Mus­lim, Na­tive Amer­i­can women in his­toric wins

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

CHICAGO: A one­time So­mali refugee and the daugh­ter of Pales­tinian im­mi­grants shared the his­toric dis­tinc­tion Tues­day of be­com­ing the first two Mus­lim women elected to the US Congress. Both women - Il­han Omar, 37, and Rashida Tlaib, 42 - are Democrats from the Mid­west and out­spo­ken ad­vo­cates of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties that have found them­selves in the sights of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s anti-im­mi­grant poli­cies. Omar won a House seat in a strongly Demo­cratic district in Min­neapo­lis, Min­nesota, suc­ceed­ing Keith El­li­son who was him­self the first Mus­lim ever elected to Congress. Tlaib’s vic­tory was no sur­prise. She ran un­op­posed in a con­gres­sional district that stretches from Detroit to Dear­born, Michi­gan.

Mean­while, Demo­crat can­di­dates Sharice Davids and Deb Haa­land broke new ground on Tues­day, be­com­ing the first Na­tive Amer­i­can women elected to Congress. Davids, 38, of Kansas, is an at­tor­ney by train­ing and a for­mer mixed mar­tial arts fighter. She is also openly les­bian, in a state that is tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive. She de­feated Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Kevin Yoder. Haa­land, 57, of New Mex­ico, beat Jan­ice Arnold-Jones, a Repub­li­can, and Lloyd Prince­ton, a Lib­er­tar­ian. The two women were among a record num­ber of Na­tive Amer­i­cans who ran in the midterm elec­tions for con­gres­sional seats, gov­er­nor’s of­fices, state leg­is­la­tures and other elected posts.

Their sto­ries trace a sim­i­lar trail­blaz­ing rise through lo­cal pol­i­tics. “I’m Mus­lim and black,” the hi­jab-wear­ing Omar said in a re­cent mag­a­zine in­ter­view. “I de­cided to run be­cause I was one of many peo­ple I knew who re­ally wanted to demon­strate what rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cies are sup­posed to be,” she said. Omar fled So­ma­lia’s civil war with her par­ents at the age of eight and spent four years at a refugee camp in Kenya. Her fam­ily set­tled in Min­nesota in 1997, where there is a siz­able So­mali pop­u­la­tion.

She won a seat in the state’s leg­is­la­ture in 2016, be­com­ing the first So­mali-Amer­i­can law­maker in the coun­try. Be­fore that, she had worked as a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, a pol­icy wonk for city lead­ers in Min­neapo­lis, and as a leader in her lo­cal chap­ter of the NAACP - the African-Amer­i­can civil rights group. She de­cided to run for Congress af­ter El­li­son, who is also black, de­cided to give up his seat af­ter 12 years in Congress to run for at­tor­ney gen­eral of Min­nesota.

Omar has forged a pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal iden­tity. She sup­ports free col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing for all, and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. She op­poses Trump’s re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, sup­ports a uni­ver­sal health care sys­tem, and wants to abol­ish US Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE), which has con­ducted de­por­ta­tion raids.

Tlaib is the Detroit-born daugh­ter of Pales­tinian im­mi­grants - the el­dest of 14 chil­dren. A fighter who once heck­led Trump dur­ing a 2016 cam­paign stop in Detroit, she says she didn’t run to make his­tory as Mus­lim. “I ran be­cause of in­jus­tices and be­cause of my boys, who are ques­tion­ing their (Mus­lim) iden­tity and whether they be­long,” Tlaib said in an US tele­vi­sion in­ter­view in Au­gust. “I’ve never been one to stand on the side­lines.”

Like Omar, she blazed a trail through Michi­gan pol­i­tics, be­com­ing the first Mus­lim woman to serve in the Michi­gan state leg­is­la­ture in 2008. In Au­gust, she emerged as the win­ner of a Demo­cratic pri­mary for a seat va­cated by John Cony­ers, a long­time lib­eral lion who stepped down in De­cem­ber amid sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions and fail­ing health. With no Repub­li­can chal­lenger in the race, Tlaib’s elec­tion on Tues­day be­came a for­mal­ity.

The seat she won is in a pre­dom­i­nantly African Amer­i­can con­gres­sional district with few Mus­lim vot­ers. She says her con­stituents were at­tracted to her pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics, which are the po­lar op­po­site of Repub­li­cans. Tlaib has ad­vo­cated for uni­ver­sal health­care, a $15 na­tional min­i­mum wage, union pro­tec­tions, and tu­ition-free col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. She also has been mind­ful of the his­toric na­ture of her can­di­dacy. Dur­ing her tear­ful pri­mary elec­tion vic­tory speech in Au­gust, with her im­mi­grant mother by her side, she said rel­a­tives in the West Bank were watch­ing her suc­cess. “It just shows how in­cred­i­bly won­der­ful our coun­try can be,” she said.

“Strong, Re­silient, In­dige­nous,” reads the t-shirt worn by Davids in one of her cam­paign ads for elec­tion in the state’s 3rd con­gres­sional district, which in­cludes Kansas City and its south­ern sub­urbs. Haa­land, a mem­ber of the Pue­blo of La­guna tribe, is a well-known com­mu­nity ac­tivist in her solidly Demo­cratic district, work­ing tire­lessly to en­cour­age Na­tive Amer­i­cans - who make up two per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion - to vote.

She cut her teeth work­ing as a vol­un­teer for John Kerry’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2004 - mak­ing end­less cold calls to rally Na­tive Amer­i­cans to vote. Since then, she has not stopped cam­paign­ing: she worked full-time as a vol­un­teer for Barack Obama, and on dozens of lo­cal and state cam­paigns. She ran for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and served one term as the state party chair. “We need real peo­ple who are talk­ing about our is­sues and know what it feels like,” Haa­land told AFP in an in­ter­view ahead of the elec­tions, in which she ran in New Mex­ico’s 1st con­gres­sional district seat. “We have peo­ple in Congress right now who... don’t know what it’s like” to be with­out food or proper health care, she said.

She said although her dis­dain for Trump’s poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion, health care and other is­sues mo­ti­vated her to run, that was not the only rea­son. Haa­land and Davids join a num­ber of Democrats who have flipped seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, help­ing their party seize con­trol of the lower cham­ber from the Repub­li­cans and deal­ing a stern re­buke to Trump. — Agen­cies


MIN­NEAPO­LIS: Il­han Omar, newly elected to the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the Demo­cratic ticket, speaks to a group of sup­port­ers on Tues­day.


OLATHE, Kansas: Demo­cratic can­di­date for Kansas’ 3rd Con­gres­sional District Sharice Davids greets sup­port­ers dur­ing an elec­tion night party on Tues­day.

WASH­ING­TON: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump points to jour­nal­ist Jim Acosta from CNN dur­ing a post-elec­tion press con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House yes­ter­day. — AFP

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