I stood firm and I was powerful.
I am eighteen years old, 4’11”, the daughter of a driven Moroccan Muslim father and outspoken Jersey-born Jewish mother, and #ILookLikeAPolitician. In fact, I plan to run for a seat in the United States Senate. Politics may not run through my blood, but certainly politics permeated the air I breathed growing up inside the beltway. My family, teachers and my classmates’ parents fostered my interest in running for office. They are newly-arrived immigrants, single fathers, passionate mentors, lawyers, founders of nonprofits that protect children, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, and even Capitol Hill’s most influential policymakers, businessman and lobbyists. My community taught me the importance of social justice and making a difference. Spending a great deal of time overseas and peering back at America from that new perspective inspired me to speak for others with no voice and to listen more than talk.
By eight, I was attending political rallies, campaign meetings, and had the opportunity to meet my favorite presidential candidate. As I got older, I considered myself to be an aspiring political activist, not an aspiring public servant. Nonetheless, at 15, I was selected for Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership program (YWPL), a summer program for 60 high school girls designed to inspire them to run for office. YWPL offers workshops on networking, public speaking, how to fundraise, and how to run a campaign, and it instilled a newfound confidence in all of us. On the first day, a Running Start staffer asked us how many planned to run for public office; eight girls stood. When asked the same question a week later, all 60 of us stood. This was a true testament to the work and influence of Running Start.
Competing to serve as Running Start’s Ambassador was an opportunity to help spread the message of the #ILookLikeAPolitician campaign. The movement counteracts the lack of existing female role models in our nation’s government and highlights the way that sexism complicates the lives of women seeking public office. I know that when I run for office, I’ll have an important perspective and experience to offer. My platform will be steeped in my family’s philosophy that progress includes understanding our commonalities and celebrating the power that comes from our differences. I also want to bring my commitment to intersectionality and my vision for the future to the table. To get these principles into the political arena, I’ll face some unique challenges as a woman. Women entering male-dominated fields are often told to “man up.” I want to flip the script and show young girls that they can “woman up” and be successful, powerful individuals. I decided that running for Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador position would inspire other young girls, maybe even ones from similar blended backgrounds, to run for office.
Competing at the Young Women to Watch Awards on March 20th was both an inspiring and humbling experience. The audience included impressive people at the tops of their fields, which made me more nervous. Receiving feedback on my “stump speech” from Congresswoman Joyce Beatty as we fought to hear each other above the roar of guests networking was surreal. The Congresswoman shared one particularly compelling piece of advice. “If you forget something,” she told me, “stand firm. Plant your feet, and make them wait. Because that next sentence is sure to be powerful.”
In the three minutes when I stood on the balcony at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, I thanked Susannah Wellford, Melissa Richmond, and countless others, on both sides of the aisle, for their commitment to seeing first-generation faces like mine running for office and preparing us to take action. I celebrated the ways in which Running Start has changed my life, by simply telling me that I look like a political leader. I proclaimed that “men run for office to be something and women run for office do something. I want to do something!” I stood firm and I was powerful.
And it worked! I am incredibly honored to have been elected Running Start’s 2017 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador. Having the opportunity to speak before Members of Congress, role models, and my mother, and boldly declare that I want to and will run for office was an extraordinary experience. On behalf of Running Start, I am committed to promoting tolerance and, most importantly, working to empower young girls to realize their potential as our nation’s leaders of tomorrow.
I look like a politician.
Sophia Houdaigui is Running Start’s 2017 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador. She is a senior at Sidwell Friends high school who will attend Barnard College (an affiliate of Columbia University) in the fall, where she will join 2,500 young women who are “majoring in the unafraid.” Sophia’s participation in the Young Women’s Political Leadership program ignited her interested in politics, which grew when she served as Director General of her school’s Model United Nations club. Sophia also interned for CARLAC (Council for Arab Relations with Latin America and the Caribbean) in Morocco and worked on projects relating to food security and educational challenges faced by young girls in rural Morocco. Sophia played a small role in trying to shatter the glass ceiling by knocking on doors, making calls, and managing a Teens for Hillary Twitter account during Secretary Clinton’s historic campaign. Sophia is excited to start her first job on the Hill with Senator Tim Kaine next month.