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Rashida Tlaib, the midterms, and the pursuit of politicians who look like us

This midterm election gave us the most diverse Congress our nation has ever seen, but does representation mean alignment?

For those not living in Michigan, Rashida Tlaib’s congressional win seemingly came out of nowhere. And yet, Muslims and Palestinian Americans everywhere didn’t hesitate to celebrate following Tlaib’s victories.  Pleasantly surprised and inspired, I decided to do my own research on Tlaib.

Rashida Tlaib ran on a platform of being a non-traditional candidate who saw herself as more of an activist than a politician; a sentiment that helped propel her to victory in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District as they looked to replace former Representative John Conyers Jr. Before resigning last year amid sexual harassment allegations, Conyers’ resume included co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus and being the first lawmaker to propose the making of a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As a result, those vying for his seat needed a history of standing by minority communities.

Rashida Tlaib had it.

Rashida Tlaib ran on a platform of being a non-traditional candidate who saw herself as more on an activist than a politician; a sentiment that helped propel her to victory Click To Tweet

From protesting President Trump during a speech at the Detroit Economic Club in 2016 to trespassing on corporate land to test for pollution, Tlaib was truly an activist. When speaking to the New York Times, Tlaib said “much of her strength came from being Palestinian” and never shying away from her identity.

Even on the night of her primary win, Tlaib’s mother draped her in a Palestinian flag.

This strong identification with her Palestinian-American background alongside her history of activism helped her win MI-13. Yet, no matter how proud Tlaib was of her identity, she advocated for policies that hurt the very group of Palestinian Americans she championed.

Many Palestinian Americans assumed that Tlaib's pride in her identity would translate to having an ally on the floor of Congress. They learned that it wasn’t a guaranteed reality. Click To Tweet

During the race, we saw a candidate endorsed by lobby group J Street, an organization that required a candidate to oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, and support the continued military aid to Israel. This deeply concerned me and many other Palestinian-Americans who believed that the BDS movement and the use of aid as a bargaining tool was vital in encouraging Israel to end their human rights violations. Both of which Tlaib didn’t support.

Today, the situation is different. A week after having won the primary election, Tlaib finally spoke out on the issue and reversed her decision by no longer supporting aid to Israel until it complied with international law. Moreover, she’d declared that she was willing to stand behind the BDS movement. With that,  J Street removed its endorsement and the worries of her followers subsided.

It was then, and only then, did it seem that Tlaib might truly stand to do her part in providing a Palestinian-American voice in Congress.

Though, what is troubling to me is how so many supporters beyond MI-13 were satisfied with the fact that a Palestinian-American Muslim woman had even won the primary despite not doing anything to guarantee that this victory was truly one beneficial for Palestinian and Muslim Americans alike. Thousands from beyond MI-13 were ready to cheer her on without a second thought, even if her stance was more harmful to Palestinians compared to those of other members in Congress with no connection to Palestine.

This election cycle, therefore, taught me something especially valuable as more minorities run for office: we can’t quietly assume that those who look like us will always support us. More importantly, we can’t tell ourselves that the fact they’ve made it that far as a minority in America is enough. This notion of “existence is resistance” cannot allow us to accept politicians who enact harmful policies. It is an injustice to ourselves.

Election Day has come and gone, and Rashida Tlaib is no longer the Democratic candidate for MI-13. She’s the representative. Yes, we can celebrate her. However, it’s also our responsibility to continue diligently watching her and her policies.

We can’t quietly assume that those who look like us will always support us. Click To Tweet

After all, Tlaib only spoke out and lost J Street’s endorsement after the public showed their outrage. So we must let any politician seeking to represent us know that we are watching and listening because, at the end of the day, the election of any politician is dependent on our satisfaction.