Imagine a woman.
Picture her to be petite, and dainty, and soft spoken. Picture her as the type of woman to never raise her voice in frustration or anger. Now let’s add some dimensions to this picture.
We will say she is dark. In fact, we’ll say she is black. This woman, she will wear the traditional nose ring that many will mistake as a symbol of fashion instead of femininity. She will veil her hair. She is a modest woman.
She is a Muslim.
Now, when you imagine this woman, what do you imagine her role to be?
Today, thanks to the grassroots efforts of her dedicated campaign staff, such a woman looks like a leader and harbinger of change. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born Muslim, describes herself as a “progressive DFL activist and educator”. And as it stands, she is to be the first Muslim woman of East African descent to serve as legislator, not only in my humble Minnesota, but in our entire nation.
No matter how you feel about Omar, the monumental series of firsts her campaign poses in American politics is impossible to ignore.
Omar overthrew 22-term Representative Phyllis Kahn in a veritable David-and-Goliath setting. Kahn (initially) had the backing of Party leadership, name recognition within the community she had so long served, and a very progressive record that fit well with the residents of her district. Omar was a nobody, while Kahn was the very definition of someone who is also a somebody.
So what went wrong for Kahn?
If you recall the homicide of Philando Castile at the hands of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in recent months, the first insight into Kahn’s downward spiral from beloved longtime legislator to nameless nobody begins to make some sense.
Castile, whose death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend (who was in the car with him alongside her 4-year-old son when Castile was pulled over and then shot to death after explaining he held a license to carry a gun and had a weapon in the car), brought the issue of racial tension and police brutality toward the black community to the forefront. His murder was the tipping point in our recognition that something had to change. We could not let this vicious cycle continue.
While this tragedy plays out, the battle to become the candidate for the Democratic Party in District 60B of Minnesota wages on. District 60B, which encompasses the liberal college campus of University of Minnesota, is not lost on Kahn. She commented on it. This is unwise of her.
“The young woman,” Kahn said, not even bothering to identify Omar by name, “ …. she’s very attractive to the kind of, what we call the young, liberal, white guilt-trip people.”
It’s not ever really a good idea to name call your constituents. Already, voters in her district are upset by excessive force commonly used by law enforcement on communities of color. Kahn’s criticism of those looking for change in Omar simply serves to reinforce the notion that supporting Kahn would be a promise for more of the same.
We decide it’s time for a change.
Ilhan Omar, who is as different from what we expect a typical politician to look like as can be, certainly promises that.
On August 9th, Omar officially becomes the DFL nominee for MN District 60B. All of Minnesota is shocked.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, outside of Iraq and Syria (ISIS strongholds), the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for over 1,200 lives. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of America’s most ardent allies within the Middle East, executed about 50 people within the span of one day. In beheadings, the Kingdom can teach ISIS a few things, which makes sense as the Islamic State is guided by Saudi religious ideology. Oh and by the way- Saudi Arabia still sits comfortably on the UN’s Human Rights Council.
Meanwhile, here at home, we are understandably afraid of one of the deadliest emerging terrorist organizations our world has ever known. We know we cannot let this cycle of unadulterated violence against our way of life continue. We need to elect a leader who promises, above all, to do things differently.
Enter our two major party candidates: on one hand we have the seasoned politician Hillary Clinton. Her entire adult life has been in the public eye, and her career in office has been well documented. Her name is one of the most recognizable in the business. On another hand, we have Donald Trump, a man who confuses, alarms, and charms in the same breath. Trump supporters come from all walks of life, be they Republican or Democrat, black or white, gay or straight. They might not look like one another, but they have one trait in common- they are frustrated with how things currently stand.
Increasingly, instead of solely focusing on Trump, Clinton’s rhetoric has been focused on Trump supporters. Her ads now feature anecdotes portraying Trump supporters as backwards, stupid, and bigoted. This wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except for the fact that nowadays, it seems that Trump is catching up to Clinton in the polls. While Clinton seems to epitomize the American legislative process as it stands, Trump is a wild card.
He is as different from what we expect a major party candidate to act like as can be.
If there is one thing I have understood from watching Ilhan Omar’s surprising ascent into the political realm, it is this: criticizing voters for how they feel does not make their fears go away.
Come November, let us see if the results of an election shock us once again.