A Brooklyn Democrat who called Obama ‘terrible’ on civil rights will be honored by the White House

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Linda Sarsour (Linda Sarsour via facebook)
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Tomorrow, the White House is paying tribute to 10 "Champions of Change" activists for their work in various fields, including a Brooklyn Democrat who told me in September that President Obama "has been terrible on civil-rights issues."

Linda Sarsour, 31, of Bay Ridge, is the director of the Arab-American Association of New York and the advocacy coordinator for the National Network for Arab-American Communities.

In 2008, she helped lead a voter-turnout operation targeting Arab and Muslim New Yorkers. Since then, as part of the Arab-American Democratic Club of New York, she has advocated a more pro-Palestinian agenda for the Democratic Party, with limited success.

She told me in September that she had grown disheartened when Democrats lost a New York House seat in a special election after trying to be more hawkish than the Republican candidate on Israel. She was also discouraged that at the Obama administration's continuation of many aspects of the Patriot Act, and at reports about federal involvement with an NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslim New Yorkers.

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When reached on her cell phone this morning, Sarsour told me all her complaints still stand, but that the award she's getting from the administration sends a powerful message to her critics.

"I still think that President Obama has a lot of work to do, I think particularly around civil rights and immigration issues," she said. "And I also think that my community deserves it, and it's a slap in the face for Islamaphobes."

Sarsour said previous award winners include prominent civil-rights and immigrant-rights activists "have been just as critical as I have been. I think it's OK for somebody like me, who's an American, to be critical of my government."

She said she fully expected that the White House was aware of her comments before giving her the award.

"I am positive, 100 percent, the White House Googles people to make sure that whatever nominations they get" are appropriate, she said.

"I'm sure Pamela Geller won't be getting an award," Sarsour said, referring to a voluble right-wing critic she's clashed with. "I know the White House knows, definitely, I've been a critic." But, she said, "I've been constructively critical."

Asked specifically whether she stood by her previous comments about the president, she said, "Me getting an award from anyone never changes my political opinion or stands on any of the issues I've taken a stand on. It has nothing to do with whether I think we have a broken immigration system, which we do and it needs to be fixed, ASAP, and hopefully President Obama can do that in his next term."

She said Obama should get credit for trying to pass legislation, like the Dream Act, which "got blocked in the Senate."

"I look for the leadership of President Obama but at the end of the day, our entire government needs to be cleaned out, particularly in the House," she said. "Right now in the House, they are the roadblock."

"President Obama wants immigration reform, he wants the Dream Act. But it wasn't him that blocked it," she said.

Here's the full release from the White House communications office:

White House Highlights Linda Sarsour as a “Champion of Change” Who Is Giving Back

WASHINGTON, DC – Tomorrow, Thursday, December 15th, ten local leaders who are helping to give back to their community will be honored at the White House as Champions of Change. These men and women, who include non-profit leaders, community activists and mentors, have each taken great strides to improve the lives of others through charitable work, faith and advocacy.

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different issue is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to better their communities.

“These individuals are innovators and reformers that are making a difference in communities across the nation,” said Robert Velasco, II, Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “We thank them for their commitment and commend them for setting an example for others to follow.”

To watch this event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at 9:30 am ET December 15th.

Linda Sarsour is a working woman, community activist, and mother of three. Ambitious, outspoken and independent, Linda shatters stereotypes of Muslim women while also treasuring her religious and ethnic heritage. Currently she is the Advocacy and Civic Engagement Coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), a network of 22 Arab American organizations in 11 states including the District of Columbia, nationwide where she conducts trainings nationally on the importance of civic engagement in the Arab and Muslim American community. Locally she serves as the Director of the Arab American Association of New York, a social service agency serving the Arab community in NYC. Linda’s strengths are in the areas of community development, youth empowerment, community organizing, civic engagement and immigrants’ rights advocacy.