Michigan is set to elect a powerful advocate for environmental justice

Rashida Tlaib is about to make history.

CREDIT: Ben Seese via Flickr
CREDIT: Ben Seese via Flickr

Rashida Tlaib is set to be the first Palestinian and Muslim woman elected to the U.S. Congress following a tight race in Michigan on Tuesday. The candidate cinched the Democratic nomination in a win likely to be welcomed by progressives and green groups, many of whom have lauded her campaign’s emphasis on inequality and environmental justice.

After running neck-and-neck with Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones late into the night on Tuesday, Tlaib claimed victory with more than 33 percent of the six-way vote, all but guaranteeing her a spot in Congress come November.

She is looking to replace former Rep. John Conyers (D), who held the seat for Detroit’s 13th district for more than 50 years before resigning following sexual harassment allegations. Tlaib will now run unopposed for his seat, as no Republicans or third-party candidates ran in Tuesday’s primary.

In a tweet posted early Wednesday morning, Tlaib expressed shock and gratitude.

“Thank you so much for making this unbelievable moment possible. I am at a loss for words. I cannot wait to serve you in Congress,” the nominee wrote.

Following the November election, Tlaib will likely begin a two-year term. In an odd twist, however, she appeared to have lost the special election race to Jones, who seems set to briefly finish Conyers’ term. Tlaib was one of more than 100 Muslim Americans running for office this year and a victory in November would make her the first Muslim American in Congress, as well as the first Palestinian American woman.

Tlaib has garnered support throughout her campaign from progressive groups and lawmakers, many of whom have praised her stances on a host of issues. She has largely been linked to the politics of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and received an endorsement from Democratic newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stumped for her in Michigan. Greater Detroit Democratic Socialists of America also cites Tlaib as a member.


The eldest of 14 children born to Palestinian immigrants, Tlaib gained prominence after serving for five years in Michigan’s House of Representatives. She was the first Muslim-American to serve in the state’s legislature. During her time in office, she famously fought the conservative billionaire Koch brothers over petroleum coke pollution, or petcoke.

And in 2016, Tlaib was escorted out by security from a rally for Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate.

A long-standing champion for progressive causes with close ties to activist circles, Tlaib has emphasized her low-income background and argued for a $15 minimum wage, along with backing universal health care. She also expressed early support for the Abolish ICE movement, which calls for an end to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency largely associated with the mass detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Tlaib’s campaign has notably centered on environmental issues, calling out Michigan’s ongoing water crises. The city of Flint has struggled with water contamination since 2014, exposing more than 100,000 residents to lead poisoning. And two Michigan communities in Kalamazoo County are now facing water restrictions after “high amounts” of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were found in their water. The chemicals are dangerous and linked to cancer and liver disease. Detroit, the city Tlaib would represent, has also faced water shutoffs for years.

Environmental protection is cited on Tlaib’s website as one of her four leading campaign focuses. She has heavily linked environmental issues to racism and classism, noting that low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately born the brunt of Michigan’s struggles with pollution and water contamination.

Michigan Democrats faced off over environmental issues throughout the primary, with a strong focus on water concerns across the state as well as the controversial Enbridge Line 5 pipeline.


In the race to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R), Abdul El-Sayed, the former executive director for Detroit’s health department, mounted a challenge against former Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer in the state’s Democratic primary that drew support from the likes of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

Both candidates notably emphasized a commitment to environmental justice, but El-Sayed received praise for his emphasis on the connection between environmental issues and public health. He ultimately lost to Whitmer on Tuesday — she will go on to face Republican Bill Schuette, Michigan’s Trump-backed attorney general, who brought the prosecutions in Flint’s water crisis.