity to advocate and influence policies that have a direct impact on our communities. »
“Having diverse political representation means better laws, more tolerant leadership and welcoming policies for all of Georgia,” she said.
More than anything, Romman hopes his election signals a future free of hate and bigotry.
“I think this proves that people have learned that Muslims are part of this community and that the tide of Islamophobia is hopefully starting to recede,” Romman added.
Looking back on her childhood, Romman wishes she could tell herself that things would get better with time and that one day she would not only make Georgian history, but hopefully make a real difference in the world.