Hadiya Afzal is a 19-year-old college sophomore, running for DuPage County Board in IL to make sure that the county’s governing body actually reflects the totality of its residents.
What’s the problem you’d like to solve by running for office?
Right now in DuPage County, we have a lack of demographic and ideological representation on our County Board that accurately reflects our residents. Out of 18 board members, there’s only one Democrat, only four women, and no people of color. We have a lack of young people on the board as well.
We have a dearth of different voices who are able to shine light on diverse issues that affect the various residents in the county. We don’t have people who can accurately understand the scourge of the opioid epidemic, or the problems that the lack of public transit causes for commuter students going to community colleges.
We need new voices who are willing to push for progressive policies on opioid treatment, environmental reform and public transit.
I’m running to fix that.
Was there a specific incident that led you to decide to run?
In 2016, when I was only 17 and too young to vote, I worked as an election judge. That really sparked my interest in local politics. In that election, I saw that when Hillary won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College, people felt like their vote didn’t matter anymore.
Then, I went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. with my mom and my sister. I saw the incredible space we were able to create when we came together for a progressive movement. I knew that I wanted to get more involved.
I saw that we had a need for talent and for involvement at the local level, so I started working at the DuPage County Democratic Party as an intern, canvassing with them last summer.
We knocked on every door in the county — Democrat, Republican, and everything in between — asking two questions: 1) What issues are important to you at a county level?, and 2) Do you know who you can speak to about it?
We found that the same issues came up over and over again — taxes, water quality, safe schools, good roads, public transit — but people didn’t know who their county board members were or how to connect with them. I saw the lack of representation and accessibility, and I decided that I wanted to fix that.
So, I decided to run.
No one told me I couldn’t do it. They just kind of assumed that I wouldn’t. But I’ve been so inspired by the people who I’d seen stepping up to make a difference, and I thought there was no reason why I shouldn’t be one to step up this time.
What surprised you about running?
My first surprise came just after I announced my candidacy. I was still 17, and it was two months before my 18th birthday. Turns out that I couldn’t collect signatures until I officially turned 18, because I wasn’t old enough to get them notarized!
In the beginning, I was also surprised about how tough running really is. If I knew back then what I know now about how hard it is, I might never have done it. But I’m so glad that I did.
I now know so many people in my area. I know every road and every street in my district. I know intimately the nuances of the issues that are facing people here. I think that has been such a great learning experience.
One other thing — as a woman in politics, I think that gender matters so much. When a male politician says, “You know, I’ll get back to you on that,” people say, “Oh my gosh, he’s listening, he’s willing to learn.” But if a woman says the same thing, people say, “She’s not prepared.” And when it’s a young teenager who’s saying it, they’ll just write you off immediately.
I have to be super extra prepared for everything to fend off any allegations or rumors or misgivings about me. When you’re a woman my age, you have to be twice as good to be taken half as seriously.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about running?
I have been asked by some people, especially people my own age, “How do you manage to do this while going to college?”
The thing I like to tell them is that I’m not inherently unique or special. It’s just that I happen to care a lot. Anyone can do that. If something is really important to you, you’ll find the time to make it happen.
I think everyone should start small in their own communities. You can really get to know exactly how people feel and what they’re most affected by. That’s where you can make the most change.
It’s easy to feel disconnected from a senate race, a congressional race, a presidential race. It feels like it’s happening in a whole different sphere. It’s operating outside of whatever directly affects your daily life.
But local politics is more like, “Hey, that pothole hasn’t been fixed… That referendum for the education board is on the ballot.” It’s going to affect your school band and orchestra programs. That’s important. That affects people every day — and that’s where you should start.
Do you have a favorite quote?
My favorite quote is from a guy who ran for a congressional seat in New York. He lost his primary, but I still like the quote. He said, “The most remarkable things in this country’s history have happened when a group of young people decided that the status quo is no longer enough.”
I like that because my whole team is made up of college Democrats. We’re just a bunch of young people who understand that we need to change the status quo.
Another great quote came from a friend of mine. When we started running our first Instagram ads for the campaign, we got some Islamophobic comments. And this friend said, “If you want to change things, you have to brave the bullshit.” That’s very true.
There will always be people who have a problem with who you are and what you do. Sometimes you have to separate out what actually matters from what’s just pure bigotry that you can’t change. I think realizing the difference between those two things has really kept me going.
To find out more about Hadiya’s campaign, check out her website: https://www.hadiyafordupage.com/