No Longer Enough: We Need Leaders Who Listen
What I learned from a campaign of listening.
We all know the stereotype: the politician who is charismatic, persuasive, and who speaks too much. They tell community members what they want to hear while secretly meeting with corporate donors. Taking easy wins to look good without engaging in the real work of creating systemic solutions to racism, economic injustice, and social inequity.
Partly because of that stereotype, I never imagined I would run for office.
I became a public school teacher because I care deeply about listening and changing communities one relationship at a time. I loved working with my students, fellow teachers, and the community. Yet, I was constantly frustrated by how little our elected officials listened. At the same time, America started hearing a different style of leadership and political engagement. From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley to Karen Bass and Ilhan Omar, these women were offering a model of politicians who were focused on community, listening, empathy, and accountability. I started to imagine how our community could look different if we had that kind of leader representing us in Sacramento.
After seeing my students struggle with systems designed to keep them down — and after serving as part of the education commission for our current Assemblymember and seeing the way he approached our community — I knew I needed to shift my career. When I started my campaign for California State Assembly from Assembly District 64, I was focused on doing things differently. I knocked on thousands of doors, talking to people who told me this was the first time that they heard from a politician. When COVID-19 hit, we immediately shifted our campaign and started a mutual aid network, connecting hundreds of people across our district to resources. When it came to developing policies, we hosted half a dozen listening sessions with community members to understand what matters to them most.
I’m grateful for every single conversation and for every person who was willing to share their story. We aren’t used to politicians who listen, and I’m honored when people choose to share with me anyways.
There are three main things I’ve learned from listening:
- We can always find the answers by listening. Too often, politicians say they do not know how to make change happen. As my opponent and current Assemblymember Mike Gipson phrased it in a recent statement following George Floyd’s death: “the solutions escape me.” Yet, from our kitchen tables to our streets, our community members are sharing the solutions. We won’t find solutions in textbooks, but in our conversations and work together. So many of our problems are caused because we fail to truly listen and understand one another.
- Our community, while underestimated, has the answers we need. Our Watts robotics team — the TeraWatts — was largely underestimated. People didn’t think we could achieve what other wealthier schools could. People didn’t start taking us seriously until we started winning awards. For far too long, the status quo has underestimated our community and ignored our wisdom. We can’t wait any longer for leaders who listen.
- Our government must do better. People aren’t asking for impossible things. They want to be able to speak with their representatives — and have their representatives really listen. They want transparency in what their elected officials are voting on and deciding. They want accountability. They want people who will work alongside them — not to give them handouts, but to create a beloved community together.
Fatima Iqbal-Zubair, Candidate for CA State Assembly, District 64
KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. Fatima Iqbal-Zubair is one of several candidates endorsed by Ground Game LA.
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