Violence doesn’t belong in the political process, but Somali-Americans do.
You may have read about me. I am the woman who was physically beaten at the DFL Party caucus in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
I am deeply saddened and horrified about what happened during the precinct caucus at the Brian Coyle Community Center that Tuesday night. The attack left me with a concussion and bruises, but it has left a far more terrible mark on my community and has undermined the democratic process as well.
The race for Minnesota House District 60B — between incumbent Phyllis Kahn and Minneapolis school board member Mohamud Noor — already has seen too much ugliness. Rather than leaflets dropped in Cedar-Riverside about the desperate plight of families seeking affordable housing, we have seen horrible, homophobic pieces attacking Noor for supporting equal rights. Rather than caucus night being a peaceful celebration of democracy, the forces of division succeeded in disrupting the caucus before delegates were selected. Thankfully, the DFL Party has chosen not to succumb to divisiveness and will reconvene the Cedar-Riverside caucus.
Somalis in Minnesota have worked so hard to get their voices heard in the political process. While emotions tend to run high during caucuses, physical violence is unacceptable and must be condemned by the Somali community, the DFL Party and the public.
The men and women who attacked me did so because I refuse to succumb to their continued threats and attempts to silence me politically.
Why do I seem threatening? I am a 31-year-old Somali-Muslim woman, a mother of three and an unapologetic progressive. Some suggest that as a woman, I meddle in political affairs and need to be “put in my place.” Some say I deserved what I got because my opinions are contrary to those of a few male political leaders in our community. In addition, a small group has decided that one Somali elected official is enough and now the community should sit down and be quiet. This small group is aided and abetted by influential people outside the community who do not have our best interests at heart. I have now been called an “outsider” and worse by those who attacked me.
What makes me an outsider to the Cedar-Riverside community? I live there. My parents and relatives have lived in Riverside Plaza for more than 15 years. Since I was elected as DFL district vice chair two years ago, I have worked hard to educate members of my community about their rights, and to make sure party rules are followed and that the caucuses are conducted in a way that is inclusive and democratic. I have a duty to teach my people about their rights and protect them from being bamboozled.
I have always had a passion for advocacy, grass-roots organizing and policy, which is why last year I cofounded the New Americans political-action committee. The PAC aims to involve new immigrants in the political process. I was the only party official at the caucus last week who spoke both Somali and English, and it had already been decided that I would be the site coordinator at Brian Coyle. Greg Oliver, chairman of Senate District 60, asked me to handle all the arrangements weeks prior, and together we met with the convener to talk through my role for that day.
I had received phone calls from community members and Brian Coyle staff that day informing me of attempts to cancel registration for the night, and of people receiving threats on their lives if they attended in support of Noor. I alerted Oliver; the Brian Coyle manager; and Cory Day, the DFL executive director, seeking help with providing extra security. Last Monday, a direct threat was made from a community member who told my boss to “keep me away” and that he should order me to instead “focus on making dinner for my kids.”
The attempts to silence and disenfranchise my community will not succeed. I am committed to growing participation in the political process and doing it the right way. Through education, persistence and hard work, we shall overcome the negatively charged rhetoric and the violence, and move forward.
I want to thank the DFL for requesting a full investigation into the incident. I am grateful for the outpouring of support from my family, colleagues and community members. I want my DFL colleagues and the rest of the community to know that the Somali community is united in seeking political and economic success. There are certainly differences of opinion as to how we get there. However, we should vehemently condemn any attempt to express these differences of opinion through violence.
Ilhan Omar is a senior policy aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson and DFL vice chair in District 60.
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