It takes a lot to make me feel hopeful right now. As I type this in Los Angeles, the sky is orange because of raging wildfires, the air is barely breathable, and we’ve just experienced our second major heatwave of the summer. Not to mention the pandemic, the grossly overfunded LAPD, a crisis of homelessness, and a long list of government officials who seem to balance not knowing what’s going on and not caring about what’s going on with terrifying agility. I believe I’m not alone when I say that there’s a part of me that’s low-key convinced the world is ending in the next couple of years. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it to try, or worth it to care.
Luckily, Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is the walking, talking antidote to pessimism. Even over a Zoom call (one of the worst parts of being alive right now… coming in a close second to all the, uh, life-threatening stuff), the California State Assembly candidate radiates energy. After just a few minutes of talking with her, it’s hard not to feel a tingle of something that looks like hope. Like something different might be possible.
For those of you who don’t know her yet, Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is a Sri Lankan immigrant, a former public school teacher, a wife, and a mother. If elected to represent District 64, she would be the first Muslim and the first-ever Sri Lankan immigrant to enter the state legislature of California. Her victory would be historic for sure, but it would also signify a pivot to the left among voters in her district. Her opponent, incumbent Mike Gipson, is a former cop who takes corporate donations from big oil and police unions. He has also endorsed Jackie Lacey, the District Attorney of L.A. County, whose vocal critics include Black Lives Matter L.A.
Fatima wasn’t planning on becoming a politician. She was perfectly happy working as a public school teacher in Watts, one of the many areas that District 64 covers (others include Compton, Carson, and Long Beach). But after years of experiencing and witnessing the reality of living in CA-64, she decided to take a stand for her community. Her former students are largely representative of CA-64. It is an area that is largely low-income, first-generation American, and Black and Brown. Fatima could no longer stand idly by as she saw people around her struggling to make ends meet.
At the high school where she taught, the football field had traces of toxic chemicals. Her students often did not have clean water to drink. She didn’t see students from more affluent neighborhoods struggling with these same issues, leading her to devise a platform that would help put an end to environmental racism in South LA. In a district full of natural gas refineries — over 25% of the state’s oil refineries are in CA-64, according to Fatima’s campaign— chemical waste sites, and fracking operations, basic human rights like clean water, clean air, and clean food are being willfully ignored in favor of profit. Fatima’s goal is to embrace the Green New Deal, and with endorsements from groups like the Sunrise Movement, she’s showing that she’s got what it takes to be a strong voice in the battle against climate change.
Fatima’s joy as she talks about her district —- and its vibrant residents — is palpable. As a teacher, she saw firsthand the fear that undocumented students dealt with on a daily basis as they struggled to navigate the trials of high school life coupled with the added anxiety of immigration status. This, and her own experiences as an immigrant, fuel her passion for immigration reform in California. Her platform includes the expansion of health insurance coverage for undocumented immigrant adults, significant investment into legal counsel for immigrants in California courts, and codification of sanctuary city laws (City Council voted to declare L.A. a “city of sanctuary” in 2019, but it’s largely a symbolic gesture). ICE officers frequently violate immigration law, yet the California State Assembly lacks a committee on immigration to adequately discuss these issues and put necessary protections in place. Fatima believes in a system that allows California’s immigrants to thrive — health, safety, and security are human rights and should be treated as such.
Fatima’s policies are so well-thought out that I can’t fit them all into this essay, so let me walk you through a few before I set you free (and urge you to check out her website). She is an advocate for unhoused people within her district. She believes that housing is a human right. The roof over our heads is something so many of us take for granted, but to live in L.A. is to see a homelessness crisis unfolding before our very eyes. This crisis can no longer be ignored by politicians who seem far too willing to accept the status quo — a status quo where innocent people die every day on the streets.
Her housing plan centers a community-led process, which allows constituents to play an active role in shaping housing policy within their community. This includes offering incentives to property owners who welcome low-income or cost-burdened tenants, repurposing publicly owned land, and expanding the level of services provided to unhoused people, rather than taking away property during “sweeps.” Part of that plan also involves reducing, then eventually removing, police from this equation — transitioning outreach for unhoused people into the hands of trained professionals — not law enforcement officers, who often lack adequate training. Her campaign seeks to empower residents of her district — a significant departure from her predecessors, who often ignore the needs of their constituents in the pursuit of corporate greed.
Fatima believes in healthcare for all. She believes that — you guessed it, adequate healthcare is a human right. If it sounds like Fatima believes lots of things are human rights, it’s because… guess what? She does! And she believes, unsurprisingly, in comprehensive education reform, universal pre-K, and free college tuition. Children are our future, and not just the ones who are born rich.
Often I feel caught up in the tidal wave of darkness that is 2020. But I believe that Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is capable of making history. We deserve leaders who are not beholden to corporate interests, who fight for those most in need, and whose policies reflect the anger and frustration that so many of us feel right now. The fights we are fighting right now will continue long past the election, and we need leaders who believe in racial, environmental, housing, education, and immigration justice. We need leaders who care. Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is ready to show up for us — all we have to do is show up for her on November third.
Mitra Jouhari is a writer/comedian living in Los Angeles. Credits include Three Busy Debras, Big Mouth, High Maintenance, and more. She is a volunteer with Fatima Iqbal-Zubair’s campaign.
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