I was born during a snowstorm at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago on January 25, 1978. My father, who’d immigrated from Pakistan 9 years earlier, worked full time and studied at night to become a Certified Public Accountant. My mother, who came to this country from Peru in 1972, eventually earned a degree and became an ESL teacher. But most of my life she worked odd jobs to help make ends meet.
On top of their day jobs—and raising me and my brother—my parents spent evenings and weekends scraping paint and wallpaper, removing carpet, and restoring our old house. If they could increase its value, they could afford to move us to a neighborhood where gangs and crime were not a daily concern.
When I was in second grade, my parents finally found a house to buy in Park Ridge—“A nice place to shop,” according to a sign displayed in the uptown district. It was a nice place to grow up, too. The schools were great. My first jobs were at the local movie theater and a car dealership owned by my friend’s father. My uncle married a German-American woman, and her family embraced ours as their own.
I was a brown girl, and the daughter of immigrants, but I didn’t feel out of place. In the early ‘80s in Park Ridge, the American Dream seemed alive and well. All it took to succeed was good character and hard work.
My Political Awakening
In December of 1998, I attended my first political protest. As the House of Representatives started impeachment hearings, rather conspicuously, Bill Clinton launched a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq. I was finishing my political science degree at Wheaton College, and had spent the previous semester in Washington, D.C. studying at American University. And in what would foretell two decades of endless war, I was watching the President fire Tomahawk missiles at a sovereign state without Congressional approval.
But as I was marching in the streets against this illegal use of force, I felt more helpless than hopeful. Politics seemed abstract, cynical. So I started turning away from government and toward the arts.
After school I moved to New York City and began to discover myself. I’d grown up in an evangelical Christian church, which taught that being gay was a sin. For nearly two decades I did all I could to keep that part of me hidden. In the big city, I finally found a community where I felt safe being me.
Coming out of the closet wasn’t a quick or easy process, and it’s taught me that you can’t get anywhere without support from your allies. Today, I’m proud to have been a founding member of OneWheaton, a group of alumni supporting LGBTQ and Questioning students at my alma mater. And I will continue to work, for the rest of my life, to end violence against minority groups of all stripes until we’ve established genuine equal protection, under the law, for everyone.
In 2010, after moving to Los Angeles, I found a street canvassing job with Peace Action. I didn’t realize it at first, but standing outside grocery stores, smiling, waving and talking to strangers, showed me how democratic change is actually made: boots-on-the-ground organizing. Dealing with the rejection, soaring temperatures, and angry store managers—all while working for very little pay—sometimes made me want to give up. But in those moments of doubt, all I had to do was look at what our team at Peace Action was accomplishing. We helped pass the Iran Nuclear Deal, the New START Treaty (which reduced deployed nuclear weapons to pre-1950 levels), and sped up troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
One protest against a bombing might not do much. But I discovered that if you go out into the streets and organize every single day, you can literally change the future.
MY REASON FOR RUNNING
I never anticipated leaving my work at Peace Action. But when I discovered that my Congressional representative had big banks, Monsanto, private prisons, defense corporations, fossil fuels, and AIPAC on his donor rolls—all while calling himself a progressive—I knew someone had to step up and challenge him.
As a Representative in Congress, I will continue my work impacting the issues I’ve been focused on for years—ending the war in Yemen immediately, pursuing serious diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, and unearthing a path towards nuclear disarmament—while also being a force for change on the urgent domestic challenges our communities face.
California’s 34th—my district—has some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. In Westlake, just north of Downtown, the average per capita income is $15,722—half of the national average. More than 1 in every 60 people in my district lives on the street. Some of our schools have drop out rates as high a 40%. And our neighbors in Boyle Heights and East L.A. have been waiting years for someone to clean up the toxic lead poisoning their yards.
The income gap is widening. The earth is warming. Life expectancy is dropping for the first time in a century. And yet, our leaders in Congress—including my opponent— continue to allocate more than 50% of the Federal discretionary budget every year—over $700 billion—to fighting unwinnable wars.
We need to change this equation. I’ve seen first hand what’s possible when you step out into the street and demand change. And that’s why I’m running for Congress.
California’s 34th deserves a corporate free, 100%-people-powered candidate who fights tirelessly—and thinks creatively—toward solutions that can have a revolutionary impact on the people of Los Angeles—and the rest of the country.
The stakes have never been higher. So come join me, and let’s make our district the model of the world we want to live in!
Paid for by Frances Yasmeen Motiwalla for Congress