Junaid Ahmed never planned to run for office. As a life-long community organizer, he was happy to work in the background, supporting politicians who promised to fight for everyday people in Washington. After years of seeing no real change, however, he knew that he could no longer take a back seat. He needed to be the change he wanted to see.
Now running in Illinois’s 8th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives, Ahmed seeks to bring real representation for working people to Congress. In the wealthiest nation on the planet, he believes everyone should thrive. His progressive platform features reforming the healthcare industry that focuses on people, not profits, reforming the education system, and building a green economy. Ahmed doesn’t just want to challenge his opponent — he wants to challenge the status quo.
From Supporter to Challenger
Ahmed’s story starts in 2017. This was the year he joined incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi’s campaign as a volunteer staffer. He did phone-banking, door-knocking, and other on-the-ground work that was a big part of the campaign’s success. He even recruited his nieces to help him.
“Until I ran myself, I have always been an on-the-ground, working kind of a guy. I’ve never been a confined-to-a-chair guy,” Ahmed said.
He worked hard to support Krishnamoorthi’s campaign specifically because of his promise to change the healthcare system and support a push toward Medicare for All.
But two years later, no real progress had been made. Feeling frustrated, the people who had helped Krishnamoorthi get elected stormed town hall meetings to confront the politician.
“In 2020, during the pandemic, he wasn’t pushing for Medicare for All. The community asked him why he wasn’t talking about it anymore,” Ahmed said. “He claimed he had constituents who didn’t want to lose private insurance, so he couldn’t support that.”
Krishnamoorthi eventually stopped showing up to town hall meetings at all. Ahmed, along with other community organizers, began digging deeper into his political contributions. Discovering campaign donations to Krishnamoorthi from the healthcare industry and contract firms, they doubted he would ever pursue the progressive agenda that he had run on.
“I told the volunteers that we can keep volunteering for our whole life, and we’re going to keep getting played. We need to start penetrating deep at the local level,” Ahmed said. “I kept asking people if they would be willing to run and was continually being turned down. No one wanted to go against this guy who had all this money.”
The quest to find the right candidate was daunting. Whoever accepted the challenge would be facing off with a Congressman who has one of the largest stockpiles of campaign cash in the United States. Community advocates knew they needed someone who was a strong fundraiser, held true progressive values and understood the district better than anyone else. They realized they had the perfect candidate already in front of them: Junaid Ahmed.
After being approached by the community to run, Ahmed wasn’t sure if it was the right decision. His small business was starting to see success, and he wanted to focus on building it. However, he felt a force pushing him to accept the challenge.
“We need to make a real change in our community. I wanted to be a part of the change,” Ahmed said. “Not just talk about it, but be about it. So I had a discussion with my family, and they were behind me 100 percent. I decided to go for it.”
Understanding the Problem with Politics
Ahmed is running on a fiscally-responsible progressive platform, but unlike Krishnamoorthi, he fully intends to deliver. His policy agenda will restore the American Dream for those who have been routinely overshadowed by corporate and other special interests.
His top issue is universal healthcare because he believes everyone deserves access to good healthcare. The biggest barrier to passing Medicare for All is special interest groups, according to Ahmed.
“Healthcare is a human right, not a profit opportunity,” he said. “The pandemic showed us that health insurance tied to your job is risky business. Millions lost coverage when the pandemic hit. We need to ensure all citizens have access to care, especially during a global health crisis.”
Ahmed also seeks to remedy the student-debt crisis.
“It wasn’t until recently that my wife and I were able to pay off her student loans. I’ve witnessed first-hand how difficult the burden of student loan debt is,” said Ahmed. “It’s the same for millions of Americans. Many are forced to make hard decisions about whether to buy food or not miss a payment on their loans.”
Ahmed believes the time to end student debt is now. While he applauds President Joe Biden’s extension of pausing federal student loan payments, he believes the President should fulfill his campaign promise to eliminate $10,000 of debt for each graduate. Payments are set to resume this May.
“More than 90 percent of borrowers say they’re not ready to resume payments,” Ahmed said. “We need to transform the education system from the bottom up. Let’s start by eliminating a portion of student loan debt for those most at risk of defaulting and work to make higher education affordable for all Americans.”
As a whole, Ahmed’s platform stands up for the little guy. He also wants to implement tax policies that favor low- and mid-wage workers rather than upper management and the wealthy. In addition, he takes a strong stance in support of women’s rights and criminal justice reform.
It’s an ambitious platform, but Ahmed is undaunted by the challenge.
“I never planned on becoming a candidate, but now that I’m one, I’m going to do everything in my power to fight for the people, not corporations,” he said.