Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve been thinking a lot about courage.
I see so many people marching in the streets, facing down the sting of tear gas and the pain of the baton. I still hear the voices of the protesters, filled with the kind of power that can only ever come from the people, calling out for justice: “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “No Justice, No Peace.”
The people of this city give me hope. Hope that change is possible. Hope that the next generation can still have a better future. Hope that we can still build the world we all deserve.
And when I think of this hope, and the courage it requires to be hopeful in a world like ours, I think about my dear sister U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a public servant who knows exactly what it means to be the target of this country’s institutionalized racism and the violence of that system.
It takes courage to be a Black woman in America. It takes even more courage to be a Black woman, and a Muslim, and an immigrant in public service in America.
But that’s who Ilhan is.
People like me and Ilhan know how antagonistic, how dangerous, how outright violent it can be to simply exist — let alone run for public office! — in a world so enmeshed in white supremacy, transmisogyny and xenophobia. It takes courage to put yourself in the public spotlight, knowing exactly how much some folks would rather see you disappear.
And if there’s one thing Ilhan’s got, it’s courage.
Even after the president of the United States, the leader of our modern white supremacist movement, and the most visible man on earth, led audiences of thousands in xenophobic chants, Ilhan stood up. Even as he incited direct threats of violence against her and her children, Ilhan refused to back down. Not only did she refuse to shrink, she actually pushed back. And despite death threats spurred on by the president himself, Ilhan held dozens of in-person forums and town halls.
When George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police, she sprang into action. She didn’t fundraise for her campaign. No, she fundraised for local community organizations like Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block and Women for Political Change — to the tune of over $350,000. She turned her office into a food distribution center, organizing and passing out more than 16 tons of food to the community. I saw Ilhan in the streets nearly every single day, speaking out for justice or holding listening sessions with elected officials.
Unbeknown to most of us at the time, Ilhan’s father was in the hospital with COVID-19. The courage and moral fortitude she showed as she faced down multiple crises — both personal and political — is something I will never forget.
She also has the courage to stand by her convictions — to show up even when so many powerful people want her to disappear. Ilhan is a tireless legislator. In her first term, she’s authored more legislation than anyone in the Minnesota congressional delegation — 35 bills by my count — including major pieces to abolish student debt, provide universal school meals, end the waste crisis that is fueling climate change and end homelessness. She’s also passed 17 amendments through the House — again, the most by anyone in the Minnesota delegation.
Ilhan shows up to advocate for her constituents, too. She’s one of the few members of Congress who sits on three committees; she’s the vice chair of the Medicare for All Caucus; she’s whip for the largest caucus in Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and she cofounded the Black Maternal Health Caucus and the Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health.
I know Ilhan as a woman full of righteous indignation and fiery compassion for the people of her district. I know her as someone willing, and eager, to engage in the good trouble the late John Lewis encouraged us all to do.
Ilhan isn’t the kind of person who sees the battle between right and wrong, justice and injustice, and immediately says “how can we compromise between these things?” No, she’s someone who puts her voice in the air and her body on the line and says, “I will not be satisfied until this broken world is made whole!”
She’s a lot like the people of my ward, and the people of the Fifth District in this way.
That’s why she was elected in 2018. That’s why I voted for her then. And it’s why I’ll be voting for her again, with fire in my eyes and thunder in my heart.
She’s who we need. Now, and for as long as it takes for justice to be done.
Andrea Jenkins is vice president of the Minneapolis City Council.