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Politics

In the Running: Rashida Tlaib

In this series, we interview female candidates who are winning historic primaries across the nation. This week, Rashida Tlaib, who could be one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, talks about her run.

portrait of Rashida Tlaib against green textured gradient
Illustration by Osheen Siva

Name: Rashida Tlaib

Age: 42

The Race: Michigan’s Thirteenth Congressional District

Making History: I will be one of the first American Muslim women elected to Congress. (Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, is also running.)

The Challenge: My district, which includes parts of Detroit, is one of the poorest in the country. Less than half of families own their own homes. My approach to public office has always been uniquely different from all of my opponents’. No one in my district should have to wait for me to pass Medicare for All to get access to quality health care, or for me to pass increased minimum wage to fifteen dollars for them to get access to good jobs. I won’t just vote the right way; I will also come home and actually support movement work.

The Best and Worst Advice: The best advice came in two parts. First, that direct human contact is irreplaceable. We’ve knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors in this campaign. The more people whose trust and support you gain, the more successful you are. Second, my mentor once told me that what people would care about most was how I make them feel. That’s what they’d remember. When I went door to door, people would sometimes have difficulty pronouncing my name, but they remembered that I fought the Koch brothers so that we could have the right to breathe clean air. They know that I helped unionize one of the only charter schools in my district. These are the things that matter the most.

The worst advice has always been around imagery. One resident, a supporter, once told me that I should “dress my age.” It makes you feel defeated. It makes you feel like your actions are second place.

Most Powerful Political Memory: The day after I won state representative, my mom called me and said, “I want you to know, I’ve always really wanted to learn how to read and write English. I want to get my GED.” It brought me to tears because my mom raised fourteen children, and she had never shared with me any dreams or ambitions besides caring for her family. When she shared that with me, I realized that the moment [my first win] was much bigger than myself.

Real Talk: If you care about a community that you’re very much rooted in, stop hesitating. Being still is important, but not right now. You need to jump in and fucking do it.

Meena Harris is the founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign.