Bushra Amiwala, Glamour magazine’s 2018 College Woman of the Year, discusses her campaign for Cook County commissioner in Illinois’ primary election
Bushra Amiwala was unhappy with her community’s lack of representation in elected office. “As South Asians, we are part of the majority in the area of Skokie where I live, yet we have never had an elected official that looks like us or truly represents us,” Amiwala says. She decided to do something about it.
When she was a freshman at DePaul, Amiwala decided to run for Cook County commissioner in the 13th District. She campaigned in the 2018 Illinois primary election during her sophomore year. While she championed policy change, her true goal was to amplify the voices of those who often go unheard.
“Muslims need a public servant, someone to be an advocate for us in the community at large,” she says. “I was tired of us always either being victimized or being seen as perpetrators of violence.”
Amiwala ran against incumbent Larry Suffredin, who has held the seat for 16 years, for the Democratic Party nomination. Although she says she
didn’t have as many resources as her opponent, she wasn’t discouraged. Amiwala served as her own campaign manager and finance director and
educated herself about election law. Her community of friends and students at DePaul helped her enlist volunteers.
“Students would take the Red and then Yellow Line [on the ‘L’] to Skokie. I didn’t have money for an office, so we all met at the CTA station,” Amiwala says. “Because of DePaul, I was able to appeal to the younger generation, a group of individuals who were really excited about my campaign. Most of them didn’t even live in my district.”
Amiwala found support from women and people of color, even though her adversaries doubted that she would get their votes. And although Amiwala conceded to Suffredin on March 20, more than 250 volunteers worked on her campaign, and as a first-time candidate, she received about 13,500 votes—30 percent of the total vote.
“People supported me because of why I was doing it, not necessarily because of what I was going to do. The incumbent and I aligned on so many issues. Why you do it is how you win someone’s heart and mind,” she notes.
Looking ahead, Amiwala, who is now a junior majoring in management information systems and double minoring in community service and policy studies, hopes that minorities are better represented and supported.
“I hope that no child or young person thinks they can’t do something because they don’t see someone like them in whatever fields—politics, media, music, technology, anything,” she asserts. “I want to break people’s predisposed beliefs.”