Ayla Kadah ’13 Carves Out a Space in US Politics
Ayla Kadah ’13 never imagined she would end up working in US state legislation.
Raised in Syria, Kadah moved to Jordan in 2012 to attend her senior year at King’s. Prior to joining King’s, she hadn’t given much thought to her future plans.
“I feel like King’s was my first step to getting to the things that I do now,” she says. “King’s made me feel more inclined to think strategically about my future and was very important in helping me determine where my opportunity lies and what my calling was.”
While in her third year as a psychology and communications major at the University of Washington in Seattle, Kadah began volunteering for the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. It was the first time in her life Kadah became involved in political organizing and activism.
“I kind of discovered the civic process,” she says, smiling. “I didn’t really know what I was doing — I was learning as I was going. I just started saying yes to everything.”
Leaping into the new world of civic engagement, Kadah ran as a delegate for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, an event at which elected representatives — delegates — select the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, one of the two main political parties in the United States. Following a competitive local election, Kadah was selected as a Washington state delegate to the Convention. One of almost 5,000 delegates from across the country, Kadah engaged in dynamic and passionate discussions with her peers, cementing her interest in American politics.
Returning to Washington, Kadah engrossed herself fully in her newfound calling. She joined the congressional campaign for Pramila Jayapal as a field organizer. At the same time, she was awarded a six-month fellowship by the Institute of Democratic Future. The fellowship allowed her to travel around the state, meeting with local leaders and learning about local issues, from immigration and civic engagement to reproductive rights and environmental justice.
“It became clear that this was the world I wanted to be in,” she says of local politics. “These issues affect me personally. They affect my family, they affect my friends.”
After Jayapal was successfully elected to the US House of Representatives, Kadah set her sights on the next opportunity, joining Rebecca Saldaña’s campaign for the Washington State Senate as the campaign manager. In the wake of another elective victory, Kadah followed Saldaña to the Washington Senate in 2017 as her legislative aide.
Kadah has worked in the Senate for over two years, furthering her close ties to the local community by getting to know her constituents and through additional volunteer work. However, she still often feels like an outsider.
Despite its reputation as one of the most diverse and progressive major cities in the US, Seattle’s bureaucracy doesn’t reflect the diversity of its residents. The Washington State Congress remains disproportionately older, male, straight, Christian and white.
“It feels like the perspective I’m bringing is one that’s largely underrepresented in these spaces of government, nonprofit work, and the legal field,” Kadah says. “There’s the feeling like you’re in spaces that were not necessarily built with people like me in mind.”
However, Kadah is not alone. She’s managed to find a strong support system of politically-active Seattle residents with similar “intersections of oppression,” she tells me. She knows that not everyone has access to similar support systems or opportunities. This is why she is working on developing a pipeline program for historically underrepresented people to work at the state legislature through Young People For, a leadership development fellowship in which fellows create blueprints for effecting positive social change in their communities.
For individuals in the US or elsewhere who are unsure how to get involved in local politics or who may be unable to, Kadah suggests creating a “community scan” to get a sense of the political landscape and key players involved.
“Get coffees with people, have lunches with people who do work that you’re interested in, who have a job that you want,” she advises. “Be bold in the way you pursue these opportunities. If you’re not someone who comes from a family that does this sort of work, this information isn’t just going to land in your lap.”
It certainly hasn’t for Kadah, who has spent the last four years juggling work, fellowships and community organizing, while learning the Washington state political landscape as a newcomer. These four years have thrown significant challenges her way, but Kadah’s support system of family and friends, and her belief in individual agency have kept her pushing forward.
“People are more powerful than they think,” she says. “There are pathways to getting involved and to reclaiming your story, your power, your voice — and that’s what I’m trying to do.”