Arizona Activist Sena Mohammed Is Encouraging The ‘New American Majority’ To Vote
Arizona activist and organizer Sena Mohammed understands the importance of engaging her community in political action. As a community organizer at Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy (CASE), she built a team of 50 regular volunteers to knock on doors and register voters, who were mostly Muslim and of African descent, ahead of the 2016 election.
“This was a community that had never been tapped into or even spoken to about politics,” she told Supermajority News about her experience with CASE. “We worked to empower them through door to door canvassing, events, and open dialogues within their community, [and] also the Hispanic and Latino communities.”
Now, as the Civic Engagement Director at Arizona Coalition for Change, a Black-led organization advocating for civic participation and progressive public policies, Mohammed heads a statewide voter registration program that she says primarily focuses on increasing voter turnout within the “new American majority:” women, young people, and people of color. “We work to empower everyday people to transform their communities through civic power,” she says.
Supermajority News spoke to Mohammed about her efforts to mobilize voters and how she stays motivated in her mission to fight for underrepresented communities across the state.
How did you first become involved in activism?
I was born into it. I’m from Ethiopia, and my father was a political activist. He was always fighting for the rights of those that were oppressed, so I grew up watching him. He ended up going to Kenya as a refugee. He told my mom to bring the kids, so we were able to go to Kenya where we lived for about four years, in a one bedroom apartment with nine other people. What kept us going was knowing we would be able to come [to the United States] and feel secure in a country that wasn’t going to take away our rights or oppress us. Little did we know there are also issues here.
Once I came here, my dad instilled in me that education was the most important thing, so I [made] sure I was learning English and [went] to college. I realized as a Black Muslim woman who is also an immigrant, education wasn’t going to cut it. No matter how hard I worked in school, I wasn’t going to get through doors easily. So I need[ed] to work to make life easier for generations coming up so they don’t have to experience what I’ve experienced.
What are some of the specific voter registration initiatives and programs you lead at Arizona Coalition for Change?
We started our voter registration program, [called #GetWokeandVote,] officially last year which was one of the biggest that we’ve ever done at Arizona Coalition for Change. We like to make sure we are empowering our canvassers or our paid volunteers to come in and speak about why they want to do this work and why it impacts them. Then they go out and talk to people and if they get pushback, they can bring it back to, “what issues matter to you?” and connect [the conversation] back to why voting is important. They come back and speak about things like how many voters they registered today and their favorite conversations.
What has it been like to organize virtually?
When quarantine hit, we definitely shifted online. We have an online voter registration program and we’re one of the only states that initially pushed to do this work online. There’s definitely something about connecting in person that’s hard over a screen or phone. So we’ve definitely trained [our staff and volunteers] on how we can still make those connections.
How do you think the Black Lives Matter movement is impacting voters?
We have been able to mobilize our communities because of what’s going on with the Black Lives Matter movement. We were able to hold a forum and we saw a good amount of people come in and speak on what’s going on and how they were impacted. We were then able to mobilize those people to become members of our organization, be volunteers, [and] even hired on staff. [Institutionalized racism] affects people, and it’s pushing people to be more engaged in being part of the solution.
What advice do you have for young people who want to get involved in activism?
The advice I would give anyone is to educate yourself. Understand your own background and place in history. Identify, “where do fit in?” and “how can I be part of the solution?” That can range from going out door-to-door and talking to others [to] ensuring that your decisions daily are going to positively affect your life and, in turn, that of future generations. Educate other people while educating yourself and learn how to organize your own communities.
Why is it important that civic engagement continues after the election?
One thing the Trump administration has done is bring racism and hate to light and that has enraged many of us, [and pushed us] to stand up and do something. My hope is now that we see the truth, we can ask how we can continue to hold people accountable. If Biden wants people of color to vote for him, we have to make sure we can hold him accountable next year. As for our organization, once the legislature is in session, we are going to be in the State Capitol asking questions and making sure that the people who have made promises to us to uphold them.
Do you ever experience burnout? If so, where do you find the energy to keep fighting?
I absolutely experience burnout, but for me, this doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like I’m doing something to help not only the community, but [also] myself. I understand that this work is bigger than me. I think about my parents, [who] left their country to make a better life for me. I think about myself a few years ago experiencing people calling me a terrorist or the n-word and not feeling powerful. I think about other kids who have experienced things like this and now I have a chance to fight for them.