MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) trounced Hillary Clinton in the Wisconsin primary Tuesday night, winning all but three of the state’s 72 counties. Following a pattern in other states, Sanders dominated among younger voters, and won more than 70 percent of independent voters.
Yet supporters of the Vermont senator said he won, in part, by reaching out to communities often ignored by political candidates, including Wisconsin’s growing Muslim population. In the days leading up to the primary, Linda Sarsour, a high profile civil rights activist and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, spread Sanders’ message to Muslims in Milwaukee.
“I encouraged them to make the moral choice and vote Bernie Sanders,” Sarsour told ThinkProgress. “His votes against the Iraq War and against the Patriot Act, his inclusion, and [his] call for Palestinian self-determination are helping him make inroads. He’s not a perfect candidate and we don’t expect there to be a perfect candidate, but Sanders is willing to reach out and listen.”
In Michigan, Sanders’ strong showing among large Muslim communities in Dearborn and other cities swept him to an upset victory. Both in Michigan and Wisconsin, Muslim voters praised Sanders for speaking out strongly against Islamophobia at a time of high anxiety around Islam.
Bernie Sanders Vows To Fight Back Against Islamophobia In The 2016 RacePolitics by CREDIT: Alice Ollstein FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA – Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) town hall, held at George Mason…thinkprogress.orgAt a massive rally in Madison on Sunday night, Sanders even tapped Sarsour to introduce him to a crowd of mostly white students. “Senator Sanders has welcomed all people into his campaign,” she told thousands cheering in the arena. “I stand before you unapologetically Muslim and Palestinian. When I started campaign for Bernie, they didn’t say, ‘Don’t be too Muslim up there. Don’t bring up that Palestinian stuff.’ They accept all of me.”
Both nationally and in Wisconsin, anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise. Exit polls in Tuesday’s election found that more than two-thirds of Wisconsin Republicans support Trump’s proposal to indefinitely ban all Muslims from immigrating to the United States.
In light of such attitudes, Milwaukee voters said they considered Sanders’ outreach to Muslims courageous.
“I have a lot of respect for someone who actually reaches out to Muslims, because that can get a lot of negative stigma,” said Bushra Fathima, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “It kind of moves me.”
Fathima’s fellow members of the UW-Milwaukee’s Muslim Student Association agreed. Senior Firas Hamid said he was “impressed” that Sanders sent campaign staffers to Milwaukee’s recent Muslim American Society conference.
“I was like, wow, this is actually a presidential campaign saying they want to meet with Muslims here,” he told ThinkProgress.
“I was pro-Hillary at first,” added senior Ameena Yusuf. “But now I think I’m feeling the Bern now.”
The campaign has made an effort to reach out both in-person, on social media, and by mail. “A lot of us in the Muslim community have seen mailers from the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Ahmed Quereshi, the president of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. Quereshi added that it’s possible other candidates have reached out, though he hasn’t seen much evidence of it.
Muslim voters in the area also noted that they were won over by Sanders’ progressive policies.
“My big thing is health care,” said Fuad Ahmad, a nurse practitioner in Kenosha. “I see a lot of patients struggling with insurance. So even though it sounds very left-wing, I’m for the single-payer system. I like a lot of the reforms Bernie is talking about. I don’t agree with every position he has, but I don’t see what other choice I have.”
Several voters also cited Sanders’ vote in the Senate against the Iraq War, which Clinton supported at the time.
“I feel that plays a huge role for the Muslim community, especially the Iraqi-American community,” Hamid said. “A lot of people were very disappointed in that vote. I have a friend from Iraq who said that before the war, Iraq was a very stable economy, but the U.S. government completely destroyed it. I mean, Saddam was not the best ruler, but we made it worse.”
Fathima agreed, saying, “It’s different when you know someone from the region who was directly affected [by the Iraq War]. If I hadn’t known people whose lives were torn apart, who couldn’t contact their families, then everything would seem all fine and dandy.”