Disclaimer: CAIR Oklahoma is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and as such does not endorse any political campaigns or political campaign activity. The purpose of this blog entry, as is in line with our mission statement, is to provide a platform for Muslim voices in Oklahoma and foster better understanding of our faith community.
What has it been like running a campaign during this time of pandemic?
It has definitely had its ups and downs. The type of community organizing I excel at is knocking doors, breaking bread with folks, attending worship services – because you meet the people where they are if you care about them and their well being. You see what their environments look like and what drives them, because that is how you truly learn about people and how to help and amplify their voices – that is the type of organizing I was raised on. So going from that robust field plan to something that is completely online was a really big hurdle, because I didn’t really have a social media presence before COVID-19. Community organizing is about adjusting and learning, so it took me a minute to figure it out, but it has been really amazing, intense, and eye opening.
What inspired you to run for State House?
Alhamdulillah, a lot of things honestly. I grew up in a single parent household, the child of an incarcerated parent, a product of Oklahoma’s public education system with a Muslim and Baptist background. When we don’t have someone with shared lived experiences advocating for us inside the capitol it makes it a lot easier for us to be carved out of the solutions that govern our everyday lives – and that is also what I stress to the students I talk to in middle and high schools around the state. I always said I would never run for office, but would always be devoted to finding the best candidate out there. I live in House District 88, one of the most liberal places – if not the most liberal place – in Oklahoma, we should be driving the conversation, and action, around what inclusive and equitable policy looks like. I’ve been doing direct policy advocacy at the state capitol since 2018, in doing that I realized that our most vulnerable Oklahomans get middle of the road solutions to the biggest problems, so when I hit the ground running for holistic justice system reform I also hit the ground running looking for community organizers that were willing to bridge the gap, in Oklahoma, between organizing and the capitol. Eventually HD88 residents started asking me when I was going to run – so I decided to listen to my community and take the advice I am always giving to younger generations, and we ended up with a primary on our hands!
Honestly, so many. Obviously my mother. Growing up she taught me several lessons but one that sticks out the most when it comes to why I decided to run this race is: ‘your voice is powerful and people are going to need it, so always use it – and always help others find theirs.’ I take that into every room I enter, and especially when I’m scared. My people weren’t meant to exist in America in this capacity, but MashAllah we are. My communities inspire me everyday. I hold a lot of identities that make up who I am today and their *governing* institutions may not always agree with each other – but like we have seen time and time again it’s not about the institution, it’s about the people. When COVID hit Oklahoma, I never thought this campaign would thrive like it is today. But the folks of House District 88, and across the nation, really showed up in a way that I never imagined. People showed up because of this community-based movement. Also, Sister and Representative Ilhan Omar provided words of encouragement and strength during this campaign and for that I will be forever grateful. Also Sister Madinah Wilson-Anton from Delaware. Sister Wilson-Anton is running for a State Representative seat too, and I found out about her through Khaled Beydoun. Please check her race out as well. I found role models in the most wonderful and unexpected places and continue to do so.
What has it been like running for state office as a Muslim woman of color?
Running for a state office is difficult in itself, but adding more marginalizing identities on top of that is a big hurdle. Women, and even more so Women of Color, in Islam receive a bit of covert, and some overt, backlash for striving to want more and wanting to do more. In this fight my community is fighting to no longer have an ally represent us, but actually be our own representation. I have had folks ask me to back out and run for school board or city council instead, I have had Muslim community members that don’t live in the district tell me that they wouldn’t donate to me because I am running against a family friend, it was strange and heartbreaking to see people people who said they would be there not show up at all – but that heartbreak was healed in always being grounded in why I do this – I would encourage you all to read Sura 2 Aya 177 and think about what that means in the context of where we are in the nation. I also found peace in seeing folks show up for this movement I would have never expected. We have had folks hold fundraisers for us in other states, we have had artists create artwork for this movement, and around this campaign, we have had donors from across the country. To be able to find, educate, and build community across the nation has been wonderful, Alhamdulillah.
What advice do you wish you had had 10 years ago? And what message would you like to give to other young Muslim women or women of color?
The advice I would like young Muslims everywhere to have, and advice I would have liked to have 10 years ago, would be to be a bit more outspoken. We are often put in places because they see how valuable our voices are and sometimes we are put in places as a placeholder – in both situations we should always speak up. Our advocacy should always be inclusive and equitable – if these 2 things aren’t at the foundation of your work then it’s not true advocacy and you should be comfortable with going back to the drawing board on what that should look like. Building community-based power to create a place where everyone has the same opportunity to thrive is the goal – never lose sight of that. For the young women out there – the statistic is that on average someone will have to ask you at least 7 times to run for office before you start to take yourself as serious as your community is taking you – something tells me that stat goes up when you throw being young, Muslim, Black, or another women of color in the mix, because I had to be asked at least 14 times. So believe in your power, power outside of being someone’s daughter, sister, or niece. Your power comes from outside of your proximity to anything in this dunya, wallahi, it comes from self reflection and a journey of understanding – it cannot be shaken or taken.
About Mauree Turner
Mauree Nivek Rajah Salima Turner is currently the Regional Field Director for the Campaign for Smart Justice, an ACLU campaign focusing on criminal justice reform, and its many intersections. Her life’s works is geared towards fighting for and maintaining the civil rights and liberties for all who enter America. She is an Oklahoma community organizer, born and raised coming from a Muslim and baptist upbringing. In elementary school, if she was missing class it was because she was at an HIV/AIDS Awareness or LGBTQ+ advocacy conference with her mother.
She grew up believing in the power and duty she had to change the world for the better. Mauree has also worked with the NAACP of Oklahoma, Freedom Oklahoma, CAIR-OK, and a number of community based and student lead groups working in and researching the intersections of racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom, reproductive rights – just to name a few. Working with these organizations, she has researched the history of the criminal justice system and what it does to communities of color, and Black Women especially, and she is just getting started.