With just a week to go before the election, Safiya Khalid was in tears. She had spent the past six months knocking on hundreds of doors in Lewiston, Maine, the city where she arrived as a refugee more than a decade earlier, and where she hoped to be the first Somali-American to win a seat on the city council. Suddenly, online trolls from as far away as Alabama and Mississippi were hurling vile abuse at her, telling her that Muslims had no place in American government and she should go back to where she came from.
“I just couldn’t take it,” Khalid told The Washington Post on Tuesday night. “I was crying so bad, my eyes were completely red.”
Khalid, a Democrat, was unsettled by the fact that someone had posted her address on social media. But she was also worried that the hate-fueled attacks would become a distraction. So she deleted her Facebook account, asked friends to look out for worrisome comments, and went back to pounding the streets with her leaflets and her clipboard.
On Tuesday night, she won her race by a significant margin. The victory, she told supporters, showed that “community organizers beat Internet trolls.”
NAN% reported- Race has been called
- Candidate has been eliminated
At 23, Khalid may be the youngest person to ever serve on the Lewiston City Council, as well as the first Somali immigrant. Her win on Tuesday night was one of several historic firsts across the country in local elections. In Virginia, Muslim women were elected to the state senate and the Fairfax County School Board for the first time. 23-year-old Nadia Mohamad became the first Muslim woman and first Somali elected to the city council in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, while Chol Majok, a 34-year-old who fled violence in South Sudan, became the first refugee elected to public office in Syracuse, New York.
But as Khalid’s experience demonstrates, running for office can be complicated when you’re a minority several times over. Though only about 36,000 people live in Lewiston, her campaign drew unwanted national attention as a photo from her high school days was shared thousands of times, and white nationalist blogs invoked fearmongering claims about the first two Muslim women in Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan. Every aspect of Khalid’s identity was weaponized, she told The Post, and she was attacked for being black, Muslim, a woman, and a refugee. At times, she admits, “I honestly thought, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
Khalid is used to facing challenges. She fled war-torn Somalia with her mother and two younger brothers at the age of 7, arriving in an unfamiliar land where they didn’t speak the language and knew no one. In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Khalid recalled that a social worker who helped her family to resettle in New Jersey filled their refrigerator with pork products, not realizing that the food was off-limits for Muslims.