In 2017 Rev. Khader El-Yateem ran for New York City Council in the Democratic primary for an open seat from Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Usually victory depends on winning the votes but in this case, Father K gives his community courage to speak out, and to organize. What they learned in 2016, they apply in 2018 and get ready for 2020. Brooklyn Inshallah is the documentary that shows an election born of an improbable hope ( God willing in Arabic) and ends with Yalla Brooklyn, 'Let's go Brooklyn in Arabic) a movement to get out the vote and make it decisive. The documentary ends with the mid terms of 2018, and a result that threatens to upend NYC 'politics as usual.'
Shot in Cinema Verite, the documentary follows El-Yateem and three key members of his all women team, Muslim controversialist Linda Sarsour, young activist Aber Kawas, whose family were victims of post 9/11 deportations, and Kayla, the campaign manager from........ Rain or shine, they campaigned and registered voters in Muslim and Arab community gatherings, community forums and door to door. We see them on the streets, drawing new volunteers and being denounced by racists unwilling to accept a non-white candidate. What looks like an election campaign slowly emerges as something more, the birth of a movement that will empower the Arab community of NYC as never before.
The film will share lessons learned from a 21st century election campaign which registered and mobilized over 3,000 new Arab and Muslim voters in one City Council district in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. As a result of El-Yateem’s campaign members of his campaign team and newly energized voters formed 'Yalla Brooklyn' an alliance of Arab and Muslim American voters who played a decisive role in the 2018 elections.
In November, 2018 'Yalla Brooklyn' played a major role in defeating an Islamophobic NY State Senator who had represented Bay Ridge for the last 15 years. Democracy can work when people can work together to make it work.
After successfully field testing a rough cut in diverse Arab/Muslim and American communities from California to New Jersey, Nevada to Maryland this fall, the production team are ready to finish the project. Your support will enable us to edit our rough cut and turn it into a feature length documentary. It will energize audiences everywhere. Arab American and Muslim communities will see a case study that will motivate them to get more involved in local, state and federal elections. Most campaigns need funds, and some need volunteers, and others need training and tools, but every campaign needs inspiration and motivation. “Brooklyn, Inshallah” will demonstrate to Arab and Muslim Americans and all who see it that democracy can work if it is the the story of 'We the People
Brooklyn, Inshallah follows three genuine Americans: an Arab Lutheran pastor running for NYC Council, Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, and a local community organizer, Aber Kawas.
We embark on the team’s journey as they attempt to make history. Arabs have lived in New York City for 100 plus years, but not one has ever aspired to run for office. In the last elections, only 250 out of 40,000 Arab Americans in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, even thought voting was worth the effort. Democracy is not working for this new American community in Brooklyn. How can they change that? How can they get a chance to tell their American story?
At first, the campaign is nothing more than a grand idea loosely grounded in reality. But idealism is not enough. The candidate and his team take to the streets to create alliances with Muslims, Christians and Jews.
The camera gets access to the inner core of the campaign, and is able to document up close the Islamophobia that many Arabs face - even one who is in fact a Christian pastor. The local election is as prone to scandals and madness as a national election. But things change when the Democratic Socialists of America join the cause and suddenly, 200 young volunteers emerge onto the streets, ready to knock on doors.
In the quieter moments, we hear the backstories and what has brought these three unique characters together with the common goal of electing the first Arab-American to city office in New York. The Christian candidate started the first Arab speaking church in North America. His story surprises. As an innocent and earnest 19-year-old theology student in Bethlehem, he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by Israeli soldiers without charge. This incident led him to embrace nonviolent leadership and change.
Linda Sarsour is the controversial, Brooklyn born Palestinian who rose to prominence as one of the three organizers and keynote speakers at the Women’s March on Washington. We see her facing down death threats, and being demonized as a terrorist. Sarsour embodies the tension: how can this community speak out against all the forces organized to silence them?
We follow Aber as she leads the campaign’s laborious groundwork. She has a personal stake in this campaign: her father was deported after 9-11 by the NYPD’s entrapment campaign that flagrantly violated human rights. America waged a war with Iraq and Afghanistan but before that, they tore the heart out of the Arab American community of Bay Ridge who experience heavy police surveillance and harassment in the wake of 9-11. We explore what 9-11 has meant for this community.
On election day, we experience hope and optimism. More Arabs surge to the polls than ever before. But polling booths have translators in Spanish and Mandarin, not Arabic. Many voters are unable to vote due to language issues. Arabic translators are kicked out of the voting sites. Is the fix in?
Regardless of who wins or loses, the campaign has changed Bay Ridge forever. It has given this Bay Ridge community permission to speak up, to speak out, to show that Arabs and Muslims are now also Americans, to demonstrate that they are defiantly and proudly American and that their story has to be told, as it is, finally, in Brooklyn, Inshallah. The story of Khader El-Yateem and his supporters will show all Arab Americans and non-Arab Muslims that they too can build their political power and have a voice in American politics.
The first wave of Arab immigrants arrived on the island of Manhattan two-hundred years ago. Most were Christians from Syria who would settle on Washington Street, and build what came to be called Little Syria, in the shadow of where the Twin Towers would be built, a century later.
The Arab presence grew from there into other New York City neighborhoods where they opened shops, established churches and mosques and fully participated in the commercial life of the city. Arab migrants became bankers and publishers, manufacturers and importers of lace and linen, musicians and poets.
When Lower Manhattan in the 1950s gave way to a real estate boom, the sky scrapers went up and the Arab community moved out. Rents were too expensive, so they re-established themselves in Atlantic Ave and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, across from and in sight of where they once lived.
Unlike Irish and German immigrants, Arabs did not easily enter the local political scene. Perhaps it was because democracy was not in their history but more likely because the cultural differences and the language barrier made voting processes impenetrable. They relied on other local representatives to protect their rights as citizens of the United States. That was the way it was.
On 9-11, the Arab community watched the Twin Towers fall as most Americans did, except with greater despair because more residents of Bay Ridge worked in the towers than from anywhere else.
As if losing their loved ones wasn’t enough, the Arab American population became the subject of increased terrorist investigations by law enforcement and more pressure from Federal Immigration authorities. Arab immigrants were deported without notice. The infamous NYPD Muslim surveillance program sought to entrap law-abiding citizens. Families were torn apart and as fear grew more intense, this once thriving Bay Ridge Arab American community of over 40,000, according to Arab American Association (AAA), retreated, to remain in the shadows for more than 15 years. In the last election, only 250 dared to vote.
When Donald J. Trump was elected President, he immediately attacked migrants and tried to impose a Muslim travel ban. With encouragement from Linda Sarsour, the leaders of Bay Ridge felt they could be passive no longer. In Father El-Yateem, an American citizen, originally from Palestine, a Christian pastor who also works with the local Jewish and Muslim communities, the community felt they had a compelling candidate who could inspire the incredibly diverse population of Bay Ridge.
Brooklyn, Inshallah follows Rev. El-Yateem throughout his campaign, from its launch in February 2017 to Election Day in September 2017 and beyond. It gives viewers an exclusive up close and personal story of one man’s quest to win over a divided and politically apathetic Arab community and equally judgmental white voters. Would he win their trust enough and in time to vote him into office and begin a new chapter in the Arab American story of New York City?