Fayrouz Saad: Our elected leaders should look, act and sound like us

If elected in 2018, Fayrouz Saad would be the first Muslim American woman to serve in Congress. She joins Amna Nawaz on "Uncomfortable" and opens up about how her identity is shaping her campaign and her plans to effect real change in government.
38:41 | 11/14/17

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Transcript for Fayrouz Saad: Our elected leaders should look, act and sound like us
Everyone welcome to comfortable I am on the size this is the place or we try to conversations. In depth and honest way about some of the issues seemed to be dividing America right so I'm really pleased today to introduce Hutu our guest here in studio all the way from Michigan. Very side is here with us she's a candidate for the eleventh congressional district. Seat in Michigan and when he eighteen thanks for being here thanks for having me so let's talk about your candidacy first of all this limit history tied to it because if you win. You'll be the very first. Female must run to serve in the house are represented that right that's right. I'm sure that it informs your candidacy in all kinds of ways and I wanna talk about that as we don't mind the way things like to do years trying to understand where people are coming from McNamee but. They do believe what they do. So tell me the story via. Yeah you now I say it quite simply that. I named the product of the American dream and that's my story my parents came here from Lebanon over forty years ago. In search of that American drain they found in Michigan and my dad started this loan me wholesale business in Detroit's eastern market. That grew and flourished and they found success hair and I watched and be successful. I watch them integrate into America raise six children and one of six. And we are you I'm in the met all. And sometimes people say hello you don't seem like a medal count in the mine I'm running for congress does anything else say. Palin I mean. So but nevertheless and I parents were wonderful to all of us and each one of us higher loan opportunities. And you know date they pushed us into the direction in. To go to college and to be successful. To choose the path that was passed for asses and from me they really inspired me and seen. That success that they were able. I entered into Korea and public service because of rats. And a lot of things that when intend that decision everything for. My day at post 9/11 experience. And it's and a freshman and Collins on. Am and that day. My parents. Not knowing exactly what was going of course like like the rest of us became nitpick man from camp ants. I was the first of my six siblings to. Go away for college which really matters only half RO evident is living on campus and it was a big DL. Her handling. But they take me home man and up until that day I had no idea actually. That Muslims wearing guard. In this light rain. And all all or parents for him. And so that was eye opening. That. Plant was even more profound for mean it was returned to campus a few days later. I've owned my day. Roommates and classmates. And some others who they are waiting for me and L welcomed back. And it was such a touching moment speak it's. A few sad day let we're here for EU Latin it's now if you have any problems encampments. And where instant. And yes it was reeling having experience and when I think acts. It every decade bats. That goes on it it's even more touching the emotions of that date on leave me. It's also very different from. Americans have an eleven experience name. Those stories. Are you because engineers your generation. And the community. We have people like. Diapers and it was adverse environments. I did grow up in a city had a light concentration of Arab ends. So IA had the opportunity to feel way. Iowa as her community you know I never felt necessarily. Out of place based off of my name lawyer privilege and or ethnicity or that way. And so forth by at the same time. Had friends who came from all different backgrounds. And so it weighs really great way to grow. And hence why I think that moment and it was so shocking to me because I grew up and a place and points. We our all the same. You know he had a slight differences banana and lastly the same. And it way it's cool beak as I got to. Grow up really diving into my culture in. I learn to speak Arabic crying but then of course Inglis is experts it's you know I went to. Him. Public school. On had friends to. Had the same environment as mean back home or different environment and Antony came over age you know act in my mom's name is excited about bats. And I mean who really thought that this is flat rest of them go way. Band to. It isn't until after the and cat hanging went into it doesn't change how colleges always changing experience. Or any. Any right and go into a really big school UN team received Michigan right hat and and it's a liberal college is welts oh. So it's not to say that it's. I said Eileen felt play an outsider by any means speak as they cared they that it campus with even more diapers and mark rich then. What I had grown up when. It's. I sent a plane was exposed to a whole new world. Make of people who are coming from all over the country. All over the world who hadn't necessarily. Been exposed to someone like many. So that was interesting and ate it allowed me actually appreciate my identity even more beak is. I got a chance to tell people what it means to be Arab. Way. I mean I say I'm months. What that means in terms of practice what it does it. And really allowed me the opportunity to help break dance tips for people and help answer quest and Henry Lee be representative. Of community. It's funny because it's almost like you find yourself in the same position now than it is and it looked at the video that you at least announcing her candidacy. Hughes started with a joke that this is my name and but you may not recognize me and by this stadium significant leads names and you went through on your Starbucks name like the many ways and Richard name has been butchered. By various. Master mechanic and a X fest. It's just easier to get it but you you're speaking to people outside of your community to some degree is coming a little bit about that like who who are you. Trying to convince to vote Korea in this eleventh district. So I think. Up wet really motivates me to my. To run for office to begin this that I believe I could be a representative for people. That I can be someone who represents. Progressive values and no matter who you while higher. Whether you to be you come from the same background as me in terms of ethnicity or village and or maybe eve and we see you went to the university in Michigan and there's a lot of pride there where Lam from. All are or not where you have a completely different background you group in a completely different environment where you've never. Met an Arab and assignment and your life man and you know only how to certain tape of career. That I still believe that I can represent you know and so you know way. With the video what Atlantis. Specifically trying to accomplish India like hey this is my name. You may not have never heard at the flier who has Starbucks messed up their name on it cut anyway shape or form. But. There's all these other things about me as well that. Gave me have have driven my experiences in life for years and make me want to fight for dollar it is. That district the eleventh that this is. Has been held by a Republican bray and for the last two. Elections. He. Just look at Victor is as surging. Districts asked for animal that so if you're watching in you can even at its screamed I mean wouldn't that shake even I don't know that it. Like a puzzle piece who. So this year that look who is that your trying to appeal to you and how what at the demographics what do you do in what's the messaging to get to these. Still I believe so I hold true to. South as a progressive candidate in the progressive values that drive and I believe that. The air. Is a need for that in the district and as people who are looking for a candidate that wants to talk about issues everything from. Universal health care to protecting our environment. Two other issues like how to promote her small businesses which is very important to me and then. Fee they background that I come and really understanding. The strength of our small businesses and they're the backbone of our economy especially in a place Lake Michigan. So. I don't. I want to. Re the take these values. That I believe that people want to hear more about. And speak to them in a way that brink all people. Into my campaign really and and into my message and and hopefully to the polls to vote for me because. IE. Have had this wealth of experience in my career in which everything that I've done has been driven by way. That it's. Communication and that relationship with the people that I'm serving whether it was in state legislature or under the Obama administration. Most recently for mayor Mike stag and who. And really taking attempt additional people were hurt and then implementing into programs or policies and so that's what I'm trying to do care. I'm trying to say to the people of the eleventh district that. Like we align on a lot of common values. And we need to talk about them and I want to understand more about what you while believing in and what you need to see an active leader. And let me tell you why. I can help make things happen for you as your representative in Washington because I'm gonna work when you know and I'm gonna work for. You mentioned all your years in service youth he spent a lot of time. In government. On the local level on on the statement rather on the federal level or government in chief and I mean on paper here like. This pristine candidate right you leave a bachelor's and Michigan and actors from Harvard Kennedy school no big deal. You worked for the Kerry campaign in Michigan State politics you're appointed. President Obama for and DH asked credit Department of Homeland Security. And then you went to me cheek and to fill the role that it basically being created for right in the mayor's office as the director. The office of immigrant affairs gap Tommy about that why with that job even in the mayor's office. So it was so. Alien first Emma and I didn't exactly answer your question but it was so cool to be able to have this opportunity Davis. And the may care had. Being really interested in finding in creating this position in happiness opposite happening this girl because he believes and in the race and as a key element revitalization. Economic development. For any urban area and certainly for the city to trite. And so I have didn't help people I wouldn't immigrant affairs I was doing economic development. Because we are working with immigrant communities. To integrate them into. Government programs and services that just in name called economic prosperity and economic growth. So is everything my connecting them to. Programs that promoted small businesses to help expand our businesses from entrepreneurship. Tip reminding homeowners. And everything from. Making those direct can acts at a high level. To understanding what the bearing years and some of the basic challenges where or. Now. In a city like Detroit that hat is a lack you know I'll a lot of potential and a lot of pains that. You know it will take two opinions really help it meet its full potential. You know we we really need to work with the people of the city tapped to help men. Help to try achieve its potential and part of that was working and immigrant communities in the city. And if you look at the metro Detroit area as well at emigrant community has been so vibrant and so robots and sell much of our it's. Economy. In it I really wanted to. You know help Detroit be part. In the seat where. Population is an. 80% African yeah yeah. Is there any sense. Like ash against having a rule like because their party still many people there that economic investment in kind of attention and the mayor's office. Rather than focusing on people who were recently. Say oh. No. Because there you know that well because we tell at that time to work way. The other communities. To help them. Make sure that they knew what Weaver doing says his government transparency. Right so in and of itself. You know maybe before I got to the people people you know may have felt a certain way. Maybe if we hadn't taken the time who knows what their reaction. And have her. Because. We hoped the time to me shall lives. That leaders of different communities knew what we are doing everything from refugee resettlement to economic development programs. We met with faith leaders we met with neighborhood organizations. That we are working directly thing. To again and let them know exactly what we were working and waiting for them. We weren't necessarily creating any. Additional incentives or programs just to meet the needs of immigrant communities that we Regis taking letter Eddy existed in helping and help to ensure that people have access to these programs. So once we were able to effectively communicate and build those relationships with other communities across the city as well. There was a lot of open yes and commitments to reduce your chances. Four election. That are. They Trott who has held the seat theater going to run for re election. You habit and democratic primary brain and that primaries and it's them. So what is you're comparative advantage how are you in the wind. So I believe very strongly in the grass roots and a grassroots movements. I think that that is why they have tried as a running for real action in the activists got to and he says. There has and sex and in invigorating. And grassroots movement in the eleventh this news everything from indivisible groups too and groups that it organ days. And are protesting at his office. Blake weekly at least what is it that's when things get them everything from health care for him his decision earlier and a year to vote to repeal the ACA. Two. And the V doc decision. Really. And so it's everything that they believe that he stands for that they stand in its. And so the activist movement in this district has been quite inspired. It's people are amused me. Making sure that their whole means their elected officials accountable and and Dave that was part of that movement inherently. Weekly action call his office and protests that scouting is off and dude that's. And it was organ and that's what was so impressed that so I say that test to say to emphasize that. Grassroots. Make a big difference and every action and every movement and for me. That is where I believe I am sister news. Really understanding how to get to the grassroots what what field strategy needs to look. Heidi and France Heidi in different people the masses people the opportunity to ask questions. As well and provide you with being I do everything for and going to house parties and the district two. Ensuring that my social media platforms are engaging. ID something called. They spent feedback Friday it's like every other. Okay in liked it's just like an open for. Asked. Me any question you want. Lives and you take questions and well it's not live there it's your posting and so people are and to people are posting their questions and I'm answering questions. Got everything from everything from health care Q where you stand on climate to. How do you feel about student debt to. You know way high it will what do you think about note that gig economy I mean. Everything and so it was really cool to watts to the type questions people came in. With because it shows that people really. Want to yes it's they want to see how people that one. Before they send their next representative to congress into Washington debut new economy short the Packers and knows what they're talking about and aligns with them. Politics is that weird having his didn't have I was is reading about how the way some of the anger had manifests itself. On the part of the criticism against mr. Trott with that he stopped showing up to eighty because he didn't want to face some of those activists. But there was one story I was reading about I was absent from a town hall. And this is from the news reports angry constituents brought a light chicken this is his previous two exemplify their feelings on how difficult has it been. To reach him on issues important. We just as the weirdest thing are very active but. It leads me to this which is how how do you plan to do things. Differently in the FaceBook forum seemed to view one part of it but what what do you think is different about you what you printed. The first and foremost. The it again any position that I've ever done in public service has been through working directly with the people and so. I understand the need for having each Mendes. And and that is and that is something frankly that. I knew I want to do because I'm really acting with the people it's may favorite part of an inch and so I think. Very. Pratt and senator is hold more regular town halls an office in coffee. And ensure that your constituents feel like they have a Catholic communication union. And so that is definitely one thing I would do differently. And further mar you know I believe a big piece of that is developing relationship when the constituents and with the people use her. And really having that to help inform the decisions that you're make making and Washington. And when I talk about my experience having worked at the state and federal level. The other end yes it was great experience and very fortunate that what it really taught me it's one. How legislation comes together to. How decisions are made it you know in big bureaucracies and in federal government and then. What happens when all of how all of those things come together and how it's actually affecting people in unity. I'm and a dated date base and so. Wanting to take that to Washington so we you know when when your. Voting on belts when you're talking about legislation when your crafting legislation. You're also thinking about how is is actually an act people. In their homes. I'm of the big time on it especially on the federal level and those are talking about a national level now there is. They basically a culture war to a large degree especially surrounding the way we talk about politics men and I wonder. You know. You got the facts you've got the experience. There was this wonderful quote from a previous report and Gannett and had a butcher right now but it is the idea of this witches and -- you bringing facts to a culture wars like bringing a knife to a gun rights. We just say there's a lot of people who are fighting for something. Sort of intangible. Right. And I wonder how you appeal to that what's your messaging to those folks who say I don't care how good you look on paper from I want someone who's gonna go and raise hell for it by eight or support my president or whatever it. And I. Well you you you gotta make a candidate all right and so you think you know got to work. In the next part of having relationship. Is and helping is really happening people in understand what it means for them. So for example why I say I was ending immigrant affairs analyst in economic development. Because a big part of what we DA it is that me turn this issue of immigration and immigrant affairs. And we needed an economic issue. We should people that this is what immigration means this is how it's affected or GDP this is how. Many this is the percentage of the population of immigrants are entrepreneur or is this is their contribution. To the economy right. In making you feel real for people. And Eric are like this is how it's affecting. Their claim some. How much. Has your identity could you also live at this intersection of a lot of different and it didn't come into the headlines over the last year after your woman. You're visible minorities here must slow them. How is that played into the campaign to far has it not to mention it has come up. Is that it's only shouldn't that he now it's not a silly question that I mean. Right my my identity is very much part of who I am right there there is in and day in which I for gates you know who I am my grant come from. Any day I have to say my name first of you know it's a concert marking period ending in nothing else. And so I speak for me it suggests. Re emphasizes. Why day. Yeah I bring a unique experience. Through everything through not just the work I've done but. The way I was raised learned how my identity has can create a park and the bill roles that I've played in terms of my career. And the feeling play guy a I have me. You based off these experiences. I AK and how informed James and a way that others won't be able to do so for example. You know teen can. You know being a woman. Understanding what that means we're what type of experiences women have in the workforce when they are in May be male dominated field since I. Challenges that we face every day I was a woman working and national security often times it was the only woman in the rumor the only minority in the room. You know or something. And yet being able to. Speak on. With those experience says an understanding. What women are facing every day challenges we're facing every day and and the way that is until legislation it's everything frowned. Just being a voice at the table and saying that. This is why we need to fight for affordable child care because this is why more women are and knows fruits because sometimes. Air force to make those decisions between carriers and and you know paying for their child children's child care. So I think it's it all just plays a role in understanding what are the challenges that people are facing. Based off a number of different backgrounds that they might come from whether it's gender whether it's ethnicity whether it. It's race or religion or adjust its you know socioeconomic status for the neighborhood they grew up in all our. The day that type of roll their parents' place. But why you run for office to exact kind of change could you eat. In so many different agencies he did you could kind of implement that in different ways in different roles while you run for office why go to Washington to do. Because those. Our elected representatives. At bat really at all levels of government but especially at Washington and has a huge impact that they're playing an hour every daylights. Everything from the decisions they're making earn and what goes into legislation to how they legislation. To their the role that they're playing an informing the narrative. And we the need to send more people in Washington. Who bring diverse opinions who come from diverse backgrounds everything from diapers career backgrounds to. Day duty there at their background an identity in and bringing those diverse experiences as well because if where gonna have a representative. Democracy and representative. Government then. Those we those have to beat the elected leaders as well I'll write say they also are elected leadership also look act and sound let us. During the this pass election. You were supporting Hillary Clinton. Thank you are running in an initiative are involved an initiative called air Americans for Hillary and her there was an article which you were quoted in people asks you know it's before the election and someone asked you about went. It would look like for the year and there and community under term presidency. And I think you're put at the time with something like. We're not even thinking about that right now Anna and that it that you said I can't even imagine right now and not you are living it didn't know I wonder. How it's going. It's hard to. That. It is also. What prices and everything. We mean it would be it's a constant reminder of have to do. Because it's. Eight hanging Seth. I need to be park. Those of us that are fighting back and for me I found. That best way from mean do you that most impact. That I can have was running for office and hopes that high and be an elected representative in congress and by far the values that I believe believe it. And every single day that goes I and something sadder something happens I'm reminded of dealing speak as a topic. When you if you win you and you go to Washington. You would basically be serving in congress under president. Working with president. Of how would you plant and positioning itself because it's you know people have kind of state panel that for parts of landscape firmly in the opposition. Pragmatically trying to find bipartisan issues to work together on. Where would you be I would you position yourself. I think. IE no matter what I plan B for progress an entity for change for an island be for finding solutions. And a lot of that will be determined by what the environment looks like when I get there as well and he also. Motivated by the way they constituents are telling means they won just so. Let you know what are the issues that there there's an in Washington to really fight for shall. Hope by those issues. And but at the end of the day I want ago because Allen and packed change and one seat. Progress inner. And I will add I remember. Right after. Election. IA analysts in there there is another inning and it's I was asked if islets fair. And I said that I watch because it believed in the democratic process. Am and I was reaffirmed. Earlier this year when US democracy really kicking in it's fine test. In terms. Just how the judicial branch and the legislative branch and earnings of course the executive branch were really all. Tests. Offsetting one ray. And acting checks in now exactly exact exactly which way is the exact intention innocent afford our constitution and and so. That is why it's important to be in congress speak as you act is that tack and now span you know I really think we need checks and balances. It strikes me as are having this conversation. To round mostly women in the room it's my own accounts at freak a lot of people out but it unity talk about the diversity of America and the changing demographics and America. Those scenes facts and figures. Are very unsettling to a lot of people because they're in familiar or scary or fear inducing for whatever reason. Then we can put it to the thigh. You know when you bump up against. Now. How EU. Occupying the space general that you do in this country how do you address because surely gonna come here this early in this campaign going to have to address. More overtly a lot of things. I. In terms. With Eagle County NC that I don't know that I can trust it most to represent mean. In congress I you know I don't know anything Hatcher and I have never been to Dearborn high. The only thing I ever hear about your faith is that I should be scared of people who described it. How do you confront. Let me tell you about myself. Let me tell you my story. Let me tell you why I Wear a light and different. And eat one of the most surprising statistics to me is that I think it's about 62 or 63%. Americans say that they the government amongst. So right there for me tells me why people might think batter might feel that way because in my they've never madam Islam. And so this is my Cafferty unity and ten Hulk. Then meet one end and see that there's nothing to be afraid and it. We eat all our we have so much my arm in common and we do. Different. I wouldn't accept. People who pull that to be true or not. We have to keep saying now and I think week I just really believe that. I gotta keep pushing. And I have to keep telling my story telling the story of there is. You know really can't hitting home YAU. Miami. Nice story is. You need to mean everyone has area on unique experience but it's not unique to America. And that is really what brings us up to god there is this belief in the American dream. And so I just gates it's really guest. Finding those commonality. In another interview you talked about why you decided to Ryan you said that you keynote boy aid in congress and represented it faces and experiences. To inform some of the decisions being made their specifically young term minority faces and they guess. This is something that's been debated a lot and curious to get your take for all the demographic changes in our country. For all the many ways in which we are different now in January 25 years ago. Why is it's still so hard. For young minority Americans to break in. To those roles in particular is it the institutions keeping that matter is that a lack of interest in getting it. I'll say well if so what I'm finding right now is is what I. A rate in new but not to the degree and tell I started like running for congress is heartened. And it takes a lot time it takes money take Slattery source says. And it is really hard and so I think that that is at barrier that's in place for. A lot of people you know women minorities for marine and people from immigrant communities. And and then the air. Aren't a lot. Institutional things in place to help break down experience. So I would say that's probably. The big histories and now in terms. Whether it's a lack of interest I think that that's changing his laugh and where seen acts. Communities. Of color are mar engage. Then they ever have and it at least the communities that I for actors and I'll give you an example. In 2000 and forums where equipment and Kerry campaign and I was a field organizer but I was also doing Arab American outreach. For the campaign. And eat you know they're there was impeachment by the community but there's a lot of resistance is flat out. There it it was saying necessarily. Always easy to go to a community leader faith based institution and asked to trying hold even a voter registration. And wasn't that needs me. There was just they'll allow a bit of a lack of interest. Bitter about the the I would say amongst the community it's not to say that it was across the board but it did exist again. In 2016. We're holding candidate forms and masks. So it just to show you in fourteen years we've come. A long way and they community. Is definitely engage and and definitely paying attention there's always worked. And I hate. Eat eat I give work as a grassroots organizer and these communities to help register voters and get people out to them and engage them. An educate them on their voting rights and and who and what is going to be on the ballots. And now I think it's important that we're also part part of the system and in part of the institution and and part of contacts. This thick weigh on you at all what's at stake that if you were to win what it would mean for. A lot of people out there who would look at you and say oh well if she could do it. And maybe that means that I could do it to two could be potentially the first woman Muslim to serve in congress so that weigh on you at all. It inspires me and I'm certainly a for the challenge. Guns answers he ticket again I could look. There is a candidate for Michigan's eleventh district congressional seats thanks for being here to act thanks so much. Thank you for listening to and comfortable each of our episode is now available on the tune in at. 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