In the second article of the Coffee with the Candidates series, the BNT talked with 28-year-old legislative aide Sahar Fathi about the race for the open 36th District House seat.
Coffee with the Candidates: Sahar Fathi wants more diversity in politics
By Tammy Chang, UW News Lab
Meet Sahar Fathi, a young Iranian-American woman who traveled to Rwanda to advocate for human rights and started the Middle Eastern Legal Association for people of Middle Eastern descent in the country. Now, she is trying to speak up for the 36th district by running to be the next state representative for the 36th District, a place she calls home.
The BNT recently caught up with Fathi over coffee at the Ugly Mug, a small cafe hidden on the outskirts of the University of Washington which she often frequented while she studied at UW.
Fathi’s parents first came to America to flee the Iranian Revolution in 1979. They met in Boston and immediately fell in love. Soon, they gave birth to Fathi.
“My father worked numerous jobs,” said Fathi. “He was a dishwasher and tutored kids while my mom worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. I was about eight and a half when my father got an engineering job over in Silicon Valley and we finally moved into our first house.”
When she was about nine, Fathi's mother took her on a trip to visit Iran in an attempt to reconcile family relationships that had been severed many years ago. While there, Fathi witnessed a mother attempting to save her son from a whirlpool only to be taken in by the water herself and almost dying.
“I asked my mother what I just saw and why it happened,” said Fathi. “My mom just replied that this was normal and that it happened every day. That’s when I first knew I wanted to help people.”
Making it happen:
Fathi graduated from University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree when she was 19. She then went on to earn a master’s in international studies and a law degree from the University of Washington. At age 25, she went abroad to work for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
“There were crimes in Rwanda that were unbelievable,” said Fathi. “Kids were placed in subsidized housing just 500 feet from the genocide area – the place where their parents were killed.”
She added: “I wanted to learn how to help people empower themselves.”
With this, Fathi started the Middle Eastern Legal Association (MELAW). The association seeks to advance the goals of its members and provide a legal voice for the Middle Eastern community in Washington while educating the public on legal issues facing Middle Easterners.
She currently sits on the boards of MELAW, as well as Northwest Immigration Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties of Washington.
She didn’t stop there. Wanting to learn more about financial mechanisms and why the state would cut funds, she began working as a legislative aid for Seattle councilman Mike O’Brien.
“I wanted to learn about finances, how to cheat the system and about financial mechanisms so that we can get the bang for our buck,” Fathi said. “I want to leverage funds for everyone.”
“We need more people of color, more young people and more law people involved with politics,” Fathi said. “ I want to see more diversity in politics because our country’s population is diverse. Don’t be afraid of change.”
Areas of strong importance to her are paid sick leave, racial-impact statements and housing discrimination.
“In Ballard, there are a number car campers – homeless people who are living in their cars,” Fathi said. “It’s an entire new population. In 2005, there were about 500 people living in their cars [in. Last year, that number jumped to 800.”
She added: “For most of them, they ended up living in their cars because they lost their jobs. They get tickets for parking, outdated tabs and many other things that they cannot control. How do we help these people?”
If elected, one of her goals is to put a policy in place for this situation.
“I will be a bold, creative leader for the 36th and for our state. I will fight for the issues that have the greatest impact on poor and working people because I believe it is the surest way to put everyone in Washington on the path to prosperity,” she said.
For more information about Sahar Fathi, visit her website at http://electsahar.com/.