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Omar Fateh’s campaign for the Minnesota Senate runs in an adult daycare center in Minneapolis run by and for members of the local Somali community. It is located on Lake Street, where much of the immediate local response to George Floyd’s death took place. The gas station next door was on fire just a few weeks earlier. Spectators stared at the inferno as the national guardsmen brought them along. The care center was intact, but when I met Fateh in his office, the urgency of that first week of June was still in the air. Around us, a mix of left-wing activists and young members of the East African community made phone calls and survey data.
If you were looking for the future of American politics, it would be as good a starting point as anyone else. Between the end of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the activity of the George Floyd uprising at street level, the election prospects for the American left are in transition. The angry victories of progressives like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush have triggered a shift to local grassroots entry into the grassroots. Today, in the neighborhood where Floyd was tragically murdered, Minnesota’s 62nd Senate District, Fateh could transmit the wave to the State of Minnesota Senate. Fateh, a 30-year-old Somali-American community organizer, is trying to crowd out a long-time party insider who currently represents the poorest neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.
For nine years, the acting candidate Jeff Hayden has represented the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) – Minnesota’s local chapter of the Democratic Party. A identified himself “Pragmatic progressive”, Hayden loudly called for gun violence prevention, wage increases and affordable housing – especially in the context of the black community. However, some of Hayden’s business-as-usual platforms get him out of step with the political energies of the moment. For example, he has called for larger public-private partnerships in education. He believes that school voucher programs are not enough and cites technology centers funded by Best Buy as a means of public relations.
The February Caucus of the DFL, which enables voters to have a direct influence on the composition of the party by selecting delegates and drafting resolutions, proved to be extremely promising. In a surprising turn of events, the upstart Fateh caught Hayden asleep and launched an unrelenting but personable campaign. His message, which was held under the motto “Rise Together”, resonated with immigrants and blacks, indigenous groups and downward-moving whites. In the end, 72 percent of DFL delegates in his district supported him and secured him an unexpected official confirmation from the party.
Fateh’s involvement in community organization helped him get other official recommendations: the St. Paul chapter of the Black Lives Matter, the Twin Cities chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Sunrise Movement all supported him. The winner of the area code of August 11, given the lack of republican voters in the districtwill undoubtedly continue to win the general election. It is unclear which candidate is ahead, but the number of early votes has already exceeded the total participation for the 2016 area code.
It’s hard not to be reminded of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise against Joe Crowley in 2018. This election could be the last time in modern political history that an incumbent Democrat did not take a primary leftist challenge seriously.
F.ateh’s background was in public relations for the city of Minneapolis, where he began to cultivate a relationship with the robust East African community that lives in the twin cities. His own background, which grew up in the Somali community of Washington DC, is not unlike. His father, Mahmood Fateh, started in 1963 in Boseman, Mont., As a migrant graduate student who paid his way through working in a kitchen. The elder Fateh was often reminded that he was not allowed to use the same toilet or bus area as whites, and his boss often gave him racist diatribes.
“I was born here in America, but grew up in an East African household and have parents with a migration background. I think I have this unique perspective, ”Fateh says of his upbringing. “In my opinion, bridging the gap between the two cultures will be crucial, especially in this district where a large number of African immigrants live.”
Fateh’s political aspirations began in 2018 when he ran for House District 62A in the DFL area code and finished third in a field of five candidates. After that, Fateh decided to participate in the organization of communities and joined a group of local East Africans called Changing the Narrative who focused on mental health and addiction.
“In the Somali community, these issues are still taboo, especially among the elders,” said Fateh. “So we connected to the indigenous communities who share the same struggles. We learned from them how to use Narcan, how to talk to elders, and how to educate the community. ”
At that point, Fateh told me, he was seeing a striking lack of Senator involvement – especially regarding Little Earth, the center of the indigenous community in the twin cities.
“We had to reach the city council members, our local commissioner and their representatives, but the senator was always absent,” said Fateh. “And that was really problematic for us. After speaking to the people in Little Earth, he hasn’t been there since the last election. Our indigenous people live here and you interrupt communication from the community that has the most unmet needs. ”
IIt is not just Senator Hayden’s absence that forces Fateh to run again: the DFL is ready to achieve its first Trifecta since 2014. Challengers like Lindsey Port, Aleta Borrud and Aric Putnam are able to retake the Republican-controlled Senate. Fateh believes that achieving this unlimited legislative power is only the first step.
“I really think that turning the Senate around will not be enough. That is why I am in an elementary school. We need progressive Senators, we have had the Trifecta: Senate, House, Governor,” said Fateh. “But we have this progressive one The working class agenda has not been adopted – for example, the full funding of our public schools. ”
Political activists within the DFL agree. Jason Chavez-Cruz, president of the Young DFL and legislative assistant to the representative of the Minnesota House, Mohamud Noor, believes that Fateh has the radical perspective necessary to make meaningful reforms.
“Having him there will put pressure on the Senate DFL to make sure we do things differently – and if we take the majority, we will use it,” said Cruz. “We have not in the past. We have left people with little basic things that would easily happen to the majority.”
Fateh is a self-identified democratic socialist whose platform corresponds to Bernie Sanders’ campaign: universal higher education and health care, comprehensive climate justice and housing as a human right. These principles apply to local problems by opposing the copper-nickel-sulfide degradation that pollutes Minnesota water and the “exclusion zone” that mimics much of the effects of redlining.
“We need someone who is there, who is connected to the community and who understands the tenants,” he said. “I’m a tenant myself, someone who was previously unemployed. We can’t just pick a thing or two and say,” Llet is now focusing on it. “I think that putting all these parts together in our district gives this quality of life, this basic quality of life gives. ”
The most pressing problem that defines the term, whoever is based, is the fallout of George Floyd’s uprisings. The national spotlight is still on Minneapolis, where the city council has issued a public charter that is currently under discussion in the Charter Commission. It is proposed to dissolve the police department and replace it with a public security agency. The way the city and state implement these reforms will have a major impact on the future of a national police abolition movement.
Although the state senators have no direct influence on local police policy – or the local security program – Fateh plans to reduce the need for a police presence in his community. Using the lessons learned from his community work, his platform takes steps to decriminalize drugs and prioritizes well-funded mental health organizations. Fateh has also proposed to allow psychiatric professionals operating from local clinics to de-escalate conflicts such as domestic violence or psychotic episodes for which the police are not trained.
“There is a real opportunity for Omar to bring people together to bring about the change we are making to our peacekeeping force,” said Yolanda Roth, a union activist and community organizer who works in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. “And yes, it is a big responsibility, but I see it as an amazing opportunity to start discussions, not only in the Somali community, but also in the black community. And with that, really some of the gaps between the African diaspora and the close african-american community. ”
S.If Fateh takes office, he will inherit neighborhoods with which there are many decades of poverty trends and immigrant families in precarious situations. The economic realities of systemic racism and the inadequate legal protection for the labor force have particularly endangered migrant workers.
“We have many elderly Somali mothers who work specifically at Amazon in Shakopee and whose rights have been violated,” said Fateh. “It’s a constant struggle for them: making sure that they have breaks in prayer, that they’re not being revised. Some people do the job that took two people, but one person does it.”
Like many of his millennial contemporaries, Fateh sees these issues as interrelated. However, this worldview is not just an expression of a recent political revival – for Fateh it is part of his legacy as an American. “Not a lot has changed from East African immigrants from the 1960s to now,” he told me. “If companies can take advantage of you, they will.” They will exploit you. They will pay you less. They will do everything they can to maximize their profits – especially people who are not very familiar with their rights. ”
Fateh’s unified message of local solidarity and justice is not just a lonely voice. It follows the demands of contemporaries such as Nikil Saval, a socialist and democratic candidate for the 1st Senate District of Pennsylvania, and Marcela Mitaynes, a tenant organizer to take over New York Assembly District 51, when the excitement of Democratic Elementary School gave way to resignation and compromise with the inevitable biden nomination, some observers saw this as consolidating the party’s moderate center. But local races tell a different story. Fateh will be on the ballot alongside Ilhan Omar – another progressive Somali American from Minneapolis – and tie a local political movement to Capitol Hill. If a new blue wave crashes on the bank, it may not be the experts and party insiders who introduced themselves in 2018.