As some voters discuss third-party candidates and ballot box boycotts for a presidential race that all but promises to install one of two genocidal geriatrics in the Oval Office, some Washingtonians could get the chance to replace their war hawk representatives in Congress with progressive challengers running in the name of a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. But with money and institutions stacked against the anti-genocide challengers, it will take an enormous movement of canvassers, door-knockers, and, of course, voters to get these underdog candidates out of the primary, let alone in the position to dethrone the Democrats’ darlings come November. 

Ceasefire from Sammamish

Imraan Siddiqi, a Muslim and first-generation American, has fought for his community his whole life. As one of the only Muslim students at his school, he remembered taking on de facto responsibility to speak up in class to educate his peers. Later in life, during the surge of Islamophobia following the 9/11 attacks, Siddiqi started writing op-eds in local papers debunking racist tropes. 

Eventually, that passion led him to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group that promotes social, legal, and political activism among Muslims in the US. He sat on the board of CAIR in Arizona for nine years, serving as the executive director of the organization for five years of that. At the end of 2020, he moved his family to Sammish and became the executive director at CAIR Washington.

When he moved to Washington’s 8th Congressional District—which straddles the Cascade mountains to include portions of King, Pierce, Snohomish, Chelan, and Kittitas counties—-his new neighbors told him to vote for Rep. Kim Schrier (WA-08) to keep the purple-ish district from flipping red, to maintain a Democratic majority in Congress, and to stave off the rise of facism. 

He voted for her, but for him Schrier crossed the line in November when she voted with Republicans and 21 other Democrats to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American serving in the House of Representatives, over her anti-Zionist rhetoric. Siddiqi noted that he did not hear a similar public condemnation from Schrier over the genocidal rhetoric her Republican colleagues spewed at Palestinians. Schrier’s Office sent The Stranger a letter to all her constituents, in which she condemned Tlaib and Rep. Brian Mast, who called Palestinians “Nazi civilians.” She wrote that she supported legislation to censure Mast, but according to The Hill, Democrats yanked it before it went to a vote. 

Siddiqi said Schrier didn’t redeem herself after that, either. In March, she approved a controversial spending bill that cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Then in April, she approved more than $26 billion in additional weapons to Israel. And in all these nine months, after Israel has killed at least 36,000 Palestinians, injured at least 83,000, and displaced about 1.7 million, Schrier has never called for a permanent ceasefire. 

“You know, as somebody who's voted Democrat their entire life, I ask: How are Democrats differentiating themselves from Republicans at this point?” Siddiqi said in a phone interview with The Stranger. “If they're not standing on any type of moral ground, they're just perpetuating the military industrial complex and devaluing the lives of Arabs and Muslims abroad.”

Too Little, Too Late

Melissa Chaudhry—a longtime advocate in the nonprofit sphere for environmentalism, housing justice, and peace—felt a similar dismay over the actions of her congressperson, Rep. Adam Smith, in Washington’s 9th Congressional District.  

Smith, a ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee who wins elections on the defense industry’s dime, became a clear target for protesters advocating against Israel’s assault on Gaza. But he eventually caved somewhat when he finally called for a ceasefire at the end of March, after Israel had killed 32,000 Palestinians. Chaudhry said she would have called for a ceasefire with Rep. Pramila Jayapal in mid October after Israel had killed 3,000 Palestinians.  

Despite his words, Smith’s not behaving like a lawmaker that really wants a ceasefire. The month after he called for one, he voted to send more weapons to Israel. 

“Smith seems to be deeply blind to the fact that the United States has immense leverage and power and responsibility in this situation,” Chaudhry said in a phone interview. “It is our weapons that are being dropped. And if we were to threaten to cut off those weapons, if we were to actually properly cut off those weapons in accordance with international law, in accordance with our own laws, then we'd be doing the morally right thing, and the Palestinians would stop dying.”

In a phone call with The Stranger, Smith took issue with Chaudhry’s analysis of his vote.

“The vote we took on continuing to provide Israel with arms is not mutually exclusive to supporting a ceasefire, primarily because of what Hezbollah and Iran are doing and the need for Israel to be able to defend themselves against that,” Smith said. He also noted that he twice voted down funding to Israel because it did not include humanitarian aid for Gaza. 

But Israel does not exclusively use its weapons to defend against Hezbollah and Iran. Last week, Israel bombed a UN school-turned-shelter, killing at least 30 people, with what US defense officials identified as a US-made bomb. When asked about that instance, he doubled down in his disagreement with Chaudhry's logic. Smith redirected, “There's also an argument that all the focus on Israel, the fact that the UN to date has still not condemned Hamas, incentivizes Hamas to not agree to the ceasefire.”

One of 535

But both Chaudhry and Siddiqi understand that they would each be just one more voice for a ceasefire in a body that overwhelmingly supports Israel. According to the Working Families Party tracker, as of May 8, only 94 members of Congress have called for a ceasefire. That leaves more than 80% of Congress who won’t even say the “C” word, let alone vote and apply pressure to achieve that end.

“It has to be a long game,” Chaudhry said. “But we also have to fight the fights available to us with the tools available to us. I cannot change the makeup of 535 people right now. I cannot convince 535 people of anything, but I can become one of them. Right?”

Similarly, Siddiqi said he would be “just one voice, obviously,” but, “one voice for a ceasefire is better than one rubber-stamping everything for Israel.”

With their campaigns, Siddiqi and Chaudhry join other pro-Palestine candidates who are also challenging Israel-friendly incumbents across the Country. Even in Washington state, WA Congressional District 2 candidates such as Lynnwood City Council Member Josh Binda and Green Party candidate Jason Call recognize the horrors in Gaza as a genocide and would advocate for a ceasefire in office. 

Plus, the tides are changing in general. In larger numbers than ever before, celebrities have started to express public support for civilians in Gaza, which helps to normalize the position. 

Perhaps this view seems optimistic, but Israel and Hamas could strike a deal before November. At the end of May, President Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, laid out a three-phase plan that stipulates Israel must withdraw from all densely populated areas of Gaza, and Hamas must release the remaining hostages. It is unclear if either party will accept.

Still, Siddiqi and Chaudhry both said that ending the bombardment will be just one step toward Palestinian liberation, something that a candidate backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) likely will not fight for. Chaudhry said she would use her office to punish Israel for war crimes and start a serious conversation about its apartheid system. Siddiqi would fight for Palestinian statehood. 

But Wait, There’s More!

While both candidates adopted pro-ceasefire branding in their campaigns, Siddiqi and Chaudhry know that’s just one part of the job.

“I'm not just a single-issue or a protest candidate,” Siddiqi said. “I’m standing for the people who are not in this 1% of the population, the people who are struggling right now and who want to see their tax dollars go to things that are going to benefit them, not death and destruction.”

Siddiqi would prioritize universal health care, lowering the cost of higher education, and making the US immigration system less punishing and dehumanizing. He said he and his team are still hammering out the details of his platform, so he did not have many specifics. 

Chaudhry would try to slash the US’s bloated defense budget and reallocate the money to human services, specifically expanding SNAP benefits that currently do not cover basics such as diapers and dish soap. She would also try to tackle deeply embedded Islamophobia in the immigration process.  

Chaudhry said she realizes that first-year lawmakers don’t typically pass much legislation, but she would join “The Squad” as soon as they would let her, always vote on her principles even if they’re unpopular, and use the position of power as a pulpit for important issues. 

A New Frontier for WA-08

Siddiqi and Chaudhry both have difficult races ahead of them. 

While Siddiqi flamed Schrier for not distinguishing herself from the Republican party, that might be her most attractive quality in their purple district. Before Shrier won her seat in 2018, Republicans represented the district for 32 years. Though she beat Trump freak Matt Larkin in 2022 by seven points, in 2020 she only beat Army Ranger and Republican Jesse Jensen by four points.

Siddiqi does not think he’s “too left” for his district. He can see himself scraping a lot of votes from Redmond Ridge, Sammamish, and Issaquah, which have large Asian and South Asian populations. He also sees potential voters in the Latino populations of Wenatchee, Ellensburg, and Leavenworth. But voters from all demographics, he said, may feel compelled in this “moral moment” to jump Schrier’s ship, which seems headed straight for the annihilation of Gaza. 

The Lefties That Came Before Her

Chaudhry also faces an uphill battle. Smith has held his seat firmly for 27 years, easily defeating challenges from the left and the right. Most recently, he faced a lefty challenge in educator Stephanie Gallardo. Chaundry said Gallardo did not make it out of the primary because she didn’t earn an important endorsement from the Stranger Election Control Board (SECB). The SECB wrote that Gallardo did not demonstrate a strong command of the issues, and her election would guarantee that an even crazier war hawk would replace Smith on his committee. 

Chaudhry doesn’t see losing Smith as a “risk.” Smith, funded by war profiteers, big tech surveillance, and what Open Secrets calls the “Israel industry,” has “never used his position to meaningfully stand for peace,” Chaudhry said in a follow up email. 

During “The Squad’s” ascendancy in 2018, Smith drew another lefty challenger, Sarah Smith, who earned the SECB’s endorsement, won second in the primary, and ultimately lost because the incumbent outspent her. 

With that in mind, Chaudhry does not expect to outraise her AIPAC-backed opponent. She does think she will out-mobilize him, though. “I'm not trying to beat him on fundraising. I'm trying to win hearts and minds,” she said. 

Where’s the Movement?

Gallardo also took the ground-game heavy approach to her campaign, but she started months earlier and found a big volunteer base in the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). DSA has yet to endorse in Chaudhry’s race. It's a safe bet that the group won’t let Smith put their logo on mailers—they basically follow him around booing at this point—but their hands-off approach to the current congressional elections could mean trouble for outsiders like Chaudhry and Siddiqi. 

DSA Palestine Solidarity Working Group member Carl Thomas said that he celebrates any candidate who rejects AIPAC and the US war machine. “But for us, individual politicians, they're just one tool that a movement can use,” he said in a phone interview.

Sometimes the juice is totally worth the squeeze, though. For example, Tacoma DSA co-chair Zev Cook worked on Tacoma Council Member Jamika Scott’s campaign in 2023. It made sense to dedicate time to electoralism in that case because Scott could win the race and organizers trusted Scott to use her office to build the movement rather than use the movement to win office and lock the door behind her. 

At the same time, Cook said, “I see so much more power coming from communities and young people being conscious around Palestine than flowing directly out of some elected office.”

That said, some community organizers will run the numbers and conclude that it's worth skipping a few shifts at the mutual aid feed to door-knock for Shiddiq, Chaudhry, or Seattle Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. And some won’t see a viable path to victory or even a clear return on investment if they do get one more congressperson vowing to change the US machine from within.