They Told Me I Can’t, So Now I’m a Candidate for Congress

How I decided to become an outsider for change, again.

Anita Malik, 2018 candidate for U.S. Congress representing Arizona’s 6th district.

I’ve never been very good at Fridays — the slowdown of the weekend is outside my comfort zone. I like the busyness of the workweek, where each day feels like a new opportunity to push forward and make progress.

But last fall, I slowly slipped into a new Friday mindset. I suddenly wanted everything to slow down. I wanted to spend time holed up with my kids, doting on each smile and every tantrum. The America outside was scary and the future those tiny feet were about to step into was too unstable and unsettling. I wanted to stop time in the hopes that Monday would never come.

I wasn’t myself, and I wasn’t alone.

In fact, in February, the American Psychological Association found that 57 percent of all Americans, party affiliation aside, considered our country’s political climate a significant source of stress. And I’d hypothesize that the events of the last several months have not changed the perpetual fight-or-flight many of us feel. We’re ready to fight the attacks on our American dream while simultaneously wanting to flee far away from anything remotely political.

I spent several months stuck in this unsettling state. I’d casually consider running for office, but just as quickly dismiss the idea. My life, I’d conclude, is not designed for a grueling campaign with 16-hour-days filled with fundraising, speaking events and knocking on doors. I have young kids, a prominent career, and I’m at Target nearly every day because, as a woman trying to have it all, I always forget something.

I’m also a quiet leader. While I’ve always marveled at the characters and stunts of the circus, I’ve never wanted to join the company of performers. Analytically speaking, the gamble of walking the tightrope didn’t seem to deliver high enough returns. The American political circus wasn’t producing the policies of progress, so why take the risk?

Still this possibility lingered.

What if I could change the system from the inside? Could I change the tone and heart of politics by joining them? Maybe.

In May, I took the first big leap. I stepped down as the COO of a marketing tech company. I set out to find my place, the best way to fulfill my desire to serve.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Mahatma Gandhi

There are many valuable and important paths to service. Simply showing up and standing up can influence change. I went to rallies, collected signatures for important initiatives, and sent letters to my senators, but my impatience toward the lack of progress drove me further. When were we going to fix the growing economic divide in this country, the source of stress for the majority of Americans? Who was going to make the American dream a reality again?

I felt like I could help, but I wanted to be thoughtful about the decision. This called for research.

First, I made a skills list for myself and cross-referenced it with what it takes to effectively create and push through legislation. Check. With a reputation for hard work, listening and making things happen, my experience could help. I know how to do the work.

Next, I started knocking on doors. Not of neighbors but of political players in the state. Some doors never opened. Others were slammed closed. I had a few encouraging meetings but there were far more discouraging ones. “You won’t be able to raise the funds necessary to win.” “You won’t be able to tuck your kids in at night.”

I heard all kinds of reason why I shouldn’t run. But the pushback didn’t deter me. Maybe it was because I have faced bias for being an outsider before. I’ve been a woman of color in tech for the past 20 years; this wasn’t new to me. Or maybe it is because I know that failure isn’t something to fear.

Rejection and fear can motivate. These emotions help us uncover what we’re taking for granted. I realized, after these meetings, I didn’t buy into any of it — the status quo, the “you can’t win,” the “it won’t change.” I can’t accept an outdated mindset, one of exclusivity, one that alienates us from a system that’s supposed to serve us.

So I tried a new approach. I talked to people. Or more importantly, I listened to them. For our democracy to work, the voices of voters should be what matter most. I talked about my plans and experience and then I listened. Without hesitation, each one asked me to stand up for them. Their voices were unanimous; my decision was made.

I told my husband that after nine months of thoughtful consideration, running was no longer a question that would loom over us. I was about to embark on the biggest challenge of my career and my life. He simply nodded. He knew all along I’d get here, but it was a journey I needed to take to be ready to fight for all of us.

So here I am. Today, I am ready to throw out traditional weekends again. Today, I am announcing my candidacy for Congress to represent Arizona’s 6th district.

2018 congressional candidate Anita Malik

I will definitely say the “wrong” thing at some point in this campaign. I will likely resort to wearing flats even though I might seem less powerful, and I will always do whatever I can to be home to tuck my kids in at night.

I am not running to be popular, to build up my ego or reap some type of career reward. I am doing this for all the voices that have asked me to stand up for them. I am running so all of us can regain the hope I hear from my 4-year-old.

“Mommy, don’t worry. It will be fine. We can do it.”

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