Fayrouz Saad is firm when she said her candidacy is not only about her chance to make history as the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress. Yes, that's part of her mission, since she believes that people from all backgrounds should have a seat at the table. But for the Michigan native, her choice to run for office stemmed from a lifelong desire: Protecting the American Dream.
"My parents came here simply in search of the American Dream," she told Refinery29. "I always thought that I would eventually run for office, but Donald Trump certainly sped up my timeline because for the first time in my entire life I see that American Dream threatened."
Saad, the 34-year-old daughter of Lebanese immigrants, is part of a wave of women who have cited Trump and what they believe are his harmful policies as their inspiration to seek elected office in 2018. Beyond the president, she said she was also inspired to run to represent Michigan's 11th District by what she considers inaction by Republican Rep. Dave Trott. He is one of the many GOP congressmen who won't seek re-election this year and several Democrats beyond Saad are also vying for his seat, hopping the district can be flipped blue. (The Cook Political Report, which rates congressional races, says that as of now the election is a "toss up.")
Even though she is a first-time candidate, Saad has an arsenal of experience that could make her very on-brand for Democrats in 2018: She’s a young woman of color, with a solid track record as a public servant at the local, state, and federal level — including a stint at the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration. Saad is well-educated, earning degrees at the University of Michigan and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. And she also calls herself "unapologetically progressive" — with a platform that includes raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, investing in childcare subsidies and creating a federal paid family leave law, protecting Dreamers, and fixing the Affordable Care Act and pushing for Medicare for All.
"We need elected officials to talk about a number of issues. Healthcare and education are rights; having a livable wage, a job that pays you well so that you can afford to own your home and take care of your family," she said. "These are things that should be rights in this country and we need elected officials who also believe in that."
Saad said she wants to "change the face of leadership in this country" and that means opening the door for people of all backgrounds to have the opportunity to serve in office. She used as an example how 13 men, and not even one woman, helped draft the first version of the Senate's Obamacare repeal and replace bill.
"These men were deciding how healthcare should look like in a country that's 51% women," Saad said. "That's ridiculous."
But getting diversity in the political spheres is a tough job, especially for someone whose religion has been increasingly demonized and attacked in recent years — particularly by the current president of the United States.
When asked if there's been pushback against the fact she's a Muslim woman running for office, Saad is pretty honest. She said that anyone, no matter their background, is making themselves vulnerable and open to criticism the moment they choose to put themselves out there and seek elected office. But she also said that the "Twitter trolls" were actively going after her within 24 hours after she launched her campaign.
But even though to be a woman, particularly a woman of color, on the internet can be awful, Saad doesn't let those people shake her confidence — and she sees it as an opportunity to educate others.
"I use that as motivation. This is why I need to run. I want to inform the narrative. I want people to have a better understanding of those with different race, ethnicity, faith backgrounds," she said. "I need to continue to be out there and fight for the progressive values I believe in."
But while she's faced the ugly side of people who don't accept her as a candidate, she said she has also encountered support from constituents she didn't expect would come out to help her campaign. That is inspiring to Saad because it points at a desire to make the nation better, despite the divisiveness.
"It’s not about me, it’s about a larger movement. It's about people wanting to make change in this country," she said.
And even though Saad knows that her candidacy is much more than making history as a Muslim woman, she also understands the impact that winning could have on young women everywhere.
"Hopefully young women, regardless of their background, can look towards me and other women and say: 'Okay, I can be that,'" she said. "I want young girls to grow up in a world in which it doesn't even occur to them that they can't run for office one day."
2018 will see an unprecedented number of female candidates in ballots across the country.More than 500 women are currently running for the House, Senate, or governorships — and that's without taking into account the number of candidates vying for local and statewide seats. Refinery29 is committed to spotlight female candidates, but particularly women of color, who have risen up to the challenge to say: "It's our turn."