Illinois Senator Reads Muslim Children's Postcards And Proves Our Voices Are Being Heard

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
Image via Facebook/Saima Ahmed

Current situation: I am scrolling through Facebook, reading headlines, while listening to the news, and trying to not spontaneously combust into a heap of tears and red-hot anger. Because let’s face it, these days my desire to be an informed citizen is at odds with my desire not to have my head explode or spend an entire day sobbing under a blanket. It’s been a rough stretch, and the dismal state of affairs in our country right now is so freaking bad that I’m not even sure where to start. Basically, I’ve been swearing a lot more lately and fighting the urge to curl up and cry.

So what’s a woman to do? What can any of us do, really?

Well, we stand up and use our voices. We get loud. We resist.

But resisting is hard work, not to mention the fact that it can feel so utterly pointless sometimes (like when the House decides to pass legislation that basically gives the middle finger to most Americans). We doubt whether our tiny little voice can be heard. We wonder if any of it matters.

Which is why it helps to have an army of voices joining together.

When Saima Ahmed and her family walked into Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist (CCUU) in suburban Chicago on a cold January morning, that’s just what they were hoping to do — find a community of people to join voices in resistance.

I first met Saima a few months ago when my family attended an Open Mosque event. Over the past few months, our families have connected in a number of ways, and she and I have developed a friendship. She hadn’t been to our church before, but after explaining the activity to her children, they were eager to participate. Postcards, stamps, pens, and legislators’ addresses were provided; all you needed to bring was your voice.

“Personally, this was more than politics,” Saima said. “Going to CCUU that day with my family was important to me as an Muslim American. I wanted my kids to see that in our country, their voices matter. They can pick up a pen or a phone and say what they have to say. I wanted them to see that they have allies that look differently than we do, but feel strongly about the same things that we care about.”

For about an hour or so, a group of people — strangers and friends alike from a variety of faith backgrounds — gathered to use their voices and write to their legislators. Saima wrote to our Illinois senators about her concerns regarding health care, immigration, and public education, especially regarding people with special needs.

Even the littlest hands used their voices, writing postcards to share their opinions. Saima’s 8-year-old daughter Khadijah wrote, “I’m worried about what Trump is gonna do, could you watch out for us pls?!” and her 6-year-old daughter Maryam expressed her concern for Syrians. The depth of their postcards surprised even Saima.

“I mean, in grade school I remember writing to Bush Sr. and asking him to outlaw homework,” Saima told Scary Mommy. “My kids’ reality is totally different than what mine was at their age. I wonder and worry about what goes through their little heads and hearts.”

I worry too. I’ll be honest: Sometimes it seems like those phone calls fall into the void, and the letters end up in a slush pile before making their way into the trash. Sometimes it seems like our tiny little voices aren’t loud enough to combat the Darth Vader-ish voices on the other side — the ones throwing back Budweisers, cracking jokes, and giggling as they rip away health care from millions of people. Sometimes it seems like resisting isn’t enough.

But we keep at it. We keep calling and writing, we keep marching and resisting, not just so that our elected officials hear our voices, but so that we remember that we have a voice — and so our children know they have a voice too.

As it turns out, people are listening. Those calls do matter. Our voices are being heard. Because those postcards written by Saima’s children on that cold January morning were received and read by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin — not just in his office, but at a recent event hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Chicago. Word spread that Durbin read her daughter’s letters, and Saima and her daughters were aptly surprised and thrilled.

Her daughters even asked her if they had “made history.” After she thought about it, she told them that maybe they had. “I’m pretty sure this is the first time a U.S. senator has quoted two girls named Khadijah and Maryam,” she said.

“Writing to your local legislators DOES make a difference,” Saima wrote in a Facebook post. “This right here is proof… You’re never too little to have your voice heard.”

Even aside from the excitement she and her family felt when they found out their cards were read by Senator Durbin, she said it was especially motivating to some of her friends and community members.

“Sometimes we hear this assumption that no one will read our letters and our phone calls will go unnoticed, or even that our votes don’t matter, but this event has shown us otherwise,” she said. “Your voice matters and people out there are listening.”

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