By Brandi Murley, Program Officer, Young Professionals
On Tuesday, November 2nd, UNA-NCA’s Young Professionals (YP) Program hosted a virtual conversation, “Running for Local Office: A Fireside Chat with Bushra Amiwla and Jordan Hibbs.” This event welcomed current UNA-NCA members for an exclusive discussion on the importance of and practical advice on running for local office.
Our featured speakers were Bushra Amiwala, a Skokie, Illinois Board of Education member, activist, and the youngest Muslim elected official in the United States; and Jordan Hibbs, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters (ODASD(NM)) and 2020 candidate for the District of Columbia Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the 6E04 district (non-partisan position). Both panelists spoke off the record and all statements are of personal opinion and do not reflect the opinion of the panelists’ employer or the U.S. Government.
Paula Boland, President, UNA-NCA, welcomed attendees and set the ground for why, now more than ever, it is important to be active in local politics, including promoting more inclusive policies. Young Professionals Program Development Officer, Marisa Wineriter, moderated the event. This event drew upon the real-life experiences of running for local office by two people who had not done so before.
The first question for Ms. Amiwala and Ms. Hibbs asked what inspired them to run for a locally elected position in their city? Ms. Amiwala noted that she never imagined running for office while growing up and never took an interest in politics until the 2016 presidential election. During this time, she was inspired to work on the campaign for Republican Illinois Senator Mark Kirk and it was during this that someone on his campaign team encouraged Bushra to run for a local office. At the age of 19, she ran for the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Although she lost this first attempt, she decided to run for her local Board of Education and was successfully elected in 2019.
Ms. Hibbs had a similar story, previously working on campaigns, having an interest in public policy, and a desire to work in public service. However, she did not think that running for office was something she could do until later in life. Yet, in 2020, during a global pandemic, a time of gruesome human rights violations, and a lack of awareness, she felt compelled to make a change in her community. She ran for the DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the 6E04 district, which is non-partisan, and is the most locally elected position in DC with about 1,000 people per district.
Following up from where they found inspiration, moderator Ms. Wineriter, looked into lessons learned from the experience, wondering if they plan to run again in the future? The biggest challenge for Ms. Hibbs was time. Working full-time and running against an incumbent was difficult! In addition, she needed to make sure that she was running in the correct district, and for the correct office. However, Ms. Hibbs said that one of the best things was getting access to a local donor file which helped her to meet people in her neighborhood and learn more about their needs and concerns.
Additionally, she reminds people interested in running for office to always get to know local businesses as they can have a lot of political acumen. She believes there will be opportunities for her to run again in the future. Ms. Amiwala agreed on the importance of donor lists and made a case for the importance of social media marketing and making the most of these platforms.
Ms. Wineriter continued the conversation by raising if there was anything they wish they had known before running for office. To this, both panelists noted that they were surprised at how much fundraising they needed to do for their individual campaigns. Ms. Hibbs added that she did not have a large team behind her – 1 staff and a few volunteers. She also noted that she is not competitive in asking for funds. The donation cap for the position she was running for was $25.00 per person. So, it did take her some time to raise significant funds. Additionally, Ms. Hibbs said that she wished she had her personal story or her “why I am running for office speech” ready to go immediately.
Next, Ms. Wineriter asked, “How did running for office impact your current role/full-time job?” Both Ms. Amiwala and Ms. Hibbs agreed that it was a challenge to balance a campaign while working. For her first campaign, Ms. Amiwala was an intern and found that using her weekends to campaign was most effective. During her second campaign, she was working full-time. She advises others to become familiar with their employer policies, especially posting on social media during work hours. Ms. Hibbs added that, as a federal employee, she was required to run for a non-partisan position and reminded others to double-check any of their employer’s policies.
In closing, the speakers were asked what advice they would give to someone interested in running for local office. For Ms. Amiwala, training and networking is crucial. Reaching out to constituents, listening to others for advice, and even serving on volunteer boards throughout the community will all help build a coalition. Ms. Hibbs shared that whether one is just starting to campaign or already holds an office, this should be seen as a job. Meaning that one should invest in themselves to take relevant training or education in their area of office, or on how to run a campaign. She also noted that many resources, networks, and opportunities to build relationships are available. Through using these opportunities one can build a support group.
This fireside chat ended an appreciation for the panelists and a plea for everyone to get involved in local politics.