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 		 [Amatul-Wadud is confident that a progressive agenda is her best
selling point. Her campaign platform centers “Medicare for All,” a
strong social safety net, and civil rights protections as top
priorities. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 CAN THIS PROGRESSIVE WOMAN OF COLOR PULL OFF AN OCASIO-CORTEZ-STYLE
UPSET IN MASSACHUSETTS?  
[https://portside.org/2018-07-24/can-progressive-woman-color-pull-ocasio-cortez-style-upset-massachusetts]


 

 Eoin Higgins 
 July 19, 2018
The Intercept
[https://theintercept.com/2018/07/19/tahirah-amatul-wadud-congress-massachusetts-richard-neal/]


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	* [https://portside.org/node/17757/printable/print]

 _ Amatul-Wadud is confident that a progressive agenda is her best
selling point. Her campaign platform centers “Medicare for All,” a
strong social safety net, and civil rights protections as top
priorities. _ 

 Tahirah Amatul-Wadud campaigning in MA First Congressional District,
Charles Krupa/AP 

 

  
In the weeks since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s surprise victory in
New York’s 14th District, the Democratic Party has been waking up to
the possibility that a progressive wave could overturn the party’s
leadership and usher in a new guard — one led by young women of
color. Ocasio-Cortez said as much in her victory speech, delivered
from a bar top at the pool hall in the Bronx that hosted her election
night party. 

“We’ve got a whole bunch of primaries to go. When we get to
November, we should be electing a caucus,” she said.

That’s what Tahirah Amatul-Wadud [https://tahirahforcongress.com/]
is hoping will happen in Massachusetts’s 1st District, where she’s
mounting an insurgent campaign against Richard Neal
[https://neal.house.gov/], one of the longest serving Democratic
representatives in the House. 

According to Amatul-Wadud, Neal represents everything that’s wrong
with Washington Democrats. He’s an uninvolved career politician who
puts the interests of his national donors in front of the people he
represents, Amatul-Wadud says, and his seniority in the House hasn’t
brought much benefit to the region. While Ocasio-Cortez effectively
dinged her primary opponent, Joe Crowley, by pointing out
[https://theintercept.com/2018/06/16/two-very-different-democrats-joe-crowley-and-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-squared-off-in-debate-friday-night/]
that he and his family don’t live in his congressional district,
Neal’s reputation among his constituents might be worse: Last year,
some of his rural constituents took out an ad in the local Weekend
Gazette
[http://www.gazettenet.com/Hilltown-voters-use-missing-ad-to-needle-Rep-Neal-10668322] asking, “Has
anyone seen this man? (yes, he’s your congressman).”

Amatul-Wadud hopes to fill that absence.

An African-American lawyer, Amatul-Wadud has spent most of her life in
the Springfield area. She has been Muslim since the age of 4, when her
parents converted to the religion. Now 44, Amatul-Wadud has run her
own law practice since 2009. In addition to her legal work, which
includes civil rights advocacy for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations and Muslims for America, Amatul-Wadud has served on
the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women
[http://www.mass.gov/women/about-the-commission/commissioners/tahirah-amatul-wadud.html] and was
a member of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s Family Advisory
Council.

It’s an impressive resume. But Amatul-Wadud’s campaign isn’t
focused on her identity — professional, racial, religious, or any
other. It is focused on her politics.

Amatul-Wadud is confident that a progressive agenda is her best
selling point. Her campaign platform
[https://tahirahforcongress.com/vision] centers “Medicare for
All,” a strong social safety net, and civil rights protections as
top priorities. It’s a vision that has netted her endorsements from
Indivisible and the Progressive Democrats of America. And though she
hasn’t signed on to the popular “Abolish ICE” movement, which
calls for an end to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is
becoming a litmus test of sorts for Democrats this year, Amatul-Wadud
says that’s because she thinks a slogan won’t address the root
policy causes that have led to the agency’s brutal crackdown on
immigrants. 

“In my back pocket, I have being a lawyer and my other skills and
where I’m from,” said Amatul-Wadud. “But my constituents are
better served by having a candidate that puts vision first.”

“I feel a real sense of momentum growing,” said Jackie Neiman,
co-founder and co-leader of Rise Up Western Massachusetts Indivisible
[http://riseupwesternmass.com/]. “I think it could be one of those
campaigns that wins from the grassroots.”

Neiman pointed out that Amatul-Wadud’s challenge is one of only two
that Neal has faced in the 1st District — Neal’s last challenge
occurred when 2nd District, where he was a congressman, was combined
with the existing 1st District in 2012. Neal defeated both
challengers — Bill Shein and Andrea Nuciforo — easily, winning
65.5 percent of the vote
[http://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/neal-defeats-nuciforo-shein-in-1st-congressional-district-primary,429344]. This
time it’s different though, said Neiman.

“People are looking at what that their vote means and voting for
candidates that represent their ideals,” she said. “And Tahirah
seems more in touch with the average person in District 1: She’s an
active member of the community, a local attorney, she’s involved in
social action, and active in her own religious community. She’s very
connected in terms of local people.”

Amatul-Wadud’s district is geographically large but sparsely
populated. The biggest vote share comes from the city of Springfield,
where Neal was mayor from 1983 to 1989. And the congressman’s
perceived inattention to the rest of the district is highlighted by
his affection for his home turf. “Neal plays to his audience in
Springfield, and that’s where most of his votes come from,” said
David Greenberg, a member of the coordinating committee for the
progressive organization Franklin County Continuing the Political
Revolution [http://fccpr.us/].

Neiman told The Intercept that in a political climate where
progressive issues are being amplified, a solidly blue state like
Massachusetts should be an example of how to make ideals a legislative
reality. And for a district that’s as left-leaning as the 1st —
the majority of voters in the district picked Bernie Sanders
[https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/primaries/massachusetts] in
the 2016 Democratic primary, and the entire district voted for
Hillary Clinton
[https://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president/massachusetts/] by
a sizable margin in the 2016 general election — Neal isn’t
cutting it, says Neiman. 

“I think the most important thing about her race is that this is the
first time since I became involved that there seems to be a really
viable alternative,” said Neiman. 

Multiple attempts to reach Neal for comment on this article were
unsuccessful once the congressman’s office found out that this
article was for The Intercept — despite the fact that the author of
this piece, who lives in the district, has interviewed Neal on
multiple occasions in the past for other publications.

Amatul-Wadud is one of three women challenging congressional
incumbents in the Bay State. In the 7th District, which includes parts
of Boston and Cambridge, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley
[https://ayannapressley.com/] aims to topple 20-year Congressman
Michael Capuano [http://capuano.house.gov/]. Next door, in the 8th
District, game developer Brianna Wu [https://www.briannawu2018.com/]
is challenging nine-term incumbent Stephen Lynch
[https://lynch.house.gov/]. All are Democrats.

Amatul-Wadud’s race is a test of how deep the discontent with
longtime incumbents within the Democratic Party goes. So far, she is
running without the support of national groups like Justice Democrats,
Our Revolution, #VoteProChoice, or others that can help with
organizing and fundraising, and has raised significantly less than
Ocasio-Cortez did. Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Pressley — who also
campaigned for and endorsed Ocasio-Cortez — but has not backed Wu or
Amatul-Wadud. If even with all of those disadvantages, and with little
support beyond Indivisible, Amatul-Wadud can dethrone Neal, nobody is
safe.

Amatul-Wadud says she has made over 310 campaign stops across the
district since her December 19, 2017, launch, reaching over 14,000
voters and distributing 6,500 pieces of campaign literature. In an
area like the 1st District, where get-out-the-vote efforts can make
the difference in the farther-flung, rural areas, a strong ground team
is essential. Amatul-Wadud has 289 volunteers across the district
knocking on doors to spread her message, and she’s targeting the
cities of Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke, and Pittsfield to reach the
population centers of the district, she says.

Unlike Neal, Amatul-Wadud has rejected corporate money, but she has
not replaced that with a robust small-dollar operation yet. By the end
of first-quarter reporting, she had raised
[https://www.opensecrets.org/races/summary?cycle=2018&id=MA01] only
$35,208 to Neal’s $1,900,408, which is itself only a fraction of his
$3,449,784.59 campaign war chest. (Amatul-Wadud’s total fundraising
through June tops out at just $72,646.51).  

But Amatul-Wadud says those numbers don’t tell the whole story: Both
candidates raised roughly the same amount of money from individual
donors in the first quarter of 2018, indicating that Neal’s bigger
war chest is not indicative of a bigger fan base. Of Neal’s earnings
in the first quarter, only 0.42 percent was from individual donors,
compared to 58 percent of Amatul-Wadud’s.

Ocasio-Cortez showed that a massive financial disadvantage isn’t
fatal, but a campaign does need to pay for the basics, which means
having at least several hundred thousand dollars. Whether Amatul-Wadud
can hit that target remains a key question.

Neal is a senior member of the party’s congressional delegation, and
has had a three-decade political career. He rode to the top of the
powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over taxation,
as the ranking Democrat, and could make a bid to chair the panel if
Democrats retake the House in 2018. He’s a politically connected
member of the House Democratic Caucus — a longtime power player on
the verge of reaching the peak of his career.

In New York, Crowley was vulnerable to substantive attacks from
Ocasio-Cortez, who was able to draw a strong contrast between
Crowley’s enmeshment with the New York machine and her own
people-powered movement. Amatul-Wadud is hoping to draw similar
distinctions in Massachusetts’s 1st District — focusing on
Neal’s long held reputation in the district as uninvolved. 

“We’ve felt his absence, especially on the heels of the election
of Donald Trump,” said Amatul-Wadud. “The district is
suffering.”

As an incumbent, Neal has a home-field advantage, and perhaps as a
result, hasn’t felt the need to engage with Amatul-Wadud directly.
In a June 20 interview with Springfield’s WGBH, Neal implied that he
doubted Amatul-Wadud’s “seriousness of purpose” and said he
would have to look at “the metrics” before committing (or not) to
a debate. That attitude has only contributed to the sense that Neal is
an arms-length congressman. “In terms of retail campaigning, he’s
not around,” said Russell Freedman, an organizer with the Berkshire
wing of the Progressive Democrats of America. 

“I’ve heard people say, ‘If you want to see Richie, have a
parade, he’ll come march in it,'” added Freedman. “In terms of
coming out and talking to voters, he does not do it.” By contrast,
Amatul-Wadud has been criss-crossing the district since she announced,
making herself a district fixture, and appearing everywhere from town
anniversaries to social justice protests. 

But the recent success of Ocasio-Cortez, who made a campaign issue out
of her opponent’s unwillingness to come to the podium, seems to have
changed things: Only after Ocasio-Cortez’s victory did Neal’s team
respond to requests to attend a debate hosted by the Western
Massachusetts Young Democrats, who are based in the 1st District.
Still, Neal hasn’t yet responded to an invitation from the Berkshire
County NAACP, which is planning to host a separate debate on August
15. Amatul-Wadud, on the other hand, says she’s ready to go.

John Krol, a local television host based in Pittsfield, told The
Intercept that Amatul-Wadud is doing the right things to get people
excited for her candidacy. “She has been knocking on doors, talking
to people, understanding the issues regular people face,” said Krol,
adding, “Mr. Neal’s ‘sense of purpose’ comment is another
indication that he may very well be out of touch.”

The worst case scenario for Amatul-Wadud is that once Neal perceives
her as a threat, he’ll use his formidable political war chest to
blanket the district with ads, cinching the primary in the last
month. 

“He’s going to come out swinging with ads in late August,” said
Greenberg of Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution.
“And that’ll reach a lot of people.”

Amatul-Wadud, though, is staying positive. She says the race is about
ensuring that the district has a representative that reflects its
progressivism — and one who shows up. She hopes her consistent
messaging and the desire for change in the district will lead to an
upset. And as the Ocasio-Cortez upset shows, this isn’t a normal
year.

“Berkshire County is a very progressive part of the state,”
Freedman told The Intercept. “And we really need a progressive
legislator to represent our views in Washington, and Tahirah is
that.” 

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