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Electoral Milestones: One Real. One Fake?

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Message Lydia Howell
On Jan. 4th, Rep. Keith Ellison will be sworn in as the first African-American representing the state of Minnesota--and the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been
elevated to become the first woman to be Speaker of the House. That it took into the 21st century for these two "representational milestones" to happen in an allegedly "liberal state" like Minnesota and the
allegedgly "greatest democracy on Earth" should give us pause in-between celebrations.

I've worked with Keith Ellison since 1990, who, as a lawyer and commuity activist, challenged police brutality. He represents my Congressional district in Minneapolis. Even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he opposed it--and continues to in no uncertain terms. Those of us who've witnessed his work as a state legislator are not surprised by his unflinching ability to take a stand to (quoting film-maker Spike Lee) "do the right thing". Ellison has stood in as much solidarity with the gay and lesbian community, opposing the theocrats and homophobes who aim to exclude GLBT people from Constitutional protection, just as he's stood up for his own community. That's meant also going against conservative Christians in the Black community--as well as those who are "offended" by the GLBT community drawing on the legacies of the Civil Rights Movement in their
struggle--as well as, some Muslims. But, Ellison knows which direction his compass points: ALL are included in his vision of what American justice is supposed to be.

As for Pelosi, my understanding is that she's a mainstream Democratic Party liberal, well-known for her fundraising abilities (although perhaps not as adroit when it comes to gathering cash as that other
woman in politics, referred to only by her first name). I'd like to be excited by Pelosi's milestone but, many female firsts in the last two Administrations have been crushing disapointments.

Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State: all I remember of her is the infamous comment that "yes--we think the price is worth it" --referring to 500,000 or more Iraqi children dead under the
punishing sanctions regime carried through the Clinton presidency. Christine Todd Whitman, Bush's Secretary of the Interior: a kind of James Watt
Lite,that is, a softer version of Reagan's appointee to the same position. Whitman did not protect our environment from Corporations--but, rather presented it to them for even more exploitation at pennies on the dollar of 'leasing fees". So much has been written about Condi Rice, it's redundant to recount her infinite shilling for Bush's "war on terrorism" by any means necessary.

It's as if the only women allowed to rise to positions of authority must replicate the worst traits of 'masculine virtues' like "toughness',
"ruthless realism", an unwillingness to listen to others labled as 'enemies', a kind of expediency that sacrifices civillian lives or wilderness, to further Corporate dominace.

Pelosi's willingness to "take impeachment off the table" reminds me of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, a one month after the man villafied as "Tricky Dick" was driven from office. Ford was wrong then;
Pelosi is wrong now.

As for the war on Iraq, Pelosi proclaiims she wants to bring the troops home--while also declaring that the ONLY power Congress has to do that--cut the funding for the occupation--is NOT an option. Neither
postion is a good start as Speaker. Raising the minimun-wage (impacting about 5% of the workforce) doesn't come close to countering Pelosi's retreat on Iraq and impeachment.

Keith Ellison, on the other hand, has not minced words about Iraq or anything eles since his election to Congress. Rightwing talk show hosts slandered Ellison's loyalty by demonizing his Muslim faith. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) attacked Ellison's desire to take his oath of office on the Koran. Keith Ellison responded with a mighty clarity, not only about who
he is--but, drawing on what America claims to be about: the Constitution.

On CNN, Ellison simply and elegantly declared that "the sacred text that binds all Americans--and that we should all be concerned about--is the
Constitution." If only the current resident of the White House and the lawyers in the Justice Department (busy writing memos to justify torture and the unraveling of the Bill of Rights) shared Ellison's committment to the best of what America has aspired to in our national documents.

In a gesture of understated brilliance, Keith Ellison went to the rare books collection of the Library of Congress and has requested to use a copy of the Koran which was in the personal library of Thomas Jefferson. For those who don't remember, it was Jefferson who wrote the First Amendment (and its predecessor in Virginia state law), protecting
everyone's right to freedom of religion and banning all religious tests for public office.

I wonder if our new Congressman from Minnesota might sit down with our new Speaker of the House and remfresh her understaninding about the Constitution--such as why The Founders put impeachment into our Constitution. Sometimes it's
absolutely crucial to hold a president to that level of accountability.

The new Congressman from Minnesota is the real thing, but, I fear our first female Speaker might be one more fake.
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Lydia Howell Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet, activist and producer/host of "Catalyst:politics & culture" on KFAI Radio, all shows archived for 2 weeks after braodcast at www.kfai.org
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