24 hours with: Rashida Tlaib, potential first Muslim congresswoman

Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 5:47pm

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib has been first in many arenas over her lifetime. She was the first of 14 children, born and raised in Detroit by her Palestinian immigrant parents. After attending law school on the weekends while working during the week, Tlaib became the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan legislature. She served as a state representative for six years and then worked as a public interest lawyer at the nonprofit Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice for the following three years.

Now, Tlaib is onto her next first: the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. In early February, Tlaib announced she was running for Congress, vying for the seat vacated by former Rep. John Conyers Jr., who resigned in December.

“It is something that is inspiring to many people – even if you’re not Muslim – to know that a girl like me who grew up poor in south Detroit, who didn’t speak English when I started school, with a faith that is literally being targeted every single day by not only this administration but the media, could run and win and make history,” Tlaib said in an interview with Detroit News.

Tlaib joins a competitive candidate field in the 13th district. Among her opposition include Conyers’s 27-year-old son, John Conyers III and his great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers.

Aside from her career, Tlaib is occupied fulfilling the duties of a mother to her two sons. The Daily sat down with Tlaib to discuss a typical day in her life as both candidate and mother, which involves balancing attending meetings with making lunches and laundry with campaign calls.

“I’m a mom,” Tlaib said. “A lot of it is obviously balancing my children and their needs with being able to get the campaign moving.”

A day in Tlaib’s busy life may look something like this:

5 a.m.: She rises early to catch up on writing thank you notes that need to be sent.

7 a.m.: Tlaib makes sure her kids are awake and getting ready for school in the morning. She often reviews the daily schedule with them, so that they know who will be picking them up from school and what the evening agenda is going to look like. After breakfast, she and the boys head out the door for school.

9 a.m.: In the mornings, Tlaib likes to do some form of cardio for daily exercise.

10:30 a.m.: Tlaib usually starts holding meetings around 10:30 or 11 a.m. This often involves meeting with precinct delegates and members throughout the 12 different cities in Michigan’s 13th congressional district.

12 p.m. to 5 p.m.: During the afternoons, Tlaib is out the door and running from the office to meetings until the evening. She typically goes into the office and works to raise money for the campaign. Tlaib often travels to meet directly with people across the district.

6 p.m.: In the evening, Tlaib returns home to make dinner for the family and lunches for the boys for the next day.

But no day in the life of Tlaib is the same, and she often compromises between her roles as both a politician and a mom.

“Even yesterday, my son didn’t have school, my youngest, so it was kind of a laundry day,” Tlaib said. “So I made campaign calls while I did laundry for my D.C. fundraiser.”

Tlaib, as the eldest of 14 children, is accustomed to the act of juggling her personal and professional lives.

“Juggling a lot of family with work and school is something I’ve done,” Tlaib said. “Even when I was earning my law degree, I worked full time Monday through Friday and then took weekend classes for three years. It wasn’t fun, but I think my grandmother and my mom pretty much instilled in me that you just get it done.”

Tlaib clearly applies this same ambition and time management to her current life.

“Now, I’m leaving a little bit early to go to parent-teacher conferences at 4 p.m. and then dropping off my two boys at drama camp and then heading back in for a cabinet meeting at 7 p.m.,” Tlaib said.

Tlaib’s campaign involves constant communication and conversations with Michigan citizens, which motivate and propel her the most.

“There is a lot of communication, a lot of direct human contact with people throughout the districts,” Tlaib said. “That is something actually I get a lot of energy from, is talking to people. It’s more of the traveling and some of the logistics for events and things  that I’m really blessed to have an incredible team that’s more than happy to take that on.”

While Tlaib is energized by running for Congress, she has encountered some pushback due to her gender and ethnicity. She describes experiencing heightened public scrutiny on her appearance and actions as a woman.

“That’s one thing I don’t miss, having this kind of microscope on how I look and how I say things,” Tlaib said.

Along with the increased focus on her appearance, she says other women question how she’s simultaneously raising her children and running for Congress.

“I also get a lot of criticism from women saying, ‘Who’s with your kids?’” Tlaib said. “I don’t think my male opponents are being asked (that).”

Tlaib says she also frequently gets asked if she was born in the United States, to which she always responds that she was born and raised in Detroit. She says this is a shared experience of Muslim candidates. While she naturally feels herself getting defensive in response to the question, she tries not to take it personally.

Tlaib is inspired to run for Congress because of the current political climate in the U.S. after the election of President Donald Trump. If elected, she plans on advocating on Capitol Hill for the impeachment of Trump.

“It’s this unique time in our country right now where staying out of the ring is just not an option,” Tlaib said.

Tlaib has a history of anti-Trump activism. During Trump’s campaign, Tlaib garnered attention when she stood during a speech of his at the Detroit Economic Club and asked him to read the U.S. Constitution. She and other protestors were escorted out of the event by security. Tlaib intends to bring this same passion and grassroots activism to Congress. 

“Press releases, press statements, saying you disagree with him, voting the right way, is fine,” Tlaib said. “But, we need exceptional. We need somebody who will be on the streets mobilizing, increasing voter turnout, really inspiring people to come out and vote.”