Nida Allam

Nida Allam, who is on the Durham County Board of Commissioners, is running for Congress to represent N.C.’s District 4. 

Nida Allam was satisfied with carrying out her political involvement through grassroots-level organizing. She never expected get into politics as a candidate.

“I studied Sustainable Materials and Technology at N.C. State,” Allam said. “My plan was to follow in my sister’s footsteps and my dad’s footsteps and going into the STEM field.”

However, in February 2015, tragedy struck and Allam’s path was changed when three of her friends, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed at their home in Finley Forest Condominiums in Chapel Hill.

“That really was the catalyst for me to start looking into politics more seriously,” she said. “I realized after the police chief and local officials and the press labeled it as a parking dispute, and ignored the fact that this man had threatened them multiple times before with a gun. Just dismissing that he had committed a hate crime, and that he hated them because they were Muslim is really what made me look at North Carolina laws and what led to this moment.”

In 2019, Allam ran for Durham County Board of Commissioners, becoming the first Muslim American elected to office in the state. She is now campaigning for North Carolina’s 

4th Congressional District, and spoke with the News of Orange County about her hopes to represent the state’s working class.

NEWS OF ORANGE COUNTY: Why are you running for Congress to represent N.C. District 4?

NIDA ALLAM: I saw this as an opportunity. We have an opportunity in this congressional seat to send a progressive fighter who’s going to push back against Republicans and actually be a champion for working-class people and people who haven’t had their voices heard.

NOC: Once you decided to become more focused in politics, after the tragic killing of your friends, how did you become more involved?

NA: By volunteering for the (2016) Bernie Sanders campaign. I was eventually hired to work for him as his political director, was elected vice chair of the state party, where my focus was on how to bring more communities of color and people of faith-based minorities into the party, and build that long-lasting relationship with them, not just around election cycles. I had realized that North Carolina didn’t have enough diversity in representation, and that we needed more voices in elected leadership positions of people who have been impacted by failed policy decisions to be at the table to make sure that we actually are driving change and taking issues seriously.

NOC: What are some areas or policies that are most important for you to work for?

NA: Passing robust hate crime prevention legislation, to make sure that no one has to endure and suffer the pain that my community and so many other communities continue to feel because of the hatred and bigotry that continues to unfortunately grow. We know that here in North Carolina, we can’t wait and count on Republicans at the state level to take action. I’ve worked with state legislators for several years now to introduce hate-crime prevention bills at the state level, and Republicans refused to take it out of the rules committee and put it on the floor for a vote. We need federal-level action, to be sure that everyone, not just in North Carolina, but people all across the country can live with dignity and without fear in this country. And ensure protections against religious discrimination, protections for LGBTQ community, people of color. Everyone should feel safe here. Another area would be climate change. We continue to see the buck passed down the road where folks saying this is something that we can address later. Climate change is an immediate goal, we’re seeing now it is urgent. We have less than 10 years to stop irreversible damage to this planet. This district is very young — the average age is 36-years-old. It’s my generation and the next that’s going to have to live with the repercussions of inaction. Me and my husband are currently family planning, and we’ve been very open about that process. We want to make sure that there’s actually a livable planet for our children. And that’s why I’m going to go D.C. to support a Green New Deal to make sure. That is the only plan that puts us on track to stop irreversible damage and create millions of jobs to boost our economy and guarantee a good future for our children. 

NOC: What are some ideas or policies you share with Republicans that you can see yourself working with them to move forward, should you be elected to Congress?

NA: There’s so many things that voters and people in this country agree on. We’ve seen the polling, we’ve seen that Republicans and Democrats alike believe that every individual’s right to vote should be protected, and that everyone should be able to vote. And we need that level of action on the federal level. I think everyone would agree that we need to get big money out of politics and need to end the corruption that is in D.C. The key to that is by ending Citizens United and making sure that our elected officials are actually accountable to the people who put them in that seat, the people in their district instead of corporations and special interests.

NOC: In your experiences in the political realm so far, what are you most proud of or consider successes?

NA: One of my proudest moments with the state Democratic party, of being a leader there, is working over four years to form the Interfaith Caucus. I now serve on the executive committee of that caucus where we work to build relationships with communities within their faith-based organizations and bringing them to the table where elected officials are having roundtables with them. We’re hosting events and meet-and-greets so they can talk and learn about the issues happening at the school board level, state legislative level, at the federal level, because that’s how we educate and show our communities that we are the “big-tent” party that cares about them. As a commissioner, one of the areas that I’m very proud to have supported — one of my first votes on the county commission — was raising the minimum wage for our county employees to $15 per hour, and pushing to make it retroactive to the beginning of the school year because our school staff are suffering amidst the pandemic. A lot of my mom’s lessons from when I was a child, I used to work with her a lot when she was chairwoman of our mosque, and helping refugees and immigrants who were new to North Carolina, taking a lot of those lessons that I learned from her and working with Council member Javiera Caballero on the City Council to make the first of its kind for Durham, the jointly funded Immigrant and Refugee Services Coordinator position, and to make sure that all people who are coming to Durham or coming to North Carolina feel welcome and safe in their home.

NOC: How long have you lived in the area?

NA: We moved to North Carolina when I was 5-years-old, and I have lived in the district ever since.  

NOC: The country, earlier this year, recognized the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. What was your feeling about that day as those events were unfolding?

NA: I think honestly, as most Americans, there was this overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty that our democracy was being attacked. And there were individuals, these insurrectionist who were filled with hate, that wanted to overthrow our government. That is a very terrifying thing to even think about. And knowing that there were elected officials, even here in North Carolina, who were supportive of their actions who were speaking at rallies, and before the insurrection began encouraging their actions. We need better representation. We deserve elected officials who actually care about our state, and who actually care about protecting our democracy and keeping America whole. I think that’s really important for us, as elected officials of all levels, of making sure that we educate our constituents, educate our community members on ways that they can have their voices heard and be active civic community members, because it starts at the local level and builds its way up to have your voice heard.

NOC: There are a number of politicians in Washington, D.C., who have mastered the art of social media, and tend to use Twitter to communicate their opinions, and even carry out conflicts through tweets. Where do you stand on using social media as a method of communication with your constituents?

NA: Social media is a really powerful tool and especially as we continue to grow in this digital age, it is the fastest mode of communication that we have. And I think there are definitely ways to harness that power and use it to disseminate information that is valuable and important to our constituents, to our community members about legislation that’s going to impact them, and making sure that they’re educated. But I think, for me personally, they will never replace hosting town halls and having coffee meet-and-greets and community visits. I remember growing up, when we would have elected officials coming to the mosque to visit us, that was always a really great treat. Especially for a young Muslim child in a post-9/11-world, having our elected official representatives show up and show that we were welcomed in their community, and they were happy to represent us was so important. I think it’s important for our elected officials to continue that, to make sure that every community member feels heard and have the opportunity to have that conversation. Because we don’t just represent the people who are on social media. We represent a very broad and dynamic community.

NOC: You mentioned the average age of the district: what response are you getting from that demographic?

NA: We have already mobilized over 40 youth ambassadors. As I mentioned, the average age of this district is 36, and we deserve to have a younger voice in that representation at the federal level in North Carolina, especially one that cares and is outspoken for working-class people and organizes out of love for their community. We have youth ambassadors from all three universities in this district, and they’re spread across these universities. They’re already texting, phone banking, going out to register their fellow classmates to vote, and building that momentum and energy. That’s what we need to turn North Carolina “blue.” It’s not just about winning this primary election, even though this is a D+22 seat on the map. We need an elected official who is going to mobilize young folks, mobilize people who haven’t had their voices heard, who haven’t seen representation that looks like them, who believe in the issues they care about, to energize them so that the turnout in the general as well, so that we can elect a Democratic senator, so we can protect Gov. Cooper’s veto in the State Legislature.

NOC: Who at the state or federal level in politics is your superstar, or someone you would want to be your mentor, should you be elected?

NA: Someone who’s been truly inspiring to me, especially during these pandemic years is (Missouri) Representative Cori Bush. We are constantly told by elected officials, “I’m just one person.” I can’t move this legislation because “I’m just one person.” But she has shown the strength of one person who is dedicated and committed to their community and cares about their community when she single-handedly extended the eviction moratorium, when she was constantly told “no, no, no.” She didn’t take no for an answer. And she took to the steps of the Capitol and protested and put her body on the line. We don’t see that from our elected officials. It came out of a place of love and a place of caring for not just her constituents, but for people across the country who were going to be put out onto the streets in the cold during a pandemic. She needed to take action and I think we need more of that care and compassion from elected officials.

NOC: What do you do for fun:

NA: We try to spend as much free time that we have together with our dogs. We take them for walks. My parents actually live close by, so I get to go and visit them and spend as much time with them, because that is what really keeps me grounded. That makes me feel whole and sane through this entire process to have that support system.