Over the weekend a panel of progressive women of color in Congress -- including Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, talked about why they ran for office and what they hoped to do.
The Saturday panel at Netroots Nation in Philadelphia also included Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.
“We were sent to Washington to lead with our values and have an agenda that really pushes that forward,” Omar said. “There is a constant struggle with people who have power about sharing power and we’re not in the business of asking to share that power, we’re in the interest of grabbing that power … we are doing the job that people in this country put us forward to do.”
As if to prove that point, the President of the United States went on a racist Twitter rant Sunday telling progressive women to go back to another country.
"So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly. and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”
Trump also said, just to be certain the message was clear, “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!” (alluding to a Democratic internal debate about how to challenge the president’s policies on the Southern Border.)
Rep. Omar was born in Somalia. All of the other members of Congress on that progressive panel were born in the United States. And, as The Washington Post pointed out, Trump comes from a family of immigrants. “His mother was born in Scotland, and two of his three wives are from Southern or Eastern Europe,” the Post said.
Of course the richest irony of all: Rep. Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, has a family history on this land that began with time immemorial.
Haaland said her work in Congress literally means being a voice for her constituents by being accessible. Some members of Congress “never meet with their constituents, believe it or not, because they don't want to hear what they have to say to them.”
Haaland said she does town halls, she meets with people in her office, and “I show up at rallies.”
“Yes. I show up at all the rallies and speak on behalf of the children who are incarcerated in those cages on the Southern border because they need our voice as much as everyone else does,” Haaland said. “So yes, I want to hear those stories. I want to hear what's important to my constituents, but also to all of Indian Country.”
In his tweets, President Donald J. Trump did not single out any “progressives.” He later added that it was “sad” that Democrats were defending the elected representatives.
He wrote: “So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion. Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, “RACIST.” Their disgusting language........and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged. If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
But it was mostly Democrats, independents, and the media who called out the president for his racist tweets. As the Washington Post reported; “The silence of Republican leaders appeared to suggest either that they agreed with the views expressed by their standard-bearer or that he has so effectively consolidated his control over their party that they have grown disinclined to voice dissent.”
The issue that defines the Trumpian, Republican Party of today is immigration. The president defended his policy on the border, including the caging of adults and children because they sought asylum in the United States.
“We’re going to look back at this moment as a very, very dark time,” Rep. Tlaib said. “We’re going to look back and say what did we do as a nation to push against this? This is a whole generation of children that will never forget what our nation did to them.”
Haaland said this is what the United States does.
“My grandmother, when she was eight years old, was taken to boarding school over a hundred miles away from her community. And her father only got to visit her twice because his only mode of transportation was a horse and a wagon,” she said. “And so, and this is the thing, they took him to boarding school and you think they taught in math and science? No, They taught him how to iron clothes and clean churches and things like that. So it's been happening for a long, long time. You have more control over people when you can separate them. You have control over children. When you can separate the children from their parents,” Haaland said. “It didn't work then and it's not working now.”
Haaland also made the case that Republican voters -- unlike the elected officials --- will cast ballots for progressive candidates when given that choice.
The district that Haaland represents, Albuquerque, is a “plus seven” district meaning that more Democrats than Republicans vote there (by a margin of seven points). “I won my general election by 23 points. I ran on an unapologetically progressive platform and Republicans voted for me,” Haaland said. “This will be a year of inclusion for every single American who's been sidelined by the economic injustice that so many of us are experiencing now and have experienced for centuries.”
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports