|Amatul-Wadud Announces Bid For U.S. Representative|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
05:19PM / Wednesday, December 20, 2017
|Tahirah Amatul-Wadud announced her bid at Dottie's on Tuesday for the 1st Massachusetts seat.|
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tahirah Amatul-Wadud wants to unify the First Congressional District.
The Springfield Democrat announced on Wednesday that she will be challenging incumbent Richard Neal for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Amatul-Wadud told a large audience at Dottie's Coffee Lounge joining her in the announcement that while the district is "jerry-rigged" with a mix of rural and urban areas, everybody shares common concerns. She wants to unite the entire district behind addressing those.
"One of my jobs won't be just to listen to you but to unite. We will not allow us to be strangers. We will not allow us to be othered," Amatul-Wadud said.
The internet, for example, is an issue all in the district can agree on, she said. While rural communities often don't have access at all, inner-city residents are seeing prices rise so high that they can't afford it. That makes it more difficult for Western Massachusetts to attract businesses, she said.
"What is happening in our rural communities and towns, the same things are happening in our inner cities. We are not competing against each other, we are working with each other. If there is a drug epidemic in the small towns, there is a drug epidemic in larger towns. If there is access to internet problems here in the rural town, guess what, it is happening in the inner city because it is priced so high families can't afford it," Amatul-Wadud said.
When it comes to the opioid epidemic, Amatul-Wadud said it is impacting the entire district. But what is different is how it is being handled depending on a person's race.
"We have a beautiful district demographically, geographically. But things are desperate and we're not being heard. People are dying deaths of despair at record numbers. We have an opioid crisis that is out of control. We have disparities in how we are handling that between our black and brown neighbors and our white neighbors. We are fragmented and segmented," Amatul-Wadud said.
"We all have the same problems but they want us to believe that our problems are different and we are competing with each other for the same resources. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not. We are one family."
Amatul-Wadud was born in New York City and her parents moved to Western Massachusetts when she was 9. When she was 17, two young children from her neighborhood were taken into an abandoned building and beaten. It angered her and she embarked on her first political battle.
"Those little boys were my sibling's friends. They were 6 and 8 years old. At that point, I learned how to lobby elected officials in city hall and demand, along with my parents, that they board up the building and the city pay for the demolition. That began my early activism in pushing against a system that did not care that we were living in blight," Amatul-Wadud said.
She has been working with lawmakers on passing policies ever since -- most recently serving on the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women.
Amatul-Wadud received her degree from Elms College and then took a job with Mass Mutual in the legal department. There she learned about insurance regulation and law, employment laws, and an array of other issues that came before her desk. She enrolled at Western New England College to study law.
Following graduation, she took a job with ISO New England in Holyoke, where she followed federal dockets going to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"This became my first opportunity to lean in and read what people were proposing and the grassroots organizers were suggesting the commission take a closer look at renewable energy sources. At that time, it may not have been as popular on the docket I was watching but it got my attention. I liked that grassroots energy and I liked their nerve and courage," Amatul-Wadud said.
That got her involved in climate change and environmental issues. She soon passed the bar exam and gave up her corporate job to work in family law with Western Mass Legal Services.
"We were responsible for taking people who were in their most desperate situations, the lowest of incomes, domestic violence, families who had been totally deconstructed. My job was to use the court system and help reconstruct them," Amatul-Wadud said.
More and more she became enwrapped in understanding how state and federal policies were impacting residents. When the recession hit, she left her job to started her own practice with diverse clients facing an array of legal issues.
"I got the whole spectrum of how life works and some of it can be pretty darn crummy," she said.
After the election of President Donald Trump, she began to see a divisiveness and a political climate in Washington that wasn't working for everybody. In February, she was a speaker at the Four Freedoms March.
"That changed my life. I was tasked with conveying a message of hope, a message of inspiration. Myself, feeling and wondering whether there was much to be hopeful for or inspired by. And I remembered that we were built for the times we are in," Amatul-Wadud said.
She heard stories of people struggling. She saw her father trying to figure out the switch to Medicare. She saw widening skills and education gap. She thought deeply about her faith. And, she realized it was her time to change what she sees is happening.
"The call that I need to answer is from my community members who feel they are not being heard. I know what that is like and that feeling ends today," Amatul-Wadud said.
Amatul-Wadud says much of what drives her is an interfaith inclusiveness. She is a Muslim, born in a Christian family, and her brother married into a Jewish family. She said that unity and commonality is part of what drives her to want to bring unity within the district.
"My parents became Muslim when I was about 4 years old. I have grandparents, God rest their soul, and tons of aunts and uncles who are Christian. So interfaith harmony and unity and commonality over shared values have been a part of my life all 44 years," Amatul-Wadud said.
Amatul-Wadud says she has no ill will for fellow Democrat Neal. But, she feels now more than ever, citizens need somebody who more closely represents them than the 14-term congressman.
"We need this change in the federal climate. We are dealing with a president who is out to get us, us being those who fall within this district. We have representation that many people are unhappy or dissatisfied with. For that reason, I feel strongly that this is where I can make the most impact," Amatul-Wadud said.
"We see it happening. We see the powerful falling. We see the weak rising. It is happening. These people, my neighbors, deserve me in Congress."
Amatul-Wadud says voter turnout in the district has been woefully inadequate and she wonders if that has something to do with the lack of a challenger for Neal -- if the incumbent has "killed spirits" when it comes to making a change in Washington. Neal has represented the 1st Mass since 2012, when redistricting shifted Springfield and the rest of the 2nd Mass district into the new 1st District. He was challenged in the Democratic primary that year but had only nominal opposition in 2014 and ran unopposed in 2016.
"We are one district and that their concerns are universal concerns. They are not just hilltown concerns, they are not just inner-city concerns. They are universal concerns," Amatul-Wadud said.
Her top issues will be job development, which includes a focus on internet expansion, and renewable energy initiatives, which includes getting local colleges and universities on board to do research on new technologies.
Her announcement Wednesday well received by about 50 people at Dottie's. She had two other stops in the district to introduce herself as a candidate.
One of those particularly happy to see her in Pittsfield was Shirley Edgerton.
"She is a tireless champion of those oppressed and relegated to silence in our unquenchable world of greed and power," Edgerton said of Amatul-Wadud.
Edgerton cited Amatul-Wadud's recognition by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as a top woman in law in 2016; her work on the family advisory council at Boston Children's Hospital; and her time on the Women's Fund's Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact.
"Our candidate is a bridgebuilder between diverse communities, a sought-after speaker, a commissioner on the Mass Commission on the Status of Women, and a board member for the Massachusetts chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations," Edgerton said.