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23-year-old Indian American Nabeela Syed made history Nov. 8 as she won a seat in the Illinois state Legislature.

Syed, a Democrat, is the youngest-ever member of the Illinois state Legislature. She is part of a trend of Gen Zs who are paving a new path in electoral politics. The young politician sent out a jubilant tweet on election night: “We just flipped a Republican-held suburban district.”

On The Campaign Trail

“Gen Z candidates are proof that voters care about electing candidates who will listen to them and fight for their priorities more than they care about a candidate’s age,” she tweeted, crediting her win to “an incredible team,” and relentlessly knocking on doors.

Illinois has more Muslim Americans per capita than any other US state, but — until now — has not had a Muslim in its state Legislature.

23-year-old Nabeela Syed is the newest member of the Illinois State Legislature. (photo via Twitter)

The Trump Factor

Syed began thinking about politics as a senior in high school. In 2016, when former President Donald Trump took office, the young woman witnessed first-hand racist, Islamophobic rhetoric.

“The day Trump got elected, I remember I cried in every single one of my classes,” she told NBC News. “I felt like this country was not for us. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I belong here.’ This is the only home I’ve ever known, and I was questioning whether or not I belonged here.”

Syed’s family is from Hyderabad. Nabeela was born and raised in Illinois.

On The Issues

Syed next attended UC Berkeley and attained a degree in political science. She then worked on political campaigns. She also volunteered with EMILY’s List, to raise funds for Democrats pursuing Congressional seats.

Ardently pro choice, Syed says she is also committed to addressing inequities in access to healthcare. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that healthcare needs to be regarded as a human right. Its accessibility should not be limited to only those who can afford it,” wrote the candidate on her campaign website.

“While Illinois has made great strides in providing access to healthcare, it is critical that we ensure every member within our community has access to care that meets their needs, whether it is making prescription medication more affordable or providing treatment of a preexisting condition,” said Syed.

Climate Change

On climate change, Syed said she would support the implementation of the Climate & Equitable Jobs Act, which would put Illinois on track to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050 and create thousands of new jobs. She is also an advocate for better public transportation, including the expansion of walking and biking trails.

Syed received numerous endorsements, most notably from the Indian American Impact Fund and Illinois state Senator Ram Villivalam, a Democrat.

Record Number Of Muslim Victories

Syed is also one of a historic number of Muslim Americans who won seats in office throughout the US. On Nov. 9, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Jetpac Resource Center released a list of 82 Muslim Americans who had won their races in the 2022 midterm elections.

In a press statement, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said: “Yesterday’s historic string of record-breaking American Muslim electoral victories is a testament to our community’s ongoing rise in American politics and the trust our neighbors have placed in us to represent them and fight for their interests.    

“We are witnessing the next step in the American Muslim community’s political transformation from marginalized voices that were sidelined, or worse, to decision makers. These newly-elected officials are building upon the success of our community’s decades-long investment in civic engagement, voter registration and running for office.

  

Sunita Sohrabji

Sunita Sohrabji is the Managing Editor of India Currents. She is also the Health Editor at Ethnic Media Services.