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Standing Up and Fighting Back: Why I Decided to Run for Office as a Minority American Millennial Woman

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by Hannah Risheq for Delegate

As a candidate in the 2017 House of Delegates race for Virginia’s 67th District, I look back on last year’s elections as seminal in shaping my desire to run for office.  On November 8th, 2016, I was one of the lucky few to be invited to the stage at Hillary Clinton’s election night party in New York City. Seated about 100 feet behind the sage, I anticipated seeing the glass ceiling shattered in real time and watching a strong woman stand in the face of hate and bigotry. In the bleachers, I was among people of all colors, shapes, ages, and identities and watched as they slowly trickled out with looks of despair and confusion.

Unfortunately, hate won that night and my identity as a woman, Arab American, millennial, religious minority, and child of an immigrant were under attack. Most of all, as the child of a Muslim immigrant father and Jewish mother, I knew that my family’s safety became under greater threat.  In the days following the election, I continuously found myself asking “what can I do to fight back?”

The answer: effect change from within. With that mindset, I decided to stand up and speak with my community as a candidate for state office.

If the President of the United States refuses to hear our voices in the streets, we must make sure that they are louder than ever within our local communities and especially within state government. Virginia’s legislature must be more attuned to our population. Only 4% of Virginia legislators are representatives under the age of 35 and only 17% are women.  Minorities are also underrepresented in the Commonwealth’s government, with only 17% of representatives identifying as a minority. When looking at Virginia’s elected officials, the diversity of Virginia is clearly not represented by our state officials. I am stepping up to change that.

I know firsthand the struggles of marginalized communities; my family has faced discrimination because of our Arab heritage. I have walked down the extra security line at Dulles airport just because my middle name is Khaled. My family has lived through the economic after effects of racially motivated business boycotts and hate crimes that so many marginalized populations have experienced for generations.

In addition to my understanding and experiences of the struggles faced by minorities, I have also dealt with many of the inherent obstacles faced by females trying to achieve gender equity.  I know what it’s like to sit at the table as a woman in STEM and be dismissed because of my feminine identity. As a female scientist, I cringe when I see the subliminal messaging that tells young girls woman work hard but men should lead, girls can’t do math, and it’s okay for a man to make more money than a woman. (In Virginia, our gender pay gap shows that women only make 80 cents to every dollar a man makes.)

It’s because of these experiences that I’m going to fight harder and advocate more forcefully than anyone else. There is no need for me to appropriate other people’s life experiences because I have lived through my own. I’ve seen enough racial, gender, and cultural adversities for a lifetime; and I’m only 25.

I’m going to advocate for change because I need my future children to grow up in a Virginia where anti-Semitic slurs and Nazi symbols are never found. My Jewish partner and I worry that our family will continue to feel hate because of our identities and the cultures that we base our family values in. We must work together and across divides to prevent future discrimination.

We have to provide outlets for oppressed voices such as at risk youth, especially LGBTQ run-away and foster care youth, so they don’t feel isolated or think that suicide is their only way out of despair. That is their story to be told and I am going to fight to give them a voice and a seat at every table necessary in the mission for equality and protection.

As we approach the March for Science, I will fight for facts and empiricism because we only have one planet for humanity and I want to save and preserve our precious Earth. As a progressive and environmentally conscious candidate who isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right, I have sworn away contributions from corporations that do not work with or for the American public. As an example of that commitment, I was one of the first candidates in Virginia to pledge against donations from Dominion and Appalachian Power.

As a representative, I will work with Virginians as a true grassroots advocate to constantly hear the problems our community faces from the bottom up. It’s time for a change.  We must step away from institutions that have worked for themselves instead of the best interest of everyday Americans. Because I am an everyday American, I am ready to work together for Virginia.

It’s time for a fresh start and a new generation in politics.  Please join and support the movement to bring diverse voices and fresh perspectives to Virginia’s legislature and fight with the resistance against intolerance in all forms. Let’s continue writing Virginia’s narrative together.