By the time the election rolls around, Tahseen Chowdhury will only have just become eligible to vote. That hasn't stopped the 17-year-old from running for a seat in the New York State Senate.
If elected, Chowdhury, a high school senior raised by two Bangladeshi immigrants in Queens, would become the first Muslim State Senator in New York. MTV News talked with the teen about his vision for his community, and why his age actually makes him the kind of candidate New York needs right now.
MTV News: Tell me a bit about your background and why you decided to run.
Chowdhury: My parents immigrated here [from Bangladesh] in the '90s to give my family a better life...[to] just improve their life overall, and I think the story that my family has resonates well with the community. My dad works at a deli in Uptown Manhattan. My mom delivers newspapers. So we're a very lower-middle class, low-income working class family.
I felt like my representative wasn't doing a good job, so I ran against him. If I win, I would be the first Muslim State Senator [in New York]. I'm an outsider candidate focused on changing New York politics. In New York, if you want to run for office, you have to be chosen by another representative, or you have to have worked in the system for like 20 to 30 years. There's a lot of big money that controls the political establishment.
MTV: How do your parents feel about you running?
Chowdhury: They're very happy that I'm working to bring young people into politics, to bring more minorities into politics, because that's really the goal of this; to make sure that people—that other minorities—are willing to put their foot in the race.
MTV: Did you have ambitions of running while growing up? Or was this more in response to the 2016 election and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that was thrown around during it and since then?
Chowdhury: This is more of a response to what's happening in the political world right now. I never really wanted to be a political leader. I wanted to make sure that my community was well represented wherever I went. I felt like right now, running for office was the best way to advocate for my community, so that's why I am doing it. But overall, my life goal isn't to run for office. My life goal is to make a difference in the world and ... I'm going to take whatever opportunity is available to me at that time to do that.
There are young people running for office anywhere, everywhere, and that's something that's important to recognize.
MTV: What has the response been like when people your age versus when older people find out that you're running?
Chowdhury: Surprisingly, the older people are usually much more excited about this campaign. After Trump won, it's like everyone's in an "anything's possible" mindset, which is great for me. People are tired of the establishment always winning. They feel like the establishment is not representing their beliefs, but is instead representing big money. That is to a great extent true, especially in New York. I can't stress that enough.
MTV: Have you seen any pushback because of your age? Or because of your religion, or the fact that your family are immigrants?
Chowdhury: The first thing that people think about when they think about my campaign is my age. But … my campaign isn't unique, almost in any way. There are young people running for office anywhere, everywhere, and that's something that's important to recognize. Young people are finally getting involved in politics.
You always have people that will be like, "you're too young to do this" or "you don't have the education required to do X, Y, and Z." But me being so young is good for New York, because it's impossible to find a candidate nowadays who [doesn't have] special interests. In fact, if you want to run for office in New York, you will likely need to be supported by a major Union, a major organization, or a major financial backing. It's literally impossible for me to have any special interests because I'm so young. I haven't been involved in politics long enough to build those special interests, and that's part of what makes this campaign great.
MTV: What are your thoughts on your generation's political involvement more generally?
Chowdhury: I think the young generation has been avoiding politics recently. The youth voter turnout rate is very low, and that's something that I want to change. I want to make sure that people are getting more involved.
College tuition is going through the roof. Undocumented students are struggling to get financial aid, and they're struggling to get scholarships. We're reaching an age where we have to start paying for our own healthcare. As tuition goes up, so does, in New York especially, a lack of affordable housing. A lot of young people are struggling to find homes and affordable housing units. I'm really hoping make sure young people understand how politics affects them.
MTV: Could you talk more specifically about your stance on immigration, given that your parents were immigrants?
Chowdhury: I want to create a larger legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants, because a lot of the time, the reason they become undocumented is because there's been a mix-up in paperwork that can be easily corrected through the court lawyer. So providing a legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants would really help alleviate that issue for people that actually deserve to stay in this country.
We're not going to get rid of 11 million people anytime soon, so developing a way that they can continue to live in this country and continue to raise their families together, while also making sure that the government gets the tax revenue that they deserve from the income they're producing, is important. If we could get them documented, we can get them work permits. If we can get them access to these permits, then we would be able to provide them and their children with a better education and a better life.
MTV: What's your advice for young people who want to get more involved in politics?
Chowdhury: If you want to get involved, don't be scared. After I announced my campaign [I had a lot of] much older people who are interested in running coming up to me and [saying] they have always been scared to run for office, because you really do put your life out there. You put everything out there. There are people that will try to dig up whatever they can on you. So they've always been afraid to do it, but now they've been inspired to run. So that's something I hope to keep continue doing—inspiring people to run for office.
Just jump in. Get involved through your community organizations. Get involved through unions. Volunteer on a campaign. If you feel your representatives aren't doing a good job, and you can do a better job, then there's no reason not to run for office. There will always be people telling you not to do something, because they don't think now is the right time. But now is always the right time. If you want to get something done, don't wait for it.
Tahseen's campaign is increasing visibility not only for young people in politics, but for immigrant families and Muslims as well. As islamophobia rises around the country, learn how you can take action against prejudice at NoMuslimBanEver.com.