The local political landscape of Washington state is going to look different in 2020, and two Muslim women are at the center of it all.
According to the state’s Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Washington), last month Varisha Khan and Zahara Roach became the two first Muslim women to ever be elected to local office in Washington State. Khan won in Redmond City Council and Roach won in Pasco City Council.
“Everyone we talked to and all research pointed to them being the first Muslim women, which is kind of shocking to hear in 2019,” CAIR-Washington spokeswoman Jessica Schreindl told The Seattle Times. “It shows Washington is a great state, but in a lot of ways we have a lot of work to do in terms of representation.”
Both women had been heavily involved with their communities before running for the seats. According to her website, Roach, a mother of three, taught in the Pasco School District for more than a decade. In the last eight years, she served the residents of Pasco as the Chair of the Planning Commission and as an Executive Board member for the Children’s Developmental Center, the lead agency that provides children from birth to preschool age therapies for developmental delays.
“Serving my community is at my core,” Roach writes on her website, “It was the example my parents set for me and now the example my husband and I set for our children. Pasco is my home and I’m very proud to live here.”
Though much younger, Kahn is not far behind in her achievements in local communities. After graduating from the University of Washington with a Bachelors in Political Science and Communication, Kahn worked at numerous nonprofit organizations in King County, focusing her work on making media and politics more representative and inclusive, according to her website. She also served as a Presidential Elector for Washington State in the 1st Congressional District in 2016, where she cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. At just 24 years old, she’ll be the youngest member of the City Council.
“To have a representative government in the city means so much for our entire community right now,” Khan told The Seattle Times. “Redmond is a growing city, and it’s finally time that we have those voices in the room and at the table and be included in policy making.”
Khan, who said she planned to focus on environmental concerns, pushing for a Green New Deal and a ban on plastic bags, will be one of three new faces on the City Council where there will be 5 women — the highest representation in recent memory.
Kahn will represent a city of 67,600 residents where about half are people of color and 40% are immigrants. Meanwhile, Roach will take on Pasco’s 73,013 population of which 23% are foreign-born. However, she says that diversity is not the only thing she is bringing to the table.
“While, yes, being the first Muslim woman is an honor, there are really big things at stake for everyone in the community,” Roach told Crosscut. “I’m committed to making my hometown and this area a better place.”