There’s a corrosive idea in politics that young candidates should “wait their turn.” Change happens incrementally, the theory holds—and we ought to defer to older issues, older tactics, older leaders, before even thinking about raising
our own hands.
But when I look back at my decision to run for Congress, I truly believe there was no time to wait. If anything, I think: “What took you so long?”
My community, my gender, and my generation don’t have the luxury of waiting to be handed a seat at the table. We’re already facing a torrent of regressive sexism that’s rolled back our right to choose; we’re already living with the deadly consequences of climate change. And I spend every single day wondering if my friends Deah, Yusor, and Razan would still be alive if only more of our elected officials had been willing to stand up against pervasive post-9/11 Islamophobia.
For candidates like me, the decision to run for office isn’t about a title or a pension package; it’s about survival. It’s a simple choice between trying to fight and living in fear.
Still, while I have no regrets about running to serve my NC-04 community, the campaign itself wasn’t always easy. And rather than keep those challenges to myself or pretend I’m not human like anyone else, I think it’s important to demystify the process of running for office—so that more young candidates know exactly what it takes.
Of course, there’s the personal stuff: The financial strain of running for office takes a toll on all working- and middle-class candidates, and leaving my job while my husband Towqir was a full-time student made it particularly hard for my family. On top of that, campaigning while pregnant came with its own set of obstacles. I often found myself worried that the stress would have an adverse impact on my health or our baby’s. I was so lucky to have a vast community across Durham who came together to support us in the toughest moments—bringing meals, checking in on my mental health, and celebrating campaign milestones.
The truth is, this race wasn’t just personal for me. It was personal for hundreds of people across NC-04. And so, the most painful part of running wasn’t the financial or emotional strain—in reality, it was seeing the vicious Islamophobia that hurt so many in our community. When dog whistles like “radical” and “extremist” were slung at my campaign—terms that echo similar attacks on Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar—the intent behind them was clear as day. Those who use them want Muslims to live in fear—to walk on eggshells in the simple act of our own self-expression.
Worse still was witnessing the silence of elected officials and my fellow Democrats—even self-described allies—in the face of these attacks. Some minimized the Islamophobia, claiming that we made “something out of nothingburger.” Others chose to say nothing at all. In either case, the campaign revealed the entrenched nature of Islamophobia in our politics—and ultimately, made me more determined than ever to fight it.
About the author
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Allam is a firebrand idealist whose stay in Washington would no doubt contort Tucker Carlson’s eyebrows at some point. And we support that initiative.
Doing so will take political courage, yes; but also, money. In 2022, after the multimillion-dollar primary, financial investments in NC-04 dried up, seemingly overnight, support for down-ballot candidates disappeared, leading to critical losses in places like Alamance County, where former NC House Representative Ricky Hurtado could’ve kept his seat with more investment and support.
In spite of it all, nothing made me happier or more hopeful than seeing the joy that our campaign inspired. Young people, including so many first-time voters, drove the excitement around my candidacy from start to finish. Their passion and energy gave me not just the motivation to keep going but the material support to maintain a highly organized campaign: young people coordinated voter outreach on their campuses, they got their classmates to vote in the primary and to phone bank, and they made sure that our campaign reflected their values and priorities. And every time I think of my daughter Aaliyah, and the world I want her to grow up in, I feel reaffirmed in my decision not to “wait my turn.”
After all, as Dr. King wrote in his infamous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, when powerful people tell us to wait, they almost always mean “never.” And lucky for me and Aaliyah, this movement was never about just one campaign—or one person. It’s about a generation of young people, women, Muslims, people of color, and hardworking North Carolinians of all backgrounds who are tired of living in fear and silence. Change can’t wait, and we shouldn’t let it.
In the next election cycle and many to come, I hope every progressive candidate who’s wondering whether it’s their time feels empowered to raise their hand, whatever the obstacles. There’s a whole movement of us coming, and it’s about time we entered the race.
Nida Allam is a Durham County commissioner and former candidate for North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. Comment on this story at email@example.com
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