With today's political climate serving up so many reasons to be discouraged, a record number of American Muslims around the country are giving us hope by running for office. What's more exciting? The majority of them are women. We'll be highlighting these pioneers as part of an occasional series in the lead up to November's midterm elections. First up, we head to Michigan's 13th District to highlight former state representative Rashida Tlaib!
Rashida was born and raised in Detroit, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. After graduating from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, she dedicated her career to organizing and advocacy, including work with her own community through the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) as well as other underrepresented populations through Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LASED).
Her work on behalf of marginalized communities won the attention of Rep. Steve Tobocman who first recruited her as an intern before adding her to his full time staff and, finally, urging her to run for his seat when he reached his term limit. Her example of building policy expertise and relationships while steadily moving up the political ranks is a perfect model for all aspiring politicians to follow. On the same night that Barack Obama was elected president, and after having emerged victorious from a crowded primary race, Rashida defeated her Republican challenger and became the first Muslim woman elected to Michigan’s House of Representatives.
Rashida served for three terms as State Representative, the maximum allowable in Michigan. During her tenure, she made it her priority to stand up for vulnerable communities, fight poverty, and confront inequalities head on. Representing a majority-minority district (40% Hispanic, 25% African-American, 30% white, and 2% Arab American) meant constantly highlighting issues that often went ignored in the state capital. As she describes herself, her six years in elected office taught her “that helping families through everyday issues had to go hand and hand with policy making. From helping families facing tax foreclosure to getting a drug house removed from our neighborhood, the power of an office with a title can elevate the voice of families that are rarely heard.”
Last December, Congressman John Conyers resigned from Congress, and weeks later Rashida formally announced her candidacy for the seat. She joins a crowded field of six other candidates for the Democratic primary on August 7, which will effectively decide Conyers’ replacement as no Republicans are running for the seat. If elected, Rashida would become the first Muslim woman in Congress. Remarking on the significance of such a milestone, Rashida points out that “making history at a time when so many American Muslims feel under attack and targeted solely based on their faith would inspire millions across the country.”
MPAC is a 501c4 organization and does not endorse political candidates. However, as a national policy organization focused on substantive advocacy, leadership development, and building the political power of American Muslims, we highlight outstanding examples of public service from within our community and across the nation. Rashida Tlaib’s career as a passionate advocate for all communities, a courageous trailblazer, and a dedicated public servant, deserves great recognition from us all.