I had reached the 22nd floor of the Capitol and stepped off of the elevator to find myself approached by half a dozen men and women with young faces and inquiring eyes, some with hijabs and some without. I felt a sincerity of distrust as questions of, "who are you?" and "who are you with?" echoed in the hall; they came to the Capitol expecting the worst.
I left just a brief explanation before a young woman in a gray suit nodded and asked me to follow her. She took me to Elena, one of the organizers who quickly verified my attendance and as I turned toward the hall I became aware that someone was speaking in the main room and that the sound quality wasn't up to par. The entrance way was blocked by a single line of peering women in customary garb with the exception of a camera man with a boom mic. I manage to squeeze in; not only can I hear, but I can see that I am probably not 15 feet away from the speaker, Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott's message on Muslim Capitol Day was a familiar one to Florida; "It's about creating jobs and making Florida business friendly."
After Scott's unlikely appearance (and hasty photo shoot), former democratic congressional candidate, Z.J. Hafeez, recognized all those who traveled to the event from Florida areas such as Gainesville, Tampa, Daytona, St. Petersburg and most of all, Orlando. He added, "Today is an amazing opportunity for you - even if you're too young to vote, you can still lobby."
Ahmed Bedier, formerly with CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and Director of United Voices for America, delivered tension to the upcoming senate bills, Application of Foreign Law (SB 1294 and 1273); he explained the legislation was specifically proposed to target Muslims given they originally specified Sharia law. He reminds the audience that similar legislation is being considered in 12 other states.
Ahmed urged attendees to talk to their legislators about religious freedom and enforcement of immigration; "Don't punish those who contribute to the economy," he said. Ahmed lectured that domestic employees like in-house maids are exempt from the E-Verify system. He indicated that illegal employees are essentially slaves exploited for their labor while those who can afford to have domestic maids are not risking legal penalty. Ahmed believes that a domestic employee who is also an immigrant would not likely ask for help from the authorities had they been a victim of rape, adding, "We cannot criminalize undocumented workers."
Two precocious children, a boy and a girl too small to stand behind the mic, were propped up at the podium to read their letters in favor of education.
The following speaker Reverend Charles McKenzie reassured, "I cannot be what I aught to be if you cannot be what you ought to be...We will be heard," and "We live by our faith. We live under the law." Z.J. announced an hour break for attendees to speak with their representatives; he kids on the square, joking not to come back for lunch until they have. He said, "this is your task."
"I wish we had our crosses on."
During lunch a heavy set camera-man with shaggy graying hair and a tripod disagreeably revealed he was in favor of the foreign law bill. He asked me, "Just tell me, is Sharia law good or bad?" He turned the camera on. The recorder's red light blinked and I stood in disbelief. "Do you really think that everything is black and white?" I said. It isn't. The question was adversarial, a false dichotomy; Technically the recognition of an agreement between two people is Sharia law - but that wasn't the point. Foreign law is already unconstitutional by definition. He didn't understand. "Have a great day," I said. He was convinced Muslim laws were going to take over America.
After lunch was over I noticed a potential family of three women and two children in bright summer clothes apprehensively move off of the elevator. They were evidently there to tour the building and weren't informed that it was Muslim Capitol Day. In passing the eldest woman seethed, "I wish we had our crosses on."
Visitors from the legislature had turns to speak, one of the first being FL House Representative Jim Waldman. In open opposition to senate bill 1273, he explained it would, "harm all religions and not just Islam." Within introduction to the next speakers Ahmed agreed with Waldman, saying that the bills would also apply to the Ten Commandments.
Two speakers of the ACLU warned about the proposed immigration laws in Florida, citing Arizona's cousin bills in the house, (HB) 7089 Enforcement of Immigration Laws and senate bill (SB) 2040 Unauthorized Immigrants. They describe that the only way of attaining reasonable suspicion as to whether someone is an illegal immigrant or not is through the act of racial profiling. Returning to the Foreign Law bill, they expressed the legislation could affect years of civil law in US courts, even dating back to the Warsaw convention.
Angie Boynton from the Marion County School Board, Rep. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Dennis Baxley focused on positivity; Rouson stated, "My office is open," while Baxley asserted that he lived in his constituents district, they didn't live in his. Rep. Geraldine Thompson (video) said, "Remind your legislators of the challenges your communities face."
Muslim activist Amira Taylor shared her experience of a failed attempt to speak with Senator Hayes and his staff. He was not only a representative of her district but the person who endorsed the Application of Foreign Law house bill 1294. She inspires the audience to take advantage of their resources, noting that, "you don't have to sit at a typewriter anymore."
In between speeches and cheers, Ahmed returned to the podium with an announcement that Muslim Capitol Day was to be recognized from the Floor for the first time in history.
Reverend McKenzie (video) ended with a heavy note; "We are the tidal wave that will rollback the winds of ignorance."