Congresswoman Ilhan Omar addressed a crowd of black women leaders from around the country in front of the Capitol building Tuesday at a rally in her defense, following a series of right-wing attacks against her. Death threats against Omar have spiked in recent months after President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Congresswoman Omar is one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history and the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. She has repeatedly been accused of being anti-Semitic for criticizing the power of the Israeli lobby in Washington and questioning U.S.-Israeli relations. Despite the threats, she has refused to be silent, continuing to speak out against racism, Islamophobia, right-wing violence and anti-Semitism. Omar—who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee—said on Tuesday, “I’m a survivor of war. And if I survived militia, I certainly can survive these people.” We play her speech.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. African-American women leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday in defense of Congressmember Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history, the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. Omar has been the target of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office, including by President Donald Trump himself. Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, civil rights icon Angela Davis and others addressed the crowd Tuesday to urge Congress to censure President Trump—who they referred to simply as “the occupant of the White House”—for his attacks on Omar and to send a message to both political parties: “Hands off Ilhan Omar!”
This is Congressmember Ilhan Omar, Minnesota congressmember representing the 5th Congressional District, first Somali American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the first Muslim women in Congress.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: I’m a little emotional. Everyone knows that I refuse to cry. I talk about this all the time. I always say that nobody really deserves my tears or any of my sisters’ tears. But you all have moved me to tears with your love. And I am just grateful to all of you.
To one of my idols, Angela Davis, I just—yeah, I just—I can’t tell you how enormously inspiring you have been to me throughout my life. And the work that you have done in making us realize that we have to be internally liberated to fight for external liberation has been life-saving for people like me who had to navigate what it feels like to grow up black in this country. So, thank you.
To my sisters who give me strength in the Movement for Black Lives, I am forever grateful to all of you. To Nina, who always brings down the house—I heard your voice all the way from the Capitol. And I was like, “That’s probably Nina or Ayanna, one of them.”
And to my sisters, our squad—people are like, “You call yourselves a squad.” I’m like, “I don’t know if we do that. You call us that.” But we are certainly sisters in the struggle to fight for authentic, authentic progress for all of our communities.
And Rashida was right: I bought all of them bracelets when I was in Austin a couple of weeks ago. And it all had messages to what they mean to me. I think of Ayanna as someone who never takes “no” for an answer, even as she broke her leg, constantly getting up, making sure that she was fighting for all of us, using the strength of her voice. So, what I got her, her bracelet says “Unstoppable.” And everybody knows Rashida is the eldest of 14 kids, and she is Mama Bear, and so that’s what her bracelet says. And to my sister Alexandria, who isn’t here, her bracelet says “Boss Babe,” because she’s fierce. And mine says “Badass.”
And here’s why. Here’s why. Here’s the thing that really offends a lot of people and the reason that we are here. I was born—I was born as a very liberated human being, to a country that was colonized, that recognized that they can colonize the land but they can’t colonize your mind, to people who recognized that all of us deserve dignity and that no human being was ever, ever going to tell you that you are less than them. Thirteen people organized for our independence in Somalia. So I was born in that breath of recognizing that they might be more powerful than you are, that they might have more technology than you have, they might think that they are wiser than you, they might control all of the institutions, but you control your mind, and that is what sets you free.
So, a sister of mine on TV said the thing that upsets—the thing that upsets the occupant of the White House, his goons in the Republican Party, many of our colleagues in the Democratic Party, is that—is that they can’t stand—they cannot stand that a refugee, a black woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, shows up in Congress thinking she’s equal to them. But I say to them, “How else did you expect me to show up?”
So here is the reality. I tell people every single day, I have a certificate that everyone else has hanged in their offices in Congress, the same exact certificate of election. But I got more people who voted for me and sent me here than 428 of them. So, when they say, “Who does she think she is?”—when they say, “Who does she think she is?” I am the one that the people sent to be a voice for them. So we have to always recognize that one marginalized voice represents many marginalized voices.
But I don’t only represent one marginalized voice, because in this country being black is enough of being marginalized. But I also happen to be a woman. That’s a second marginalization. I happen to be a Muslim. And I also, also happen to be a refugee and an immigrant, from what they call one of the “shithole countries.” The reality is, that “shithole country” raised a very proud, dignified person. Our circumstances might not always be perfect, but that doesn’t lessen our humanity. And I am not in the business of defending mine.
So, when this—when this occupant of the White House chooses to attack me, we know—we know that that attack isn’t for Ilhan. That attack is the continuation of the attacks that he’s leveled against women, against people of color, against immigrants, against refugees, and certainly against Muslims. And we are collectively saying—we are collectively saying, “Your vile attacks, your demented views are not welcome here. This is not—this is not going to be the country of the xenophobics. This is not going to be the country of white people. This is not going to be the country of the few. This is the country of the many. This is a country that was founded—this is the country that was founded on the history of Native American genocide, on the backs of black slaves, but also by immigrants.” And so, as much as we need to remedy the history that we continue to neglect, we also must recognize that every, every liberty that we enjoy here, every single progress we get to celebrate, came about because immigrants participated in it.
So, I know my place in this society. All of you know your place in this society. And it’s one that is equal to every single person that walks in it.
But my sisters and I also know our place in Congress. We know that we each represent 780,000 constituents, just like everyone else does. We know that the fight for liberation doesn’t only stay in the walls of this country, but it’s one that’s connected to every single community around the world, because when Palestinians are struggling with occupation and their dehumanization isn’t being talked about, that is on us to uplift them. When we hear the voices and the struggles of Venezuelans, we say, “Leave their sovereignty alone. Let them fight for their own liberation,” because we know—we know that our liberations are collective, that my freedom isn’t worthy of much if my sisters and brothers aren’t free, and my joy isn’t much if everyone else isn’t living a joyous life. A prosperity for me should never come in the expense of prosperity for everyone, that there is no way that I lose sleep over the safety of my children if I can’t lose sleep over the safety of everyone else’s children.
And at this moment, the occupant of the White House, as my sister Ayanna likes to call him, and his allies are doing everything that they can to distance themselves and misinform the public from the monsters that they created, that is terrorizing the Jewish community and the Muslim community, because when we are talking about anti-Semitism, we must also talk about Islamophobia. It’s two sides of the same coin of bigotry.
When they shove that to us and say we’re the party of hate, they forget that we’re the party of love, we’re the party of compassion, we’re the party of inclusiveness. What we are fighting for is not for the few, but for the many. Every single one, just this week, when we’ve had the attack in California on a synagogue, it’s the same person who’s accused of attempting to bomb a mosque. So I can’t ever speak of Islamophobia and fight for Muslims, if I am not willing to fight against anti-Semitism. We collectively must make sure that we are dismantling all systems of oppression. And as we did in the last two election cycles, we’ve all risen up and said, “All are welcome.” I remember showing up at André Carson’s office. He had “Refugees are welcome.” And I opened the door, and I was like, “Here I am!”
This has been our message. We say—right?—we’re fighting against Islamophobia, all refugees are welcome, this is the land of immigrants, Black Lives Matter. But we show clear hypocrisy when we’re not doing the work here in Congress in standing up to defend all of the marginalized identities that are being attacked through me. So this isn’t a pity party for Ilhan. This is about a show of strength. Right? This is a show of strength. This is for us to say—this is for us to say that when you come after one of us, you come after all of us. And when one of us speaks, all of us are speaking.
So, my strength is always not because I’m a big person—as you all can see, I’m very tiny. It’s not because I have some weird, internalized strength. It’s not only because I’m a survivor of war. And if I survived militia, I certainly can survive these people. But it is because every single place I go, I know that I am walking in with all of you, hand in hand. So I know that every time I interact with someone, every time I speak, every time I take a vote, that all of you are walking in with me. That is why people react very differently towards me than they do with others. So, as Rashida said, don’t desert us. We’re going to need you. Right?
I told Miski, my sister, Miski Noor, who’s from Minneapolis—wave, Miski. When I first got elected, they had a gathering for me in a collective home that they shared, the folks in the Movement for Black Lives. And a young woman started crying. And she said, “Ilhan, I’m glad we did the work in getting you elected, but now I’m really sad.” And I said, “Well, why are you sad?” And she said, “Well, I’m afraid that once you get there, you’re going to become just like everyone else.” And I said, “Well, everyone else becomes that way because they forget who they represent. I am never going to be at risk of becoming everyone else, who works in feeding corporate greed, because I know that all of you are going to sit me down at every moment that you get, and remind me what my purpose is, who I am fighting for and who has my back.” So I humbly thank you all for showing up.