Minnesotans know all about making political history.
We elected America’s first Muslim to Congress with Keith Ellison. And when he moved back home to run for Minnesota attorney general, we made history again by electing the first woman of color to represent our state, the first African-born member of Congress, and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress: Ilhan Omar.
Omar was elected in 2018 by a multiethnic, interfaith, intergenerational movement. A movement that recognized that the status quo wasn’t working. A movement that’s still pushing for change out in the streets today.
As someone who is dedicated to getting more women of color involved in civic life, I know this movement. Omar is part of it. That’s why I was so surprised to see her seat challenged by several men (opinion pages, April 7, July 6), men I’d never seen at community meetings or late-night organizing huddles; who I’d never encountered in the movement for progressive change.
I’m not familiar with any of them. One of them, Antone Melton-Meaux, has raised and spent an enormous amount of money, from a small, wealthy group of people, according to a report on huffpost.com. While less than 1% of Omar’s donations are over $200, more than 75% of Melton-Meaux’s donations are more than that. When I look at the folks donating to Omar, I see a massive grassroots movement raising millions off of average donations of just $18. A recent report showed the average size of his donations was more than $650.
Many of his biggest donors have raised millions of dollars for Republicans, including President Donald Trump. Melton-Meaux has said he wants to run a big tent campaign. Really? Big enough to include Trump’s donors?
That sure isn’t who elected Omar to Congress in 2018. The dozens of mailers I’ve gotten from Melton-Meaux’s campaign say, “bringing us together.” Who exactly is he talking about?
Are we talking about the working families of suburbs like Crystal, Robbinsdale or Richfield? The folks who have trouble paying their medical bills even though they have insurance? Omar is focused on these families — that’s why she’s a vocal advocate for Medicare for All, and an original cosponsor of the bill in Congress, a bill that Melton-Meaux opposes.
The folks who are worried that we won’t have a livable planet in a generation? Omar has been a leading advocate for a Green New Deal, which the men running against her are silent on.
Are we talking about the Black and brown and immigrant families across the Fifth District who face daily oppression from city police forces? Fifth District residents like George Floyd? Residents who Omar has worked to protect by introducing four bills just in the last month. Bills that would establish a federal agency to investigate officer-involved use of force, prevent Trump from deploying the military against protesters, criminalize police violence against protesters and send massive aid to the communities that need it to rebuild.
Do the men challenging Omar support these bills?
Or maybe we’re talking about the people protesting police brutality in the Minneapolis streets. I know Omar supports these protesters, because I saw her there. I’m not sure if the men challenging Omar do. But I do know that in 2015 Melton-Meaux wrote an commentary for the Star Tribune calling the Black Lives Matter movement “misguided and dangerous.” “The movement must quickly pivot” away from focusing on police violence, he said.
He says he’s changed his mind since then. I wonder if he’s changed his mind about the article he wrote where he described women’s sexual harassment lawsuits as a “new scarlet letter” for companies, as reported in City Pages. As a woman who’s experienced sexual harassment myself — just as Omar has — I wonder why he ever thought that at all.
He has spent his donor money on glossy mailers and TV ads that constantly tout his “American story” — as if Omar’s story isn’t American. Black Muslim immigrants like me and Omar who are constantly told to “go back where they came from” know a dog whistle when we hear one.
Rep. Omar has spent her entire political career taking on people in power. And the people of the Fifth District elected her because of it. She spent her first term in Congress fighting for Medicare for All, for a Green New Deal, for a higher minimum wage, and for Homes for All. She’s following through on her promises to fight for the people. And that’s exactly why the establishment recruited Melton-Meaux to run against her.
Omar makes Wall Street donors and special interests uncomfortable because she’s a leader in the movement for a more equitable economy. She makes the establishment uncomfortable because she challenges the status quo.
So they’re looking for a friendlier face, someone who will play nicely with the corporations and special interests who already have political power, rather than demanding a seat at the table for the powerless. That’s why they like Melton-Meaux.
As important as Omar’s election was in 2018, this election the stakes are even higher. This is an opportunity to prove that immigrants, Muslim Americans and Black women are just as deserving of seats in higher office as anyone else. This is our opportunity to prove that 2018 wasn’t a fluke. It was a mandate.
Habon Abdulle, of Richfield, is executive director of Ayada Leads (formerly Women Organizing Women Network).