You may be hearing a lot this year about Reem Subei. She’s a civil rights attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equity (ABLE) who is running for state senate in District 2, which encompasses most of Toledo’s suburbs. Despite the delay of the Ohio primary election until June 2, mandated by the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, the City Paper recently sat down with Reem to figure out what makes her tick. We are pleased to share the highlights of that conversation here.
What motivated you to become a community advocate? One of my mom’s friends was a victim of domestic violence. She came over one day when I was young, and I heard them talking about her abusive partner; she had filed a report with the prosecutor and was waiting for the prosecution to happen. Well, she came back a couple of weeks later, and she was crying, saying that the prosecutor chose to let him off the hook. When I heard that woman’s story, I felt really powerless. I swore to myself that when I grew up, I would be able to do something for women like her.
I was always kind of an organizer. I organized my classmates to object whenever something wasn’t right at school, and I organized my siblings to protest our parents when we wanted something to go differently.
How have your experiences as a civil rights attorney shaped your political outlook? After graduating from law school at the University of Toledo, I took a job at a civil rights organization working on employment discrimination and discrimination against students of color in schools. I also worked as a guardian ad litem and a mediator in juvenile court.
That experience was one of the most important experiences of my life because as a guardian ad litem I was responsible for writing a report to the magistrate recommending where a child (or children) will spend the rest of their lives. It’s a huge responsibility.
When I started working at ABLE, my first project was on lead poisoning and the harm that comes upon children in poverty who are living in lead-poisoned homes when the state fails to ensure that those children are protected. Part of my work now is to write legislation for community organizations that want to pass ordinances at the city level, as well as bringing comments and complaints about the laws before the state on behalf of my clients.
What motivated you to run for office? I read the laws that are being written and think, who is writing this? What were they thinking? There are so many loopholes, exemptions for people who don’t deserve exemptions, and protections from liability for corporations.
Often times my clients have asked, “Why is this happening? Why isn’t there a cause of action, why can’t we be awarded damages?” And I would have to say, well, I didn’t write the law. And that became extremely frustrating.
If elected, you’d be serving as a freshman legislator in a minority party. How would get good laws passed given those disadvantages? My campaign isn’t only about passing legislation; it’s about organizing people and bringing their voices into the senate. And change isn’t just about passing laws – laws are important, but they have to be supported by the people.
What do you say to a skeptic who thinks things are going well here in Ohio? Ohio is leading the way in depths of despair. It’s leading in opiate addiction deaths. It’s leading the way in infant mortality rates. It is also leading the way in gerrymandering and disenfranchisement of voters and corporations buying elected officials, which is why we don’t see change. It is not leading the way in education or economic growth or public transit or environmental protections or lake preservation.
Why should voters vote for you? We need change, and I bring a new perspective to the table. I bring the perspective of working families and community groups, the perspective of people of color and women.
Years lived in Toledo: I’m going to leave this blank because I think we should ask people where they are now, not how long they have been here. That’s what welcoming is about
Occupation: Civil Rights Attorney
My story, in one sentence: Community
One song lyric to describe my ideal self: Do you hear the people sing?/Singing a song of angry men?/It is the music of a people/Who will not be slaves again
What I’m doing, and what I want to achieve: I’m advocating justice and equality and aspire to build a movement around justice and equality for all.
If I could change one thing about Toledo: The centralization of power
If I knew I could get away with it, I would: walk into a live tv set and sing a song
When I’m craving a Reuben sandwich, I go to the Leaf and Seed Cafe
The artists and musicians I love: Beethoven, Lupe Fiasco, and Toledoan Isaac Klunk
The Toledoan I’ve met in passing that I’d love to get coffee with: Lisa Tucker-Gray, Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church.
The Toledoan I most admire: Eugenio Mollo; his kindness, compassion, and dedication to uplifting everyone is an inspiration
My favorite local people to follow on social media are: @toledofamous and @Cala_Verita @EmmaHendersonTV @Lizskalka @goldenrulemack