Tag Archives: keith ellison

Ellison says he’ll resign from Congress if elected DNC head

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison remains the early favorite to become the next leader of the Democratic National Committee, amid resistance to the Minnesota liberal’s bid from key parts of the party’s base.

The contest is evolving into a larger fight over the future of the party.

Backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are throwing their support behind Ellison while some Hillary Clinton supporters are searching for an alternative.

Ellison picked up a powerful endorsement recently from the AFL-CIO, which issued a statement calling him a “proven leader.”

But his candidacy remains under siege.

Ellison has faced vocal criticism from prominent Democrats, Jewish groups and some union leaders, who have questioned his comments about Israel, his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his commitment to his own party.

Earlier this month, a union leader criticized the AFL-CIO for only including Ellison’s name, along with the choices to abstain or “make no endorsement at this time,” on the ballot sent to union members.

A federation faction “seems to want to push our movement further and further to the left,” Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a recent statement. “That is a recipe for disaster as the most recent election results just showed.”

An editorial in an official Nation of Islam publication, “The Final Call,” quoted articles that Ellison wrote in the 1990s praising Farrakhan as a “sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate.”

The editorial accused Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, of being a “hypocrite” for now making a “cowardly and baseless repudiation” of Farrakhan.

Ellison did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

His history with the group has distressed some Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League last week said Ellison’s past remarks about Israel were “disturbing and disqualifying,” and Haim Saban, a party donor deeply involved with Israeli issues, accused Ellison of being an “anti-Semite.”

Hoping to assuage some of the concerns, Ellison said he would resign his seat in Congress if he were picked as chairman by DNC members at the late February elections.

“Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising,” Ellison said in a statement. “I will be ‘all in’ to meet the challenge.”

The contest has divided Democratic leaders, placing Obama’s team at odds with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his replacement, New York’s Chuck Schumer, whose early support for Ellison was seen as an effort to shore up the liberal flank in Congress.

Part of the issue is personal. Ellison has, at times, broken ranks to criticize Obama, the head of the party he now hopes to lead.

While White House aides say that Obama is unlikely to publicly comment on the race, behind the scenes his backers have been speaking with Democratic donors and potential candidates to see who else might be persuaded to run, according to several Democrats familiar with the discussions. These Democrats were not authorized to publicly discuss those private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

High on the White House’s list of preferred candidates is Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who’s weighing whether to run for the party job or for Maryland governor, said the Democrats.

A vocal contingent is pushing for a Latino leader at the DNC, arguing that the growing demographic group is crucial to the party’s future and should be represented at the highest levels.

Others have been trying to draft Vice President Joe Biden and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both of whom have ruled out a bid.

South Carolina’s party chairman, Jaime Harrison, and the party head in New Hampshire, Ray Buckley, have announced bids, though they haven’t gotten much traction.

Missouri’s secretary of state, Jason Kander, who attracted attention for running a surprisingly competitive Senate race this year, says he’s gotten calls exploring his interest in the post.

“I’m going to do all that I can for the cause of progress,” Kander said. “If it turns out that my party wants me to serve as chair I’m open to that.”

Ellison backers argue that the party must take a more populist approach after the 2016 losses, saying Democratic leaders did too little to address the economic pain of working-class voters.

“Keith brings a breath of fresh air to the Democratic party,” said DNC member Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “He believes in strengthening the economics for working families across the country.”

But some are more concerned with campaign mechanics than message, saying the party’s outreach, bench and fundraising languished under Wasserman Schultz.

“Ellison talks about vision when we need a fundraiser and organizer,” said Bob Mulholland, a longtime California Democratic operative and DNC member.

Pocan sponsors right to vote amendment

U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota recently announced legislation to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.

The proposed Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment would amend the Constitution to provide all Americans the affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect this right, according to a news release.

“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” Pocan, a Democrat, stated. “At a time when there are far too many efforts to disenfranchise Americans, a voting rights amendment would positively affirm our founding principle that our country is at its strongest when everyone participates. As the world’s leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others—a guaranteed right to vote for all.” 

Ellison, also a Democrat, said, “Americans’ ability to elect their leaders is a backbone of our democracy and our most fundamental righ. Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote.” 

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in 2013 more than 80 bills restricting the right to vote have been introduced in over 30 states.

The congressman said that without a constitutional provision, courts have upheld voter identification laws, burdensome registration requirements, and reduced early voting opportunities in various states across the country.

The proposed amendment reads: 

SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. 

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Engagement helps avert backlash against Muslims

In the hours following the Boston Marathon bombings, an outburst of anti-Muslim hate alarmed the nation’s Islamic community.

But a swift, effective response from American Muslims helped to avert a major backlash.

Hate emerged quickly on right-wing media. Calling for the profiling of Muslims, Fox News host Eric Bolling leveled a verbal onslaught against Islamic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., branding him as “the Muslim apologist in Congress” and denouncing him as “very dangerous.”

Days before the suspects in the bombing were identified, Fox News guest commentator Erik Rush sent out tweets blaming Muslims, including one that exhorted “Let’s kill them.” 

Anti-gay Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson, speaking about the bombings on his “700 Club” TV program, trashed the Muslim faith. “Don’t talk to me about religion of peace,” he said. “No way.”

“Even before the bombers were identified we had ideologues of all different types blaming Muslims,” said Mark Potok, who tracks hate-group activity for the Southern Poverty Law Center. He said that he saw an instant uptick in anti-Islamic chatter on online hate sites.

In the hysterical aftermath of the bombings, a bystander tackled a Saudi student who was himself injured in the blast. The New York Post mistakenly identified the bombing victim as a suspect.

Just hours after the horrific incident, a Bangladeshi man was beaten by attackers who called him “a f**king Arab.” The victim was punched in the head and body, resulting in a dislocated shoulder.

Two days after the bombings, a white male shouting anti-Muslim slurs assaulted a mother of Middle Eastern heritage who was wearing a hijab (Islamic headscarf) in Malden, Mass.

After authorities released surveillance photos of the suspected bombers, Internet users, particularly those on the online forum reddit, thought they saw a resemblance between one of the bombing suspects and Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Brown University student who’d been missing since March 16. News organizations ran with the story without seeking comment from authorities, and reporters overwhelmed Tripathi’s suffering family with interview requests.

When the young man’s body was subsequently found drowned in Providence, apologies poured into the family, including one from the operators of reddit. 

Braced for the worst

In the wake of all the hysteria and Islam-bashing, the nation’s Arab Americans and Muslims were braced for the worst. The Center for American Islamic Relations urged Muslim individuals and Islamic institutions to review advice on security procedures contained in its “Muslim Community Safety Kit,” communications director Ibrahim Hooper told WiG.

But since the identification and killing of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the capture of his brother and suspected co-conspirator Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it’s been surprisingly quiet on the fringes of the right, according to experts who monitor hate activity.

The relative calm has been a relief not only to Muslims and people of Arabic descent, but also to members of Oak Creek’s Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, where a gunman affiliated with white supremacist groups killed four people and injured six others last August. Outsiders often misidentify Sikhs as Muslims, even though the two groups have no religious affiliation. Muslims, both locally and nationally, condemned the Sikh shooting.

“Our community is still healing from that wound,” said Beant Boparai, a trustee of the temple. He said the temple community has remained vigilant since the attack, with a security officer on the premises even during worship – a concession that fits uncomfortably with his religion’s message of peace and acceptance, Boparai told WiG.

Boparai said the temple experienced another incident just four months ago, when a suspicious man claiming to be a reporter showed up on the premises. The temple’s security guard contacted local police, who found ammunition in the man’s car and took him away.

Boparai said he and other members of his community were praying for the innocent victims of the Boston bombings.

“It’s such a sad thing,” he said. “I see those people who are wounded and their families. They are innocent people they have nothing to do with anything. Why do those people have to go through this? It’s sad.

“I don’t know what direction the world is going in. It is not God who is creating the danger but the human being. This planet could be a heaven if everybody acted right.”

Despite fears of an overwhelming backlash, Muslim civil rights leaders say the anti-Islam reaction has been more muted this time than after other attacks since Sept. 11, which had sparked outbursts of vandalism, harassment and violence. Instead, leaders told The Associated Press they’ve noted a larger, broader chorus of Americans warning against placing collective blame.

The change may only reflect the circumstances of this particular attack. The two suspects are white and from an area of the world, Russia’s turbulent Caucasus region, that unlike the Middle East, Americans know little about. 

But U.S. Muslims also credit a new generation of leaders in their communities with helping keep tempers in check after the attack. Many are the American-born children of immigrants who saw the impact of the 2001 terror attacks on their faith and have strived ever since to build ties with other Americans.

“There seems to be a much more mature, sophisticated response to this tragedy than in the past 12 years,” said Wajahat Ali, 32, an attorney and co-author of “Fear, Inc.,” a report by the Center for American Progress on the strategies of anti-Muslim groups in the United States. “We really do see a palpable shift.”

American Muslim groups that only a decade ago were more inward-looking than publicly engaged have pushed back in a more confident way.

As they have after any national tragedy since Sept. 11, Muslim groups issued a flurry of statements condemning the attack, organized blood drives and thanked law enforcement for protecting the country. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in the city’s Roxbury section, held vigils and formed medical teams to help with the wounded. Imam Suhaib Webb, who leads the mosque, posted a black ribbon and banner across his Facebook page with the statement, “We’re Bostonians — We mourn with the city.”

“I offered my home to house stranded runners, spread information on fundraising for the victims through social media, and attended a candlelight vigil in Harvard Yard,” said Zeba Khan, who lives in Cambridge. “That is exactly where I am focusing my attention – on the victims and on the safety of my neighbors and my city.”

Non-Muslims echoed the message. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said in his Sunday sermon after the tragedy, “The crimes of the two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims and against immigrants.” Online, a post by comedian and actor Patton Oswalt went viral, calling the attack “beyond religion or creed or nation.”

“When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will,’” Oswalt wrote.

Muslims monitoring their own

The Boston explosions also inadvertently underscored a point Muslims have been making for years: More are monitoring their own communities for signs of extremism.

Leaders of the Islamic Society of Boston, a mosque in Cambridge that is affiliated with Webb’s mosque in Roxbury, said Tamerlan Tsarnaev occasionally attended Friday prayers, but had protested the community’s moderate approach. Family members said Tamerlan was steered toward a radical strain of Islam by a friend they didn’t know, began opposing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and turned to websites and literature claiming the CIA was behind the Sept. 11 attacks and Jews controlled the world.

According to leaders of the Cambridge mosque, Tamerlan once stood up during a sermon and objected when a preacher told worshippers it would be appropriate to celebrate national holidays such as Thanksgiving. He said that went against Islam. A couple of months later, Tamerlan also objected when a preacher praised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He called the speaker a hypocrite and accused of him contaminating people’s minds. In response, worshippers shouted at him and told him to leave the service.

The mosque offered these accounts in a detailed written statement released after Tamerlan was killed and Dzhokhar was apprehended.

“Trust me – no group of people wants to stamp out radicalism more than Muslims, who have seen it soil their faith and define its image,” said Khurram Dara, 24, author of “The Crescent Directive,” a well-known e-book urging U.S. Muslims to more fully integrate into American society. “They’re vigilant of radicalism in their communities.”

The message was driven home by a case in Canada that followed the Boston bombings. Investigators there said they thwarted a plan by two men, guided by al-Qaida in Iran, to derail a train between New York City and Montreal because a local Muslim leader alerted them to the threat. The leader, Muhammad Robert Heft, said the father of one of the two suspects had come forward with concerns about his son’s intolerant religious views.  A 2011 study of American Muslim terrorism by the Triangle Center for Terrorism and Homeland Security found U.S. Muslims were the largest single source of tips to law enforcement that year for terrorist plots.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

LGBT groups condemn anti-Muslim hearings

A coalition of LGBT leaders added their voices to the chorus challenging U.S. Rep. Pete King’s hearings on “Muslim radicalization.”

The first hearing took place March 10 on Capitol Hill, with King, R-New York, claiming a congressional conversation on terror and Islam in America would advance the fight against al-Qaida.

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told the committee, “This … approach to this particular subject, I believe, is contrary to the best of American values and threatens our security, or could potentially.”

Other Democrats had urged King to broaden the focus of the hearings to extremism in America and to include white supremacy.

King, in a statement at the start of the hearings, said white supremacists are not a terror threat.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen,” King said. “Only al- Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed by the Justice Department’s own record not one terror related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.”

Later, King said, he plans to hold a hearing on Muslim extremism in U.S. prisons.

“Despite what passes for conventional wisdom in certain circles, there is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” King said.

Protesters assembled to picket the March 10 hearing, and numerous organizations issued statements accusing King of scapegoating Muslims.

In the LGBT community, representatives from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equality California, National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Law Center, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and Lambda Legal issued statements condemning the House hearings.

“As members of the LGBT community, which continues to fight for our equality and justice, we stand in solidarity with the growing chorus of voices condemning these shameful hearings and calling for an end to the politics of irrationality and fear,” said NCLR director Kate Kendell.

Added Lambda Legal executive director Kevin Cathcart: “We’ve all been down this road before, most notably during World War II and the Cold War, with tragic consequences for tens of thousands of American citizens. Singling any group out as a whole because of a suspected lack of loyalty on the part of a few of its members is wrong.”

The hearings reminded Catchart of the 1950s inquests led by Joe McCarthy, who targeted gay people as dangerous and un-American.

“Singling any group out as a whole because of a suspected lack of loyalty on the part of a few of its members is wrong; doing it when the internment of Japanese-Americans and the spectacle of the McCarthy witch trials are still within living memory is simply repugnant,” he said.