CLDP: The Fast Pass to Working on Capitol Hill
MPAC Policy and Programming Coordinator Iman Ali
Since I was a child, one of my favorite things about getting Chinese take-out were the fortune cookies. My impatience often led to me forcing my parents to crack open theirs before any of us had the chance to eat our meals. But I couldn’t wait — the idea of clarity about my future was too exciting.
Now, at 25 I wish I could say that I value fortune cookies less, but alas, I still get a surge of energy when I crack open the flavorless cookie — still before eating my meal.
Most recently, I ordered take-out the night of the Georgia Senate Runoff, which turned out to be a bad idea because as I anxiously awaited the results I definitely indulged in one too many wontons, but, hey, how often is there an election to win back control of the Senate, am I right?
Nevertheless, as I tore open the plastic wrap around the fortune cookie and read the words on the tiny paper tucked inside — my fortune hit me a little different.
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Perhaps it was the impact of the 7:00 pm looming deadline when polls closed in Georgia, or the reality of the impending deadline for many Americans who have gone without adequate assistance from their government for over a year now, who have bills to pay and children to feed, that made me emotional — but in that moment, I realized that talking about change was no longer going to be enough.
For many young Muslims in America, the reality of working on Capitol Hill seems incredibly far removed. While many could list doctors, engineers, and business owners in their family, it is uncommon to find someone with a career working in Congress. While many of us may have been given the talk by our parents to choose a path that leads to financial security, and honor — I’m going to be the bearer of bad news, and say that this thinking has actively crippled our ability to make change in the country we call home.
Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected into the United States Congress and the first ever female to run for the Democratic nomination for President once said “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” The brevity in her statement, though said nearly fifty years ago, is still relevant today — especially for the next generation of young leaders.
In order for our voice to be heard, we have to be in spaces where the conversations are being had, and the decisions are being made; in the United States this vessel of influence is Capitol Hill which is the home to the government’s legislative body. From the Civil Rights Act, Declarations of War, all the way to the 2017 Muslim Travel Ban, Congress holds the ability to decide what becomes law and what doesn’t, and simply put this dictates what and who, we as a country prioritize. Which begs the question, why are we not more focused on diverse representation within such spaces?
In 2015, the Muslim Public Affairs Council decided that they were going to invest in ensuring that young leaders in the muslim community would have the good fortune, opportunity and experience necessary to engage first-hand in our nation’s policy-making process. This fervor led to the creation of the Congressional Leadership Development Program (CLDP). Since its inception, CLDP has catalyzed the hiring of numerous fellows for full-time positions on Capitol Hill, with nearly 40% of the previous class hired upon completion of the program. Such individuals have gone on to be the voice of their community, identity, and issues in spaces that had previously never been exposed to their narrative. These unsung heroes are the ones actively fighting to keep minorities, like Muslims, in America, safe and free. Their work is aligned with the charity and benevolence preached by our faith. One that is deeply rooted in serving others, especially those who are unable to protect themselves.
In the past four years, we have seen a greater villainization of Muslims, and this can be felt from bullying at school among children, to hate crimes at places of worship, all the way to erasure of entire departments at institutions of higher education that are focused on teaching about Islam and its history. But the remedy for the moral recession we find ourselves in can only come from those who are courageous enough to challenge it. At MPAC, we firmly believe it’s the next generation of leaders and that’s why we make CLDP a keystone in our advocacy work.
This ten-week program is focused on ensuring our fellows get the complete D.C. experience, one which includes serving as an intern in a congressional office, access to exclusive seminars with senior congressional staffers and policy leaders, as well as extensive career preparation, resume-building workshops, and a professional photoshoot for LinkedIn headshots. Furthermore, we recognize that internships have often been a privilege that is only affordable by some, and so we fully fund the stay of all fellows by providing free housing which is metro accessible, and close to Capitol Hill, as well as a stipend to cover any extra expenses that the fellow may incur during the summer months. These funds come directly from generous donors in the community, and undeniably catalyze the success of the fellows. We are incredibly invested, not simply for the sake of the program, but for the sake of the future.
If you ask the youth in our community about a Muslim they look up to, I hope that one day they can repeat the name of an activist, a legislator, or a policy expert — someone who is actively working to develop an agenda that serves and protects their right to values like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. At a time, where our nation seems so incredibly divided, comes our opportunity as a community to be the builder of bridges, the makers of change, and the paragons for policy.
Though our work grows, we look forward to sharing the success of the continued classes of the Congressional Leadership Development Program, and encourage all those who are interested in being a champion of public service to apply! Our goal is simple, we must start our work now, so that our posterity knows that they belong in all spaces, and with genuine intention can make a difference in the lives of others.