When the call went out for Minnesota's elected leaders to join striking Minneapolis educators on the picket lines this winter, Minnesota's workers got to see firsthand who was truly with them.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar joined us without hesitation. One of my vivid memories of those cold and frantic weeks was a rally in minus-five degrees with her. We stood side-by-side chanting, "When we fight, we win!"
Omar and Minneapolis educators were together in our union's call for the safe and stable schools our students deserve. We fought for additional mental health supports for our students, contract language to support and retain educators of color, class size caps, a big raise for education support professionals and higher wages for our teachers.
We fought like hell for better schools for our students. And we won.
Omar, a former AFSCME member, stood with us from the start. It was no wonder so many of her supporters in organized labor were disappointed to see former Minneapolis school board member and failed mayoral candidate Don Samuels announce that he was running against her in the DFL primary in August.
Samuels didn't join Minneapolis educators on the picket line. He didn't release a statement of support or show solidarity with our demands for safe and stable schools. I don't think he said a word about the thousands of workers on strike and 30,000 students out of school.
Maybe educators should not have been surprised. Samuels won a seat on the 2014 board of education with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, almost entirely from conservative, anti-public-school billionaires. His major donors were the same individuals and organizations that push "market-based" approaches to education — slashing public school budgets, dismantling teachers' unions and implementing private school vouchers.
While in office, he memorably voted no when given the opportunity to support rehiring several educators of color who lost their jobs in budget cuts. Instead, he said, "Our job is policymaking, not hiring and firing." Policymaking and budgets should be about values and people.
A few years earlier, in 2007, Samuels was in the news for denigrating North High School: "My children will not darken the door of a Minneapolis Public School in this city … I've said burn North High School down!"
Burn it down? Not surprisingly, these comments drew a fierce backlash from North teachers, students, graduates, the North High principal, the Minneapolis NAACP and community members. One North Side community member said afterward: "We are of the opinion that he has a blatant disregard for his constituents that he allegedly represents."
Thankfully, the school board ignored Samuels. Now North High School is a fantastic place for students.
But that was only part of his quote. He also said he didn't want his kids going to a Minneapolis public school — and he kept his promise. Why would any of us want a person representing us with such a low view of one of our community's most important assets? Why would we want to be governed by someone who is contributing to the dismantling of public schools?
Also in 2007, Samuels wrote the foreword to a report advocating for private school vouchers from the right-wing Center of the American Experiment, a propaganda shop that is part of the national Koch-funded network of think tanks. Lately, the CAE has been part of the national campaign to deny students honest classroom lessons about the role of racism in American history. It has even criticized anti-racist training for school staff members.
If Minneapolis voters want someone who values public schools, Omar is the only choice in the race for Congress. If you think educators deserve a living wage, Omar is the only choice. And if you want a champion for public education and someone who rejects donations and support from conservative, pro-charter-school billionaires, Omar is the only choice.
She has been a steady friend of the Minneapolis Public Schools, both in Minneapolis and in the halls of Congress. She's an active member of the Education and Labor Committee in the House. Her MEALS Act, which was signed into law as part of the COVID-19 relief bill, provided free school lunches to more than 23 million kids during the pandemic. Omar introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act to allow every student to receive free school meals regardless of their family's income level. And she helped lead the No Shame at School Act to erase all school lunch debt and prevent schools from punishing children who have outstanding debt.
And, importantly, Omar is a public school parent. All three of her children went to Minneapolis Public Schools. Omar herself is a proud graduate of Edison High School.
If you love public schools and the students who learn in them as I do, there's a clear choice in the DFL primary. On one side, a proven legislator who has spent her career fighting for the public schools she trusts to educate her own kids; on the other, a man who would rather burn down a public high school than send his kids to one. As an educator, a union leader, and, especially, as a proud MPS parent, that's why I support Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Greta Callahan is the president of the teachers chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals.