By Jane Willis, Park Slope resident who spent the summer canvassing for Kashif Hussain in her neighborhood.
In the heat of the first day of the Judge Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings on September 4th, the heat index in Park Slope was way high, too. A number of my friends – mostly women – had gone down to DC to put their bodies on the line in Civil Disobedience to interrupt the Hearings and try to hamstring the inevitable attack on Roe V. Wade.
I had been invited to join them, as I had gone before, but today my plan was to continue to canvass for a candidate who is running for a local, unpaid District position.
Since January, I’ve volunteered my time to a number of progressive State Senate challengers, doing various tasks. It’s been a useful way to channel anxiety over corroding humanistic values on State and National levels – and help make something better and more hopeful.
The candidate I was canvassing for is Kashif Hussain, a Pakistani Immigrant who arrived here twenty-seven years ago with his family. He lives in Ditmas Park and has substantial credentials as a Community leader and a volunteer with the Police Auxiliary. He’s created nine nonprofits. In his day job as an Environmental Engineer, he works with the DEP, and the Port Authority. He’s a guy who knows the lay of the land, and the hierarchies of people, places and things that make things work- or not work – in the Boroughs.
I’m a white 61- year-old woman, a former public school teacher, and a bit of an outsider in my own neighborhood of Park Slope, as I only moved here five years ago.
I had thought that Park Slope was a Progressive community – I hear a lot about “our bubble here.” But as I walked around with Kashif this summer, I’ve learned that’s not actually true. I’ve noticed that there’s sometimes a vibe of “Otherness” and suspicion around the legitimacy of his campaign – in blatant and more subtle ways.
An exchange at a Democrat’s front door: “Are you a member of ISIS?” he asks.
During a reception earlier this summer, a woman asks him (I admire her candor): “Do you believe in Women’s Rights, even though you are a Muslim?”
Kashif fields this question thoughtfully and describes how, yes, his religion is Islam, but culturally, he is Progressive and does support Women’s Rights. She touches his arm then; she feels more comfortable now. Would she have felt the need to ask that question if he were a White Protestant, Catholic or Jewish Progressive Democrat?
I’ve noticed the enormous amount of educating and explaining that Kashif is required to do. Our conversations at doorsteps are often quite lengthy. The explaining part. That’s the thing.
Different from canvassing for white candidates, I’ve learned so much from Kashif about the art of meeting voters “where they are”. Or, as classroom teachers call it: being “with it.”
I’ve noticed the large amount equanimity with which Kashif delivers his answers, and the truckload of good nature required to respond to people who consider themselves “inclusive” but don’t always see that their own deeply embedded biases are showing. I notice how fully “present” Kashif strives to be while speaking with voters. To rise above and be better than best. I don’t know how this isn’t exhausting.
An exchange as I hand out a palm card on 9th street to a couple: “Oh yeah! We know him! The Arab guy! The Engineer!” How about the Engineer part coming first? And Pakistan is not Saudi Arabia.
It appears that a POC Candidate stumping on a campaign is perceived by a number of white Park Slope folks in this order: Person of Color first, Vocation second, then – Personality, Values, Neighbor, then Advocate/Leader, tied for the last place.
It would be interesting if someone with a stopwatch could follow both Kashif and his Opponent, a white man – and clock how much time each man stands on each doorstep legitimizing their campaign. Does the White Candidate need to spend as much time doing that here, in Park Slope, as Kashif?
When I’m canvassing on my own, my conversations are lengthy because Park Slope folks become interested in Kashif’s versatile background. We can get to that quickly – no justification needed, because I’m a white woman on my own today, supporting him, and that puts Kashif’s candidacy on the road to Okay.
This summer I got an inkling of the stuff that Kashif – and other POC candidates who have a good heaping of personal agency, and the support of their communities, have to endure when they have the audacity step out of the comfort level of their own neighborhoods to offer their resources to the larger community beyond
So can we stop with this myth of Park Slope’s “Progressive” bubble? Compared to what many of us would like to see… It’s not.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer. We accept opinion pieces and letters to the editor for consideration on any subject as long as there is a Brooklyn angle. Please email them to Liena Zagare at Liena@bklyner.com.