Rania’s upbringing as a first-generation Palestinian and Catholic in West Texas was a special breed of conservatism. She hated that she was expected to be a wife and mother while for her brothers, there were no rules. As a kid, she made her mom drive her to a recycling facility—curbside recycling wouldn’t reach them for years. “Trash shouldn’t be this hard,” her mother would say.
In eighth grade, Rania decided to leave the Catholic Church. She was sent to the monsignor, who asked her, “You know you’re going to hell, right?” Rania replied, “I’ll see you there.”
Politics called to her, and she eventually worked her way into senior positions. But home wasn’t easy. She married young and put her husband through grad school by working four jobs. But her husband didn’t like her. Rania was depressed and miserable, so she kept escaping to campaigns all over the country. When she finally ended it, her dad wouldn’t speak to her for months, and her mom wept, “You’re going to die alone!”
It wasn’t some magical turnaround. Her first relationship after her divorce became abusive and drove her into financial ruin. Her house was foreclosed. And she could never let the men in her professional life find out—it was already hard enough to be taken seriously.
This was all going on in the background as she led communications strategy for a North Dakota senate race. In 2012, the ND governor was handing out fracking leases like candy—feet from people’s back doors and schools. Crude oil was taking priority on trains, leaving farmers with stacks of rotting produce while trains exploded because of the volatile “sweet crude.” ND needed another way to transport oil. And so the pipeline conversations started. First, the authorities planned to run a pipeline through Mandan, where rich, white people lived. But as Rania expected, the Army Corps soon rerouted it—straight through Standing Rock and the water source for hundreds of thousands of people. Rania spent the next decade fighting for the rights of Native peoples and water protectors, including during her time as Bernie’s deputy campaign manager.
She’s in a healthy marriage now, but she sees gendered conditioning everywhere in the political and advocacy world, where sexual assaults are so often hidden, even in the climate movement. She’s trying to forge a new norm: advocating for women, and turning down misogynistic millionaire clients.