PITTSFIELD — Springfield attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud decided to run for Congress to combat a creeping sense of hopelessness, she said during an event Monday.
That resonated with residents in attendance at the Berkshire Athenaeum. Some expressed frustration with failed attempts to improve infrastructure in Western Massachusetts, while others sought solutions for engaging and keeping young people in Berkshire County.
Amatul-Wadud, a 44-year-old Democrat, said she aims to shake up the status quo and represent underserved voices and working families.
"The status quo is failing people," she said. "The system isn't designed to serve us. ... It's designed to serve the elite."
Indivisible Pittsfield hosted the event, attended by about 50 people, as part of its mission to educate voters. They've similarly held talks with the Democratic gubernatorial candidates challenging Gov. Charlie Baker, and will extend the same invitation to Amatul-Wadud's opponent, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield.
Too many children in Berkshire County are growing up without access to high-speed internet, she said. This impedes their access to information as they write their research papers, and creates a learning gap that could hurt them at the college level.
"That's a quality of life issue," she said. "It's an economic prosperity issue."
One resident asked Amatul-Wadud how she'd push past political vitriol and work with others with differing opinions. She said she does that work as a lawyer, and does it well.
"A lot of times, there's commonality," she said.
Remove the emotion, she said, pointing to her temple, "and think from here."
She pointed to Neal's seniority while noting many important metrics in which the region is behind the curve, such as median income and unemployment rates. She said a quick online search shows big industry donates generously to her opponent's campaign.
"When you have fresh blood in a seat like that, you are beholden to no one but the people you serve," she said.
Amatul-Wadud said she's also passionate about expanding access to affordable health care. When her daughter needed heart surgery, the surgeon not only saved her but was careful not to leave a scar.
"I think he spent more time stitching her back up than he did on the open-heart surgery," she said. "All of our children deserve that level of care."
Amatul-Wadud said that as a congressional representative she'd make it her mission to leave no one behind.
"Everything in your life is political," she said, recalling conversations with unregistered young people. "Don't give up your right to help shape that."
Amanda Drane can be reached at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.