Amid the headlines that the ‘red wave’ failed to materialize in America’s midterm elections as Trump-endorsed candidates crumbled at the ballot box and progressives like John Fetterman made surprise gains in hotly contested swing states, the election also saw historic firsts in Arab political representation. Palestinian-American Ruwa Romman who was the Democratic Party nominee for the Georgia General Assembly’s House of Representatives fought against an Islamophobic and racist campaign by her Republican challenger and won the election, becoming the deeply conservative state of Georgia’s first Palestinian American elected public official.
Achieving a whopping 58% of the vote, the 29-year-old Romman smashed her Republican opponent John Chan who allegedly ran a campaign that used Islamophobic and racist tropes to discredit Romman. While the presence of candidates from minority backgrounds has increasingly become a normal occurrence in some areas of the country, in the very conservative and Christian south of America it is rare for candidates from Arab or Muslim backgrounds to run for office, let alone be elected. As such, Romman’s victory in the deeply conservative state of Georgia is symbolic as she is from a family of Palestinian refugees and is both proudly American and Muslim. As a state representative for Georgia’s 97th district, her election marks both the first Palestinian-American to be elected to public office in Georgia as well as the first Muslim woman to be elected to public office. However, Romman was also joined by three other Muslim candidates that were similarly elected to the Georgia General Assembly. Her local supporters took to Twitter to signal how her victory over a hateful campaign by a Trump-supporting Republican sends a clear message that Georgia’s 97th district refuses to be turned against one other and stands united against an increasingly polarised and xenophobic political climate.
While the focus on the midterm elections in Georgia was mostly focused on the senate race between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, which has now led to a hotly contested run-off, Ruwa Romman’s election to the Georgia General Assembly has not been given the attention it deserves according to some supporters. Although having lived in and around Georgia since the age of seven, Ruwa initially grew up in Amman, like many other Palestinian refugees that reside in Jordan. After being born in Jordan and then moving to just outside Atlanta, Romman lived her entire adult life in the state of Georgia. However, although Romman now sits in the Georgia House of Representatives, she grew up facing high levels of exclusion and racism, especially against the backdrop of the US War on Terror. CNN reported how only a year after moving to the USA, she vividly remembers sitting at the back of a school bus as an eight-year-old as other children bullied her by accusing her and her family of being terrorists. Romman’s journey from a child that suffered from Islamophobia in the deeply conservative state to representing that very same state after being elected by its people is a story that many Georgia-based activists want to tell of a changing state that is slowly becoming more accepting and Democrat-leaning. However, supporters of Romman have also taken to Twitter to describe how her victory is indicative of Arab Americans slowly gaining political representation after being spoken for many years.
While the Democratic Party, much like the Republican Party, as a whole has a history of unequivocally supporting the Israeli state, a new wave of progressive Democrats that joined the party following Bernie Sander’s successive bids to run as the party nominee, has been vocal about Palestinian rights. Romman being elected to represent Georgia’s 97th district is but one of the most recent of numerous pro-Palestinian politicians who have entered office in the last few years, often from Arab or Muslim backgrounds. Romman stands alongside Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilham Omar as part of a new wave of progressive Democratic representatives from minority backgrounds that often aren’t represented by the party, but seem to be slowly changing the debate around Palestine and Arab and Muslim Americans.