The race for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District has heated up over the last few weeks and become quite contentious as the DFL primary nears. Challenger Antone Melton-Meaux has mounted a campaign against incumbent Ilhan Omar that has caught the attention of the national media. Adding to the controversy surrounding the race has been the amount of money from outside the district that has been contributed to both candidates. The MSR wanted to give voters a chance to hear from the candidates one more time before the August 11 primary.
MSR: Why are you seeking re-election?
Omar: To have the opportunity to carry the values of one of the most progressive districts in the country. [Here the incumbent lists her accomplishments as legislator.]
It’s been exciting to have the opportunity to introduce legislation to address the social and economic neglect in our community [such as] Medicare for All, knowing that 50% of Black Minnesotans are either underinsured or uninsured.
I have introduced Homes for All recognizing that many of our constituents are renters or are housing insecure or face displacement. It includes concrete steps to address housing shortages, gentrification, and wrap-around services.
We have addressed the problem of student debt so young people can be free of the debt and can live fulfilled lives.
We have addressed the socio-economic needs of children with education funding that includes feeding children. We can’t feed the brain if we can’t feed the belly.
Wrap-around services are important—social workers, mental health providers. We want schools to have more social workers and more mental health professionals and healthcare professionals in general to provide more wrap-around services. We have been leading the charge to support our teachers, so they have incentive to teach especially in schools with the highest disparities.
We had a focus on environmental justice. Minnesota has the third-highest asthma rate among young people. Working and introducing legislation to deal with environmental waste. We have worked on a Green New Deal. We understand that environmental justice is a racial equity issue, and it has been a priority of ours. Not only is it important to have a livable planet, but everyone on it must have access to clean water and a livable environment.
MSR: Why is it important to address human rights issues?
Omar: Human rights are paramount… You can’t be concerned with your liberation without being concerned with others’ liberation. They want to see us to be busy with just seeking solutions to our own [problems]. They tell us which one of our leaders is acceptable.
I know that I have a responsibility as someone who now has the freedom to fight not only for my liberation but for the liberation of all people. Whether its cross-border labor rights…there shouldn’t be a space where genocides are allowed.
I recognize how important it is to remind people that there are Black bodies still being enslaved. Our fight should not be limited to the four walls of our own spaces.
MSR: What are human rights, and what is the difference between civil rights and human rights?
Omar: Human rights is having the access to human dignity, for your humanity to be recognized. Civil rights is about having the civil liberties to access the opportunities that exist for other citizens. Civil rights is about creating policies that create the access point for that equality…
Civil rights involve equal access to resources. I see the Black maternal death rate as a civil rights issue. It exists because they don’t have equal access to treatment, and Black women are dying because they choose to give birth.
MSR: What’s your response to studies that have shown the 5th District as being the worst place to live?
Omar: We got the Congressional Black Caucus to come and address the racial disparities that exist. It was an eye-opener for many of my Congressional colleagues.
We held a town hall on the Black women mortality rate at the University of Minnesota. We visited a juvenile detention center in Hennepin County. We had meetings with small businesses in North Minneapolis.
We had an education forum to talk about educational disparities, and lastly we had a conversation about civil rights and the gaps that exist in the criminal justice system. We discussed access to voting and voting rights. We addressed the school-to-prison pipeline.
My role is to listen to people on the ground and translate those cries into social change.
MSR: What kind of problems has COVID-19 created for the District, and what can be done to fix them?
Omar: It’s paramount that we deal with healthcare access for everyone. We are dealing with a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a pandemic of racism. For us, it’s the best example of how broken our system has been, whether it’s health care, or addressing substance abuse, or health and housing.
This is our opportunity to acknowledge why serious investment in housing, economic development, and health care is important. We don’t have access to health care. That has put us in position to have pre-existing conditions that make us more susceptible to even dying from COVID.
MSR: In the wake of the death of George Floyd, how do you suggest dealing with the issue of police violence?
Omar: The system is broken. We passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the House within thirty days of the murder of George Floyd. It gets rid of qualified immunity. It bans no-knock warrants. It addresses a lot of things that will transform policing.
I am a supporter of dismantling the police department in Minneapolis because it has a crisis in credibility. It has not been able to solve over 50 percent of the worst crime. It utilizes resources that could go into mental health support.
Addressing police violence has been a priority issue for me as a Black woman. I have a son now who is nearly six feet tall. I have been a victim of police brutality. It has been important not to just march as we did with Terrance Franklin and Jamar Clark, but to use my platform to repair this broken system.