Middle East Eye / October 30, 2020
In an interview with Middle East Eye, Palestinian-American congresswoman says country cannot afford four more years of President Donald Trump.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wants people in Michigan to vote for Joe Biden like their lives depend on it.
Still, a Biden-Harris administration wouldn’t be a “finale” for those seeking social justice; the struggle for better policies on health care, the environment, Palestine and other issues would continue, she said.
“Our call to my neighbours across the state, no matter their background, [is] that they need to come out and vote – if not for themselves, then for their communities, for your neighbour who lost someone to Covid,” the Palestinian-American congresswoman said.
“If not, for you, then show up for that little girl who is so scared of what’s going to happen if her mother loses her job, or the number of folks that have been falling into the traps of the do-nothing nothing politics.”
In a phone interview with Middle East Eye, Tlaib underscored the need to vote Trump out of office, saying that the country could not afford four more years of him.
“There’s a wall around the White House right now, where we can’t have a conversation with the administration on the systemic issues, on how to address this pandemic and how to take care of our families,” she said.
“And we can’t continue to do it that way because more lives are lost, and we’re not making sure that the government is taking care of its people.”
Still, she stressed that electing former Vice President Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris would not be the end of the progressive movement for an equitable future. She said a Biden presidency would be a vital step in the right direction, not the end of the road.
Advocacy for Palestinian rights
Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies against Palestinians, vowed to continue to push for Palestinian human rights under a Democratic presidency.
She said her Palestinian identity is an integral part of who she is. In a Biden administration, the congresswoman added, at least she would have “a door” to push for a more balanced American approach to the conflict.
“I continue to say from Detroit to Gaza, we deserve clean water,” the congresswoman told MEE.
“We deserve equality. We deserve justice. And for me, that’s going to translate to me still advocating in a Biden-Harris administration to work on it.
“I’m working to get to that point. But again, I need an administration that I could have a conversation with, where I’m not othered or dehumanised.”
After two years in Congress, Tlaib won her party’s nomination for her safe Democratic district with ease in August. Her re-election on 3 November is all but guaranteed. In her second term, she will be joined by several progressives who are critical of Israeli policies, including Missouri’s Cori Bush, who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“This is not just about who’s in the White House to basically be able to give a voice to the Palestinian people. It’s also the members of Congress coming in,” she said.
“We all are asking you to give us an administration that we can work with. This is our option right now. And again, this is not our destination. I need to be able to get through a door and not a wall that is rooted in corruption, lawlessness, pay-to-play and white supremacy.
“I need an administration that I can get through the door and speak the truth about the oppression of the Palestinian people and the violence toward the Palestinian people.”
Beyond election day
The Biden campaign has made an unprecedented outreach effort to both Arab and Muslim communities, but has still faced blowback from advocates who claim it has not done enough to address policy questions around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Earlier this year, the former vice president released a plan for Muslim Americans and a separate platform for Arab Americans, in which he vowed to reverse Trump’s “Muslim ban” on his first day in office, end the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme and halt US support to the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.
Tlaib said Arab and Muslim voters should hold a President Biden accountable to these promises.
“You do not just vote and walk away; you vote and then you say: ‘You made that promise, and we’re going to hold you accountable to that promise,” she said.
Tlaib added that changes come from “the street”, not just on election day.
“Understand that this is a much longer process and movement,” she told MEE. “And I say that to all those that are voting for me. Don’t just vote for me and not call me and hold me accountable to things that I said was going to do. It is part of our civic duty to make sure that when we vote, we hold those we put our trust in accountable to the things they promised us.”
Tlaib revealed that she personally told Biden earlier this month that she would push for progressive policies “with a sense of urgency” for her constituents under his administration, including on health care and the environment.
“I said: ‘I know I’m not going to be your favourite person’,” Tlaib continued, recalling her conversation with the former vice president.
“Because you and I have the same goal, but we’re on a different timeline. And I have to move with urgency because my folks have been waiting too long. They don’t have years; they don’t have months to wait to end poverty, to end all of the harm that has been happening to them living in and around pollution and a broken education system.”
The congresswoman and her campaign have been stumping for Biden across her district to increase voter turnout and help answer residents’ questions about voting.
On Trump’s xenophobia
Tlaib represents a Detroit-based district that is one of the poorest in the country. In 2018, she and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota became the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Both lawmakers have been a frequent target for attacks by the president, who regularly questions their allegiance to America.
At a rally in Michigan on Friday, the president repeated his usual derogatory remarks against Omar, casting her as a foreigner trying to tell Americans how to run their country. A day earlier, he posted a tweet claiming that Biden would open “the floodgates to Radical Islamic Terror” by increasing admissions of refugees.
Tlaib said the president’s rhetoric “leads to violence”, and politically it goes beyond his administration as it trickles down to voters and lawmakers, normalising the “othering and dehumanisation politics” of enacting oppressive policies.
“It’s something that we need to push back against,” Tlaib told MEE. “Much of what the president is running on is fear and hate – a hate agenda that doesn’t fix people’s lives; it actually makes it worse.”
She accused Trump of lacking the empathy needed for leadership during times of crises, calling him “incompetent” and “ill-equipped” to handle the pandemic. “All he can do is bully and intimidate and use this hate agenda to make people believe that somehow he has their back because he hates these [other] folks.”
Tlaib has attained a rock-star status in Arab and Muslim communities across the country. At events, people line up to take selfies with her and offer words of encouragement.
But the congresswoman has not had it easy in DC. She has faced accusations of antisemitism over her advocacy for Palestinian rights, racist attacks from the president and incessant hate speech online.
Tlaib urged young people who look up to her not to be discouraged by the negativity that she endures.
“I just want them to know that I feel their love and their support more than I feel the hate, more than I feel the attacks… I just want all the little girls especially to know, I’m knocking down every door for them, every wall for them. So when they get there, Congress is going to be ready for them,” she said.
“When they get there, they’re not going to be having to worry about it. Because people are going to think: It’s normal to have a loud unapologetically Palestinian Muslim in the halls of power. And so every day I’m gonna work hard, so that it’s easier for them.”
Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC; he reports on US foreign policy, Arab-American issues, civil rights and politics