She’s a woman, she’s 24-years-old, she's a Chinese immigrant and she’s running for a seat in Congress. Her name is Lindy Li, and she is ready to bring the millennial voice to Capitol Hill—but don’t dare call her a politician.
“People call me that all the time, but I really don’t want that label. I feel like I won’t be comfortable with it until it is dissociated with so many things I don’t like. For example, conniving and selfish,” Li said in an interview with BUST.
Moving to the United States from China at age 5, Li’s childhood was spent in Pennsylvania—the state whose 7th Congressional District she hopes to represent. If elected, Li will be 26-years-old when she begins her term, as well as the youngest woman ever selected to represent her state in Congress, a title currently owned by Elise Stefanik (R-NY) who was elected at age 30.
"I went from, ‘Oh she’s 24, she’s doing this as a joke,’ to being a serious candidate who is actually running a competitive race, who raised $300,000 with no professional staff…through pure love and hard work,” she said.
Lindy Li with the first woman secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.
Li is a 2012 Princeton graduate, who left a high-salary finance job in New York City to start a grassroots campaign—a move that she says brought an indescribable peace to her heart.
“I had this dream hanging over my head all these years, and I would always feel like something was out of place because I wasn’t working on it,” she said.
Li’s platform focused on social issues like cost of college tuition and women’s representation coupled with climate change, investing in the middle class and campaign finance reform. While these are all pretty typical of a Democratic candidate, unlike most others Li calls it like she sees it.
“I’m not just saying whatever the polls or the data indicate that I should. I look at things and say this is best for our community this is best for our long-term prosperity,” Li said.
She proved her gumption with her candid opinion on gun control:
“I’m so upfront with everyone. I think one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me is the ability to speak my mind—which means I probably would have been arrested in China by now,” Li said, chuckling. “They let me say whatever I thought was right, for example, it may not be the smartest move to say that gun violence prevention needs to happen. That we need comprehensive background checks to oppose gun show and Internet loopholes, but I not only said it, I put it on my Facebook page and I’ll say it again.”
Lindy Li with President Bill Clinton, one of her inspirations. She met him for the first time earlier this month. "I spent more time speaking to the President than anyone around, I think the secret service were actually getting a little annoyed," she said.
Maybe her willingness to speak so publically about her opinions comes from her experience battling the deeply rooted racism, ageism and sexism that she faces every single day. Young, female and a minority, it seems as though almost everything would be working against her success.
“Yes, there are times that I cry, I never cry in public. But, I look back on moments of sheer cruelty that I’ve experienced recently and I think, ‘Wow,’” Li said. “I can’t believe some people are so desperate to tear down a dream like mine that they are just willing to say whatever they think.”
But maybe it’s her self-proclaimed vitality and determination to make every perceived weakness into a strength that is working to build a movement of youth supporters behind her.
Laura Glennon, a 20-year-old Temple University student who calls Pennsylvania’s 7th District home, listened to Li speak at a recent event on her college campus.
“It’s a tough district, it’s highly Republican, but after hearing her talk I would definitely vote for her, I would definitely encourage people to vote for her. She seems like a seriously smart, educated candidate that would fight for not just people my age, but anybody,” Glennon said.
As the sixth largest state with 18 seats in the House, Pennsylvania is currently not represented by any women—a fact Li, a self-declared feminist, said needs to change.
“I think it’s a tragedy that more than half of the population in our beautiful state has no voice in the halls of power,” she said. “I’m not trying to supplant anyone, I’m trying to add our voice to the chorus of voices that actually make an impact on American lives. Why can’t we have a seat at the table, too? Why? We have to fight for it.”
Douglas Pike, a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer, is a proud supporter of Li's vision.
"She connects with people really well. She's just brimming with empathy and confidence," he said. "I think she will be able to inspire a lot of young people and a lot of people who feel underrepresented in Congress."
Rather than jump starting a political career that will set her on a pedestal looking down upon her constituents, Li believes in being accessible and truly acting as a public servant. Her quest is to become a stateswoman, as she writes in a letter to Pennsylvania on her campaign website.
“I think one other problem with our leaders today is that they forget why they are there,” she said. “They are only there because the people at one time trusted them, so I want to bring a sense of humility back too. I think our government would be better off if it were more human and humble.”
Li will run for the 7th District’s Democratic nomination in her district against Mary Ellen Balchunis, and if successful will face Republican incumbent Patrick Meehan.
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