How a 2013 Supreme Court Ruling Could Impacts Voting Today

By Aya Elamroussi

Anthony Mensah says he had no problem registering to vote in his home state of Wisconsin. When he turned of age, his mom urged him to register.

“For me personally, it was a pretty painless process,” he said. He was able to vote in the 2016 general elections via absentee ballot in his home state while he remained in Washington, D.C.—attending American University.

But he was one of the lucky ones.

To vote in Wisconsin, citizens must register using acceptable official photo ID or social security number and proof of residency 20 days before an election or on Election Day.

Since the 2012 presidential election, 20 states have implemented restrictions on registration and voting, a 2016 New21 analysis found, citing those restrictions are to combat voter fraud. But the other side of the issue is that these restrictions reduce voter turnout, particularly among minority and lower-income groups, a 2013 Cambridge University study finds.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 underwent a change in 2013. The Supreme Court ruled Section 4 of the act as unconstitutional in the case Shelby County v. Holder, which is now known as The Shelby Decision.

Section 4 lays out the procedures for how the Justice Department should enforce Section 5 of the act. Section 5 requires that states identified with a history of discrimination, particularly those in the South, must obtain approval from the federal government before they can make changes to their election laws. Election laws on the local level can take the form of changes to poll closing hours, poll locations and early voting windows.

Now, jurisdictions that were protected under the Voting Rights Act have complete authority to change voting laws—impacting voter turn-out.

Although Mensah,19 and an African-American, is not from a state that is under the act, Wisconsin– among other states like North Carolina, Texas and Arizona– has been undergoing changes in its voting laws.

 

Voter Fraud

During the 2016 presidential elections, Trump questioned the integrity of the electoral process.

“The election is absolutely being rigged,” Trump tweeted.

Even after he won the presidency, Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer stated that voter fraud  was so widespread that it cost Trump the popular vote.

While he has yet to support those claims, voter fraud does happen, but not in the widespread scale Trump and Spicer have repeatedly stated to the public. A ProPublica study estimated the rate of in-person voter fraud is around one case per 14.6 million registered voters.

But how exactly does voter fraud happen?

 A ProPublica voter fraud analysis cites the different ways voter fraud took place. The perpetrators were convicted.

  • Colorado, 2009 — Duplicate voting:

A person voting twice in different counties within the same state.

  • New Jersey, 2009– Misuse of absentee ballot:

A voter submitting multiple ballots.

  • North Carolina, 2012– Dead voter

A voter submitting an absentee ballot in the name of someone who is dead.

  • Florida, 2015– Ineligible voter felon:

Citizens on probation after they have served time in prison cannot vote.

  • Illinois, 2009– Noncitizens voting:

Permanent residents who obtain a driver’s license an use that government-issued ID to register and vote.

Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation wrote in his 2011 study on voter fraud that “requiring voters to authenticate their identity at the polling place is necessary to protect the integrity of elections and access to the voting process.”

Spakovsky- the think tank’s voter fraud expert- also said, “The only effect that voter ID will have on the midterm elections is, in the states that have such a requirement, improve the security and integrity of the election.”

But the ProPublica analysis says that requiring people to show ID at the polls would not have stopped the people convicted of voter fraud since 2000.

Voter Restrictions   

Candice Nelson, a political science professor at American University and an expert on presidential and congressional elections, says that voting laws in the US is a Republicans-versus-Democrats issue.

“It’s playing out as Democrats are more supportive of convenience voting, make it easier to vote. Republicans are less supportive,” Nelson said. “And the underlying argument that’s come out in some of the court decisions on these issues is because of race.”

In North Carolina, there was record turnout among African American voters in the 2008 presidential elections for Barack Obama.

But a month after The Shelby Decision, North Carolina passed voting laws that required strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cut a week of early voting and eliminated same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct voting and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The racial data provided to the legislators showed that African Americans used early voting in both 2008 and 2012. Evidence show that 60.36 percent and 64.01 percent of African Americans voted early in 2008 and 2012, respectively— compared to 44.47 percent and 49.39 percent of white voters, according to an appeals court document.

African Americans especially used the first seven days of early voting. Knowing this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days—the appeals court document says.

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the law “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision,” the court appeal report said, and struck down the law.

“The laws were written, and this was in the language, to blatantly discriminate against African Americans,” Nelson said.

The Justice Department is the government agency that oversees civil rights issues—including voting rights.  Now that it is led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nelson expresses concerns about the due diligence the DOJ would take to look into discriminatory voting laws passed as a result of The Shelby Decision.

 “I think what will be an issue in [2018] and [2020] is we now… have a Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions, who is not particularly friendly to making it easier for people to vote,” Nelson said. “If cases come to Justice Department, [it] probably won’t rule as favorably against a state trying to cut back voter rights,” she added.

Before confirmed as AG this past February, Sessions (R) was Alabama’s senator and his confirmation faced much animosity due to allegations of past racism brought forth by Democrats.

How are voters restricted from voting?

 Voter restriction takes place in various forms. A 2013 Cambridge University study found that the following are ways that exemplify the different types of policies that have been proposed and adopted in various states:

  • Required photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote
  • More stringent regulation of groups or individuals who aim to register new voters
  • Shortened early voting periods
  • Repeal of same-day voter registration

These laws impact minority and lower-income voters because they impose an impediment to access the polls for these specific groups, Nelson said.

“If you have to vote only on Tuesday between x and y… [and] you have to be at your job at 7 a.m., and you work until 6 p.m. And you can’t vote during that time, then you’re disenfranchised,” Nelson added.

Nelson said that “it can make it hard for people who don’t have flexibility.” Lower-income workers tend less flexible work hours.

Democracy Today 

Sister Rose Stietz helped register voters in a Milwaukee church since the year 2000. But as of December 31, 2016, she can no longer do that.

The state of Wisconsin recently passed legislation that discontinued the program.

Governor Scott Walker (R) signed into law 2015 Wisconsin Act 261 in March 2016. The act eliminates “special registration deputies,” people who volunteer to register people to vote after completing at least one approved training program.

The elimination “coincides with electronic voter registration” the law says. In other words, people can now register online.

But Sister Stietz says restrictive voting laws harm the idea of democracy.

“It’s certainly killing the democratic process,” she said.

As history revealed itself, she said, more people have been able to vote—citing the progression of the groups who gained suffrage over the years: land owners, white males, African- American men and then women.

Sister Stietz added, “They struggled to do that. Now it seems to be regressing [in] that the fewer people allowed to vote the better.”

But Mawal Sidi, like Mensah, had no problem registering to vote or casting her ballot.

Sidi, now 22 and studying broadcast journalism at American University, registered to vote in her home state of Georgia when she was in high school.

“I remember it was really easy,” Sidi said of her first time voting in the 2012 presidential election.

But she said that an immigrant community in her home city was not aware of the voting process.

“It sort of  this lack of information.”

A 2016 Pew study found that one in five voters live in states requiring photos IDs, but don’t know it.

So the Sidi family took the initiative to inform the community on how to vote.

“As immigrants, we had to take it upon ourselves to educate the other immigrants.”

 

Rules Committee Votes A Resolution to the House Floor

Rules Committee Hears testimonies from witnesses on Senate Resolution 34 on Monday.
Rules Committee Hears testimonies from witnesses on Senate Resolution 34 on Monday.

By Aya Elamroussi

WASHINGTON— The Rules Committee voted Monday for the House floor to adopt a resolution that would allow Internet service providers to take, share and sell consumers’ web browsing history without their permission.

If the House of Representatives passes the resolution, an Obama-era Federal Communication Commission rule would be overturned that requires providers to obtain costumers’ permission before sharing their browsing information with third parties. The rules also require internet providers to protect consumers’ data from hackers and inform consumers if data has been stolen.

The Committee heard testimonies from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who supported the resolution, and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), who opposed it.

Blackburn said the current FCC rule presents three problems. The first is that it is the Federal Trade Commission’s role to oversee online privacy regulations.

“The FCC unilaterally swiped jurisdiction from the Federal Trade Commission,” Blackburn said. “The FTC has served as our nation’s sole online privacy regulator for over 20 years.”

Having two different “privacy cops” would create confusion in the Internet ecosystem and harm consumers, because confusion on compliance can lead to less regulation, and in turn, less protection for consumers, Blackburn said.

The third problem Blackburn pointed out is that the FCC already has the authority it needs to enforce privacy obligations of broadband service providers on a case-by-case basis.

Blackburn said the current rule is an overreach by the FCC that must be rolled back.

But rolling back the current rule means that consumers no longer have the freedom to decide how to control their own information, Doyle said. ISPs can share that information with third party companies without seeking permission from Internet users.

Broadband companies have an obligation not to dive into the personal lives of Americans unless that’s what those Americans want them to do, Doyle said.

“By analyzing internet usage, these companies will know more about you than members of your own family, more than you would tell your doctor, more than you know about yourself,” Doyle said. “And without these rules, these companies don’t have to ask before selling all that information.”

Critics of the current rule argue the FTC should oversee online privacy rules, but the FTC has no rule-making authority, Doyle pointed out. So if Congress votes against the current rule, there aren’t other rules to provide basic protection to consumers’ privacy.

“There will be no rules for these ISPs,” Doyle said. “They can do whatever they want with your date whenever they want to do it. They don’t have to tell you.”

ISPs like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are labeled and function as “common carriers.” That is, they are private companies that sell their services to everyone on the same terms, rather than companies that make more individualized decisions about who to serve and what to charge. Because of this type of service, FTC does not have jurisdiction over ISPs.

“They are literally free to do anything they want,” Doyle said.

But Blackburn disagrees. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that he has the authority that is necessary to handle privacy enforcement, Blackburn said.

Rep. Aclee L. Hastings (D-FL), who is on the Rules Committee, asked the witnesses if ISPs could sell browsing histories to third parties if the resolution being considered becomes law.

“That’s the whole enticement here,” Doyle answered. “These companies see a new business model, and that’s collecting your data and being able to monetize that data.”

Blackburn’s response to Hasting’s questions was that if there were to be a violator of privacy laws, FCC has the authority to act according to current laws that are already in place.

While companies like Google gain access to personal data while users are using them, there are alternative search engines that share personal data with third parties, Doyle said. Also, ISPs have access to way more consumer information since they encompass everything one does on the Internet. This information ranges from passwords and browsing history to Social Security number.

“Some common sense would tell you that at the time you agreed to go to your carrier, and you trust your carrier, then the carrier is going to have to probably be forthright about what their policy is,” Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said.

“I would look at what their circumstances are,” Sessions added. “And you’re going to make me go back and reread it. So I appreciate it.”

By a record vote of 9 to 3, the House will consider to adopt the resolution Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

Advancing Silenced Voices

By Aya Elamroussi

Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization that helps clear hurdles for people to vote through grassroots efforts.

“We work with organizations on the ground… to get ahead of hurdles to the ballot that disproportionately affect people of color,” Advancement Project Deputy Communications Director Ricardo Ramírez said.

More generally, Advancement Project works on-the-ground and helps “organized communities of color dismantle and reform the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy,” according to the organization’s website.

Advancement Project is also a pioneer organization for voting rights, Ramírez said, with its national office located in Washington, D.C. Ramírez added Advancement Project’s voting rights advocacy began as result of the 2000 presidential election when Florida underwent a recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

“In Florida it became clear that in black neighborhoods something was wrong with the ballots,” Ramírez said. And upon the executive director’s instructions, Advancement Project played its first role in a high-profile voting rights issue.

The organization was founded with the idea that “impacted communities” know best how to improve their own situation and how to clear hurdles that keep them from having a full voice and a full sense of freedom, Ramírez said.

To help people achieve equal voting rights, Advancement Project works with organizations such as Virginia Majority, Florida Majority and Georgia Project, which are grassroots organizations that determine the voting impediments people face.

The grassroots organizations all have the same mission, which is to empower the political voice of marginalized communities and people of color. The three organizations have voter registration programs on their websites.

“Before, people talked a lot about election protection, but we think that we don’t need to protect the election as much as voters who are often cut out of the process,” Ramírez added.

With the recent changes in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, more people of color have not been able to vote, according to Ramírez.

The Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June, 2013. Section 5 held that certain states in the South must obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes pertaining to voting. The states section 5 applied to were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia

The Guardian reported that on the same day the Court invalidated section 5, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he was implementing instantly a voter ID law that would require voters to provide official photo identification such as a driver’s license, state-issued photo identification or a passport before casting a ballot.

Ramírez said that voter ID laws affect minority groups most.

“Opponents of voting rights know and understand that people of color tend to own ID at lower rates the rest of the population,” Ramírez added.

Which is why Advancement Project, Ramírez said, worked with organizations on the ground in Missouri to prevent an amendment in favor of voter ID law.

In Georgia, a polling place in a community of color was moved inside of a sheriff’s office. Advancement Project worked with The New Georgia Project to clear that hurdle.

“While this may not be an issue to some voters, in communities of color, that is something that might simply raise flags for people,” Ramírez said.

Ramírez added that other examples of voter intimidation take the form of people carrying shotguns or rifles around voting poll locations. In the 2016 presidential election, people harassed naturalized citizens who look like immigrants by asking them for their papers, Ramírez said. “No one wants to put up with that.”

“Everyone should have access to the ballot, and they should feel comfortable and safe doing it,” Ramírez said.

 

 

Meet Emma-Claire: Fighting for workers’ rights one protest at a time

By Aya Elamroussi

Emma-Claire Martin has been fighting the food service facility Aramark since she was in the seventh grade. In middle school, Martin marched to a school board meeting with a power point presentation demanding healthier food from Aramark.

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Emma-Claire Martin, a junior at American University and President of Student-Worker Alliance.

“We need more salads,” Martin said of her presentation.

Then, Martin left her suburban hometown of Rutledge, Pa to attend college.

“I come to college, and I see American University has Aramark, and I am like, ‘ugh, these guys.’” Martin added.

“Then I found out not serving healthy food wasn’t [Aramark’s] biggest injustice,” Martin said, referring to the company’s mistreatment of its workers. “It actually ran deeper; it was much more serious.”

Martin joined the Student-Worker Alliance in her freshman year of college. Her friend Rachel brought her to one of the meetings the campus-based organization held. Ever since then, Martin has been hooked.

The SWA is a social justice organization that advocates for worker rights at AU.

“The mission of the Student-Worker Alliance is to listen to the housing and dining workers on campus, their grievances, their complaints, what they want to be better,” Martin said. Martin added that SWA recognizes AU is the students’ home as well as all the faculty, professors, staff and workers’.

“This campus needs to be a safe and a welcoming space,” Martin said.

Now a junior studying film, religious studies and sexuality studies, Martin is the president of the SWA.

How SWA works

SWA meets with housing and dining staff, and they discuss workers’ concerns and plans of action to improve working conditions for workers. SWA takes actions such as boycotts, petition signing or protests. In the midst of SWA’s advocacy for workers, SWA ensures not to take away the workers’ voices.

“We work to make sure their voice is heard,” Martin said.  “Our role is to empower [the workers].”

Martin added that AU is more inclined to listen to students’ voices more than the workers’.

“We are the sidekicks, and it so happens that our voice carries more weight in a lot of situations because it’s backed by money,” Martin said.

“We’re the ones giving [AU] money,” Martin added. “If the students are angry enough about an issue, it’s more likely to see change than if it’s just the workers.”

Martin said one example of the SWA advocacy for workers on campus is the organization’s mobilization for floor mats for Subway workers to stand on. Last year, SWA mobilized students to obtain mats that provide workers with a more comfortable working environment.

Although workers can go to their managers and voice their concerns, Martin said that problems can slip through the cracks in the hierarchy since there are no consequences for not giving workers what they want.

Consequences for the university arise when students are involved because that poses a threat to the university financially, Martin said.

“If you’re trying to make money, if you’re just trying to run a university, and you’re not particularly caring [about] the human rights issue,” Martin said, “there’s no real consequence.”

SWA is particularly important because student involvement allows workers to speak up about work place injustice. There’s a fear that if workers speak up, they might get fired or suffer other work place penalties, Martin said.

“That has definitely prevented a lot workers from speaking up,” Martin said. The SWA exists so that doesn’t happen. If workers speak out and get fired, SWA is determined to protest and boycott, Martin said. “We just want to be a safety net for [workers].”

Faith and activism

Martin said her social justice activism is deeply rooted in her religion, Christianity.

Martin joined the United Methodist Student Association her freshman year. During her time there, she became highly interested in the association’s social justice initiatives, and she also enjoyed the discussions on political activism.

“Jesus was a super activist,” Martin said. “A lot of the Bible talks about standing up for the underdog and being angry at injustice.”

“Jesus got mad when injustice was going on,” Martin said. She added that Jesus preached of not being greedy, of giving time, energy and money to people who need it.

“Because I am a Christian, I feel I would be a hypocrite if I wasn’t every day looking to be an activist, to be an organizer, to use my platform as someone who has privilege to help however I can.”

‘Everybody can participate’

 Martin said that an easy way for everyone to get involved in SWA efforts is simply by talking to the workers.

 Ask how their day is going,” Martin said. “Strike up a conversation. Be friendly. Be Appreciative. Get to know the people who are making your food.”

If students wish to take a more active role in the SWA efforts, they can join the organization.

“Student-Worker Alliance has two different levels of involvement,” Martin said. The first is the planning and the organizing of plans of action regarding issues presented to the SWA. This level entails commitment to responsibilities.

The second level is attending the SWA weekly meetings. “You can come to meetings just to learn,” Martin said. “You can come to a rally.” The rallies organized by SWA are open to everyone to attend.

“I encourage everyone to get involved in some small way,” Martin said. “Everybody can participate.”

Martin also said that everyone should be an activist. Martin added that when she learned about the injustices workers go through, “it’s impossible to be chill with it.”

“Oppression has no place in any good society,” Martin said.

“You need to be an activist because your fellow humans are suffering, and if you’re not doing anything about that, why are you even here?”

 

Produced by Aya Elamroussi

Inspired by the first Arab American writers, an American man fights to display Arab Americans’ art in NYC park

By Aya Elamroussi  

img_3964
Lyne Sneige (right) introduces Todd Fine (left) in a discussion about Little Syria and the first Arab American literary art at Busboys and Poets. // Photo by Aya Elamroussi

Todd Fine was coming of age in his college years in the early 2000s. He was in Harvard University studying politics when the terror attacks of September 11 happened, and the United States went to war against Iraq. The political climate at the time compelled him to learn about the literary works of Arab Americans.

“I was in a period of crisis,” Fine said at Busboys and Poets restaurant Monday night. “When I graduated [from] college, we were looking at the Iraq War and a lot of problems. I wanted to learn more about Arab Americans and what did have to say.”

Fine’s curiosity about Arab Americans led him to the literary works of Ameen Rihani and Kahlil Gibran. Rihani and Gibran were among the first wave of Arabs to emigrate from Greater Syria–today’s Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine– and settle in New York City in the 1880s, said Lyne Sneige, Art and Cultural Program Director at the Middle East Institute, who moderated the discussion.

Rihani and Gibran are renowned for their work as the first Arab Americans literary artists, writing the first Arab American poetry and prose in English. They settled in what became known as “Little Syria” in Downtown Manhattan on Washington Street.

“I learned that poets like Kahlil Gibran were not just in the clouds writing about love, but they were actually quite active and involved in the politics of their time and dealing with crises as writers,” Fine said.

Because New York City is known to be the destination for new immigrants, groups who come to America from the same country usually settle near each other. “Little Syria” is an American expression used to label the geographic neighborhood where the first wave of Arab immigrants settled in the U.S, Fine said. The city of New York has many neighborhoods as such like “Little Italy,” “Little Egypt” and “Little India” just to name a few.

By the 1940s, there was no more Little Syria on Washington Street— thanks to the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Fine said. Fine, 36, founded the non-profit organization Washington Street Historical Society to preserve what is left from Little Syria, which are only three buildings on Washington Street Downtown Manhattan. But because Little Syria was, according to Fine, at some of the most valuable real estate property in the world, preservation is not easy.

“Preservation seems so impossible with tens and millions of dollars at stake,” Fine said. Investors are willing and able to buy the remaining buildings of Little Syria, level them and build skyscrapers. His organization took an alternative route to preserve the literary art of some of the first Arab Americans who lived in Little Syria.

Fine persuaded the City of New York and the Department of Cultural Affairs to include an art component in a new park that is being built near Battery Park and the Financial District in Downtown Manhattan. The art exhibit is aimed at honoring the literary writers of the neighborhood. In addition to Rihani and Gibran’s art, the art exhibit at the park will also feature art by a young Moroccan artist, Sara Ouhaddou, according to Fine.

Fine’s motivation to preserve Arab American art is to honor the language and culture of a people whose art is being diminished and insulted. Fine said that Rihani’s political activism is the reason he appreciates him. According to Fine, Rihani was a creative person who put the responsibility on his own shoulders and came up with creative ways to deal with the politics of his time without being a politician or being connected to any institution.

“[Rihani traveled] by camel to Riyadh in the 1920s to build an alliance between Iraq and Saudi Arabia to affect the British imperialism as a poet from Manhattan,” Fine said. “For me it was endlessly fascinating.”

Fine said that he hopes his attempts to preserve Arab Americans’ literary art is noticed by Arab Americans as a gift and an act of love toward them. Fine added that he understands how Arab Americans must feel.

“It’s hard being Arab in today’s world… I’m just sympathizing,” Fine said.

Fine said he sees his efforts to display Arab American literary art as a way to show Arab Americans and Arabic speakers that Americans appreciate their art and culture. Fine said he feels that the art display will show Arabs and Arabic speakers that Americans care about them and their art.

“It’s not about religion,” Fine said. “It’s about shared humanity.”

“And what better message can we have than writers who made that their total orientation.”

 

 

A white American man’s fight to commemorate the first Arab American literary art in NYC

By Aya Elamroussi

Todd Fine was coming of age when the United States was battling the war in Iraq. He was in Harvard University studying politics when the terror attacks of September 11 happened. Instead of adding to the unease most Americans felt toward Arab Americans and Muslims at that time, he decided to learn about the literary works of Arab Americans.

“I was in a period of crisis,” Fine said to a room of about 60 people at the Busboys and Poets restaurant located on the corner of 5 and K streets Monday night.

“When I graduated college, we were looking at the Iraq War and a lot of problems. I wanted to learn more about Arab Americans and what did have to say.”

That’s when Fine stumbled upon the literary works of Ameen Rihani and Kahlil Gibran. Rihani and Gibran were among the first wave of Arabs to emigrate from Greater Syria–today’s Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine– and settle in New York City in the 1880s, said Lyne Sneige, Art and Cultural Program Director at the Middle East Institute, who moderated the discussion.

“I learned that poets like Kahlil Gibran were not just in the clouds writing about love, but they were actually quite active and involved in the politics of their time and dealing with crises as writers,” Fine said.

Rihani and Gibran are renowned for their work as the first Arab Americans literary artists, penning the first Arab American poetry and prose in English. They settled in what became known as “Little Syria” in Downtown Manhattan on Washington Street.

Because New York City is known to be the destination for new immigrants, groups who come to America from the same country usually settle near each other. “New York was the place of entry for all immigrants,” Fine said.

To be clear, “Little Syria” is an American expression used to label the geographic neighborhood where the first wave of Arab immigrants settled in the U.S, Fine said. The city of New York has many neighborhoods as such like “Little Italy,” “Little Egypt” and “Little India” just to name a few.

By the time the 1940s rolled around, there was no more Little Syria on Washington Street.

Fine said people from Little Syria started to relocate to Brooklyn Heights to seek better living conditions. “They didn’t want to live in these tenements,” Fine said. “They would get very stuffy, [which caused] problems with disease.”

“But the kicker was the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel,” Fine said. Robert Moses, New York City’s planner in the mid-20th century, led a series of construction projects which led to the destruction of Little Syria. “He leveled most of Little Syria to build the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which eliminated the lower part of Washington Street.”

Unwavering, Fine founded the non-profit organization Washington Street Historical Society specifically to preserve what is left from Little Syria, which are only three buildings on Washington Street Downtown Manhattan.

Because Little Syria was, according to Fine, at some of the most valuable real estate property in the world, preservation is not easy.

“Preservation seems so impossible with tens and millions of dollars at stake,” Fine said. Investors are willing and able to buy the remaining buildings of Little Syria, level them and build skyscrapers.

In turn, his organization took an alternative route to preserve the literary art of some of the first Arab Americans who lived in Little Syria.

Fine persuaded the City of New York and the Department of Cultural Affairs to include an art component in a new part that is being built near Battery Park and the Financial District in Downtown Manhattan. The art component is aimed at honoring the literary writers of the neighborhood. In addition to Rihani and Gibran’s art, the park will also feature art by a young Moroccan artist, Sara Ouhaddou, according to Fine.

Notably, Fine’s motivation to preserve Arab American art is to honor the language and culture of a people whose art is being diminished and insulted.

“It’s hard being Arab in today’s world… I’m just sympathizing,” Fine said.

Fine said that he hopes his attempts to preserve Arab Americans’ literary art is noticed by Arab Americans as a gift so Arab Americans can see that their art and culture appreciated.

“It’s not about religion,” Fine said. “It’s about shared humanity.”

“And what better message can we have than writers who made that their total orientation.”