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Power to the Polls

The Former Obama Staffer Fighting to Be the First Muslim Woman in Congress

Fayrouz Saad, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, sees herself as the "product of the American Dream." If elected, she wants to keep that dream alive for others.

Leila Ettachfini

Leila Ettachfini

Image courtesy of Fayrouz Saad

In honor of the Women’s March and their “Power to the Polls” initiative, we're highlighting progressive women and nonbinary candidates on the 2018 ballot. You can read more of their stories here.

As the 2016 presidential election approached, Fayrouz Saad was ready; she’d already bought her plane tickets to DC to attend what she thought would be America’s first presidential inauguration of a woman.

But Saad—like the majority of the country, of course—found herself disappointed with the results as they rolled in on November 8, 2016. By the end of the night, she had plane tickets to DC for an event that wouldn’t be happening and a future president who ran on a platform opposing everything she stood for.

Saad is the 34-year-old Muslim daughter of Lebanese immigrants, a former Obama administration employee, and an “unapologetic progressive.” She’s also a 2018 candidate for Congress representing Michigan’s 11th District.

Instead of giving up her DC plane tickets, Saad used them to attend the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, which took place the day after Trump was elected. “I came out of that march and out of that entire experience certainly renewed in my beliefs,” she tells Broadly. “I knew I wanted to certainly do something to push back against the administration, to fight back against what [Trump] represented, and to fight for these progressive values and issues.”

Saad is running for a multitude of reasons that can be condensed into the fact that, ironically, the Trump administration is threatening the very things she believes make America great. Preserving the American dream is one. “A lot of what's inspired me to be a public servant and run for Congress is the story of my parents and my family,” she tells me. When her parents immigrated to Michigan over 40 years ago, they were simply in search of that dream, she says. They soon started a small meat business, Saad Wholesale Meats, in Detroit’s Eastern Market. The company has recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Saad, who is both a University of Michigan and Harvard graduate as well as a former Department of Homeland Security employee under the Obama administration, considers her achievements a result of her parents’ vision and hard work. “I'm the product of that American dream,” she says. “I'm running for Congress because I want to protect that American dream and I see it being threatened right now by the Trump administration. It really worries me.”

Saad is hoping to shake up the narrative in Congress and she’s adamant that the rhetoric coming from the GOP in the last year is not only distasteful, but harmful and unacceptable. “The way our elected officials talk about issues and talk about their opinions on things makes a difference,” she says. “We need elected leaders who talk about these very important issues in an informed way… we shouldn’t settle for anything but holding our elected leaders and representatives to the highest standards. ”

"Our country is made up of these different groups of people of different backgrounds and ethnicities and religions and ages, and it's important that our elected representatives represent the electorate.”

Part of being informed, Saad believes, is having a seat at the table for everyone. She’s quick to point out that Congress is currently 19 percent female, despite representing a country where 51 percent of the population are women. Additionally, the average age of our Congress members is 57 and they remain disproportionately white in comparison to the American population. “It's important that we have representation in all regards: gender representation, ethnic representation, age representation,” says Saad. “Our country is made up of these different groups of people of different backgrounds and ethnicities and religions and ages, and it's important that our elected representatives represent the electorate.”

Though Michigan houses the city with the highest Arab American population in the US, it hasn’t been immune to the growing Islamophobia under the Trump administration. Saad recalls that last year a man told her brother, “I can't wait for Donald Trump to send you back to your country,” at a local 7/11 that she and her family have been going to for years. Saad believes that such Islamophobia can be combated if we elect the right leaders. “I think it just speaks to what Trump has emboldened in this country and what he's created and why we need more progressives in office,” she says.

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During our conversation, Saad tells me that she met with a Dreamer from her district earlier that morning who was around 9 years old when he came to America from Mexico. “He wants to be a counselor for young kids because his high school counselor really helped shape his life,” she says. “That's the story of dreamers; that's what they're doing.” Immigration reform is high on Saad’s platform because she’s spent much of her career working alongside immigrants of all backgrounds. While serving as the director of immigrant affairs under Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Saad met with immigrant small business owners, recently resettled refugees, and dreamers alike, and worked with local agencies to find solutions for them.

Saad thinks that Trump’s recent comments about immigrants coming from “shithole” countries were absolutely ridiculous. “We cannot accept that from our elected leaders,” she says. “Everytime I see or hear about something that Trump has done or said, it's a reminder of why we're in this fight.”