Friends, we are just a day away from one of the most critical elections in US history….
And I thought it might be a good time to echo the sentiment from many during this past year,… regarding the importance of civic engagement and even thinking about a future in Politics.
For the past few months and years, in recent elections, we have seen many people achieve what seemed impossible… And recently so many stunning upsets in local and state primary and general elections against status quo politicians, and through grassroots organizing. Among the most notable are: Cori Bush; Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria-Ocasio Ortez, Ayanna Pressley, Marquita Bradshaw, etc..
I’ve personally been so inspired by their victories, especially the more recent primary wins of Cori Bush and Marquita Bradshaw, and I really hope they remain true to their values for standing with the most vulnerable among us, going into the general, hopefully with a win!
This past summer, during a routine jog around my neighborhood, in my childhood hometown, Oshkosh, Wisconsin… A quiet voice in my head emerged…and spoke to me: “Elsa, you should run for office”. It wasn’t too sudden, as just a few other people had mentioned it to me (in person and online)…But it was certainly the first time I felt it myself…And I documented that precise moment with a Selfie in front of some homes with Trump flags and signs in our little neighborhood :), as well as a post on my Facebook page to share among friends…. https://www.facebook.com/elsa.khwaja/posts/10157126352141572
After some reflection (actually perhaps A LOT of reflection), I don’t think it could be for me, without going into details at the moment. I won’t completely dismiss it, however I do feel that it’s important if we have so much passion for change, that it consumes us every morning, throughout the day, and the night before we go to sleep, in our dreams, and everywhere, that it’s really good to consider and reflect on this, as a potential option for our future… All of us should. YOU should…
Interestingly, right around that time that I had this “epiphany,” I received an email calling for applications from Ignite National to join the Fall 2020 Cohort. Ignite National (https://www.ignitenational.org/) is an organization the helps prepare women to become political leaders. They were inviting applications to train women to run for office in 10-session workshops for Fall 2020. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to sit in the virtual sessions, and explore the probability of running in the next few years. And while I’m figuring out the next steps of my academic career and completing a potential post-doctorate, perhaps I could set myself up for a RUN!
I filled out the application, and I wrote the essay/statement, around 500 words, and I never submitted it. As I said, I don’t really think I will pursue this. But since this is my personal blog/space … I just wanted to share the answer to one of the questions in the application here. This is the longest version that I wrote in one sitting, a little over 500 words. I then cut it for the application’s 300 word limit (I think). But I am sharing the full version here:
“What compels you to become a Political Leader in your Community?”
I believe in Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s statement wholeheartedly, that “the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”
My mission in life has always been to speak up authentically for the voices in the margins in whatever capacity I could. It was only recently, while working to finish up my doctorate in Public Policy, that I had a voice inside telling me that I should consider running for office. It was only in the past five years when conventional systems were starting to be questioned at a mainstream level, louder than ever, that I was able to understand, that I, as a Pakistani-Indian American Muslim Woman of color, and a Millenniel, with progressive values, and so many different intersections of my identity that puts my foot in so many different places, that I too can have a place of value in the American political structure. I understand what it feels like to be “in the margins” and feel invisible, like a “nobody,” in my own country where I was born and raised. Before that, I thought to just follow the status quo when voting in American politics, as I focused solely on international affairs and international human rights in academics and professional experiences. That pain of being “in the margins” has always been a huge factor driving my passion to serve in any way I could for those “in the margins.” And although my heart is in foreign and international development policy, I had come to realize how important it is to be serving at a community-level from my doctorate studies examining community-based empowerment, self-help initiatives, and local ownership of development programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Having experience and understanding of rural development policy abroad, and rural people, through my professional and academic experiences, and being originally from the small town of Oshkosh, WI, and a “Soil Scientist/Farmer’s daughter,” I may present a unique perspective in our communities, in that age-old “think global, act local” social phenomena, helping other leaders in our communities become empowered and rise to the occasion of change, and elevate voices that are normally marginalized and silenced. I believe a good leader is a leader that aims to help others be good leaders, even if it means standing in the sidelines supporting them. We not only need to represent the voices, we need to hear directly from them and give them the agency to serve themselves and their communities; something I learned firsthand by meeting and talking to villagers in Sindh, Pakistan for my doctorate studies. So many of us that have been closest to the pain in one way or another have not been given the opportunity to harness our own potential, and know that we too can have agency and access to power for the public good. I believe in policy-making from the bottom-up, reconceptualizing our “social contract” for future generations. And during these revolutionary times, regardless of feeling like a “nobody” sometimes, I know that my presence is needed, that I do have a place here in the United States of America, and I want to help others see that they too are needed to help transform the very systems that have pushed so many of us in the margins. Let’s go!
I have to emphasize that I have strongly believed that good Political leaders are those that recognize “the goodness” in others and can bring out the “agency” of leadership in others.
I hope that these reflections from a “nobody” like me, can at least encourage others who really feel an inclination to take action, to consider running for office at the local and state level. It is clear that the changes we want won’t be immediate, so in the meantime we prepare…and we get behind those who are preparing for the necessary changes…Either way…I would support anyone running for office, those who want to see real change, that could help the most vulnerable, to the very systemic issues halting change today.
As for me…as I come closer to turning a chapter in my life…I feel that running for office may mean time away from “creativity,” social science, and “scholarship,” and I don’t think I can do that after spending 9-10 years on a doctorate degree… (Will discuss the details of this trajectory in a future post)…
And as I’ve been figuring out the next step, I’ve been reflecting on how precisely my identity intersections and different forces and ideologies have pulled me in various directions throughout my life… often creating a lot of confusion…which can be understandable….but I have to say my passion is really in Academia, research, writing (scholarly and creative) and activism. Research, particularly fieldwork within my graduate studies grounded me, and is a naturally humbling and rewarding endeavor if you allow it to be. I’ll share more about this in another post in the near future.
A friend recently informed me that activism might be a good place for me. Activism is where my passion for global affairs started actually… I think I always had the “Scholar-Activist” in me perhaps since high school and well into college years… I am still sort of exploring and reflecting on how precisely this scholar-activism role can pan out, if possible, and with my short-term and long-term goals…
There is a responsibility that we must acknowledge as academics, and especially many of us in the humanities and social sciences, and I will stop here with this profound quote I came across just the other day, because it speaks for itself, and I’d like to reflect on this more in the future:
Thank you for reading!
And I hope if you have a voice inside telling you that you should RUN, and you feel it may be your calling, that you’ll do it!
And I’ll be here, on the sidelines cheering you on…
Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,
The Warrior KQueen
“She wasn’t looking for a knight. She was looking for a sword.” –Atticus