Q&A with Kareem Kandil, Candidate for PA State House District 30

Kareem reached out to me in response to my call for Q&A’s with candidates challenging incumbents. This series is designed to highlight the folks who heeded the call to resist by running for elected office. Kareem is running for Pennsylvania State House in the 30th district, a North Hills District outlined in the image below. Kareem was born in North Carolina, but grew up in O’Hara Township. He is one of the new voices stepping forward in this election. The district is currently represented by Hal English (R).

PA House District 30

Your Name: Kareem Kandil

Your Pronouns: He/His

How do you describe your identity? I am a first generation Muslim American, and am most heavily impacted in my identity by the perceptions of immigrants and specifically Muslims in our culture. My work in progressive politics and advocating for vulnerable and oppressed groups are heavily informed by my persona experience with racism and xenophobia- and my growing understanding of intersectionality and the systemic nature of oppression has convinced me of the need for all oppressed and vulnerable communities to work cooperatively to seek universal human rights.

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? I was 11 years old on the days of the September 11 terrorist attack, and it was the single most formative experience during my middle school career if not my entire childhood. In the days immediately following the attacks and during the ensuing war on terror, the racial animus and jeering attacks came to a fever pitch. Only one boy in particular cared to defy the trend in the early days, a classmate who was no stranger to the unrelenting animosity I had now grown accustomed to. This boy was a favorite target of the usual bullies, and was always described as “strange” and avoided when not actively harassed. I will never forget how that one child who was no stranger to abuse and mockery – and who was no more than a minor acquaintance of mine at the time – risked even more negative attention focused on himself just to stand up for someone else. It wasn’t until we were older than he officially came out, and by then I knew full well that all the abuse and mockery in the world for his orientation were driven by nothing but hate and ignorance.

Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. I’ve spoken and worked with many LGBTQ identifying people, including many community leaders, on political work ranging from direct activism and protests demanding equal rights – to campaign work advocated for by the LGBTQ community and their allies to ensure equal rights and access to services for LGBTQ identifying people.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities? Enshrining the rights of the LGBTQ community and bringing anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people in line with those for any other protected class – through the PA fairness act or equivalent legislation

Creating and funding safe spaces and shelters for LGBTQ minors from violently unaccepting homes, ensuring they are not denied access to shelter and basic services because of their identity

Universally expanding sexual health services and treatment for STIs that disproportionately impact those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those in the black LGBTQ community whose problems are compounded by heightened policing/incarceration and general neglect of healthcare providers.

How does intersectionality inform your work? People do not exist as atomized and individualized categories of identity, but instead exist within a societal network of overlapping and intersecting identities – all with their own unique concerns and issues. Too often – even within a minority community – the most prominent voices still do not give voice to all the concerns and issues faced by that community. You can’t advicate for LGBTQ rights if you talk only to the white LGBTQ community and ignore the unique struggles of minorities in the community, just as you cannot advocate for Muslim rights by only listening to a select few prominent, straight male voices. Only through careful consideration and consistent platforming of diverse voices can we truly work towards equality.

The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. How does the General Assembly navigate this equivalency of personal religious freedom with systemic oppression and control of underserved people? If you are ostensibly providing a service to a community, then rejecting customers on a discriminatory basis is inexcusable – for religious reasons or otherwise. This selective bias in service has historically been a driving force in systemic oppression and segregation – effectively driving entire minority groups out of large population centers and fueling the process of ghettoization that leads to generationally compounded low SES status.

You are proposing a severence tax on natural gas drilling which you believe can be used to support public education. What specific investments in public education would you prioritize? I will prioritize maintaining funding for teacher salaries and pensions which have seen constant threats to funding, while pushing for expanded, universal pre-K education. Beyond increases in funding, I want to ensure equity in funding by ensuring the implementation of the Basic Education Funding Commission’s recently implemented statewide fair funding formula – which provides funds while taking into account the additional needs of disabled or low-income students – to all school funding allocation and not just the roughly 7% of total funding which it currently affects.

Your website mentions your political activism beginning with 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. What were you doing politically prior to 2016? Are you a supervoter? While the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign was certainly an important campaign for me and one in which I put in considerable time and resources, it was far from an introduction to political activism for me. I was proud to be one of the relatively few people to march against the Iraq war in the earliest days of the ramp up to that catastrophic engagement, and have continued to participate in political activism from that young age. I counter-protested with pro-choice groups when abortion rights and abortion providers were challenged, I’ve participated in and even helped to organize protests and strikes to advocate for women’s, minority, and LGBTQ rights, and I’ve continued to speak out in the anti-war movement at every opportunity. As for campaign work, I’ve volunteered semi-regularly for electoral races since roughly 2012 on campaigns ranging from local office races to national races such as the Bernie and Hillary campaigns of 2016 – and most recently I was proud to lend my support to Councilwoman Anita Prizio and District Judge Mik Pappas as they both successfully ousted long entrenched incumbents in 2017 with an unabashed progressive message. It is my belief that my campaign – along with other notable progressives in the Pittsburgh area – will maintain that momentum and continue to provide a new path forward for western Pennsylvania.

Political dynasties are rampant in Southwestern Pennsylvania politics – including the Costas, Wagners, etc. Two other Democratic members of the State House, Markosek and Hanna, are retiring because their sons are going to run, unopposed, for their seats. Some of these are ‘good guys’ but their ascent to power is not truly democratic. Why is it important to disrupt this legacy of political dynasties? I find it hard to believe that honesty would be a hereditary trait, so in my view there is no explanation for dynasties other than the fact they are good breeding grounds for corruption. While I can’t say anything specific to the incumbents mentioned above, it’s important our democracy be representative – and that means including more women, more LGBTQ identifying people, and more people of color. We need diverse leaders, not just legacies. While I’m sure any career politician can tout good experience from a family name, the fact is there are too many talented people out there we miss in the process. There’s no reason we shouldn’t work to be more representative. Democracy should not be a family business.

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters. I was endorsed by Emgage – a Muslim advocacy group – and the Pittsburgh DSA – a progressive group dedicated to pushing progressive alternatives to the entrenched mainstream establishment whenever possible. I anticipate coming endorsements from additional environmental, pro-choice, and minority rights groups as their endorsement processes are finalized.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media?

facebook.com/kareemforpa

@KareemForPa

www.kareemforpa.com/

Thank you, Kareem.

This series now includes: Aerion Andrew Abney (D19), Summer Lee (D34), Sara Innamorato (D21), William Anderson (D24) as well as Kareem Kandill (D30). I’ve reached out to Dr. Honora Rockar (D12), Daniel Smith, Jr (D12) and responded to others asking to be included – I’ll publish responses if/as they come in. Let me know if I should reach out to someone else.

I strongly urge you to read each post in this series and learn about the people stepping forward to resist.