Two of the founders of Black Lives Matter, as well as professor Angela Davis and scores of other black women, are holding a rally today on Capitol Hill to defend Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and to urge Congress to censure President Trump for his attacks on her. Omar made history earlier this year when she and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first Muslim women in Congress. She is also the first member of Congress to wear a hijab. Omar, who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee, has been at the center of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office. Omar recently said death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. We speak to the academic and activist Angela Davis, as well as Barbara Ransby, historian, author, activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives and one of the planners behind Black Women in Defense of Ilhan Omar.
AMY GOODMAN: Two of the founders of Black Lives Matter, as well as professor Angela Davis and scores of other black women, are holding a rally today on Capitol Hill to defend Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and to urge Congress to censure President Trump for his attacks on her. Omar made history earlier this year when she and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first Muslim women in Congress. She’s also the first member of Congress to wear a hijab.
Omar, who was born in Somalia and came to the United States as a refugee, has been at the center of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office. Congressmember Omar recently said death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. In New York City, many Yemeni bodega owners are continuing to refuse to sell the New York Post, after it showed an image of the World Trade Center on fire with a headline attacking Omar. The Yemeni American Merchants Association said the cover provoked hatred and targeted people of the Muslim faith. Omar has also 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, Omar has refused to be silent and has continued to speak out against racism, Islamophobia, right-wing violence and anti-Semitism. On Saturday, she condemned the deadly shooting at a synagogue in San Diego, writing, “My heart is breaking after today’s deadly shooting at Chabad Congregation in San Diego — on the last day of Passover and 6 months to the day after the Tree of Life shooting. We as a nation must confront the terrifying rise of religious hate and violence. Love trumps hate,” she tweeted.
We’re joined now by two of the organizers of today’s rally. Barbara Ransby, historian, author and activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives and one of the planners behind Black Women in Defense of Ilhan Omar. Ransby’s latest book is Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century. And Angela Davis joins us, author, activist, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She’s the author of many books, including Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Angela Davis, you have traveled across the country to come here to Washington today. Why?
ANGELA DAVIS: I think it’s extremely important to demonstrate that there are many people, especially black women, but people in general, who support Ilhan Omar, who has become the target of the vitriol of the current president. She is targeted because she is an immigrant, because she is Muslim, because she is a courageous, bold black woman who speaks out in defense of Palestinians. She is not afraid to criticize Israel. And, of course, the current president has made her the target of many of his attacks. We say that we stand with her, we support her, and we will not give up.
AMY GOODMAN: The president pinned a tweet linking to a video of Ilhan Omar, going back and forth with the World Trade Center bombings. Can you talk about the significance of this and what it means?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, of course, we know that since the election campaign, that led to the unfortunate election of Donald Trump, Trump has used Muslims as a foil. He has, of course, called for the banning of Muslim immigration into the U.S. He uses this bizarre logic of fungibility, where one Muslim represents the worst — or all Muslims, rather, represent the worst deeds that any Muslim has ever conducted. And it’s this logic of fungibility that is at the heart of racism, that is at the heart of Islamophobia. And I think that all of us who are opposed to racism, who are opposed to anti-Semitism, who are opposed to all forms of assaults against people because of their race, their background, their ethnicity, their religion, should stand with Ilhan Omar.
AMY GOODMAN: So, today at noon, Professor Barbara Ransby, here in Washington, you and others have organized this rally for Ilhan Omar, that apparently she, too, will be attending?
BARBARA RANSBY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: To show support for Congressmember Omar. Talk about what motivated you to do this, to come in from Chicago, where you teach.
BARBARA RANSBY: Well, we’re inviting — we’ve invited 100-plus black women to show up at the Capitol. We didn’t invite more; we’re trying to be aware of our carbon footprint. But we represent organizations and sectors. There are faith leaders that are coming: Jewish women of color are coming, Muslim faith leaders, Reverend Traci Blackmon from United Church of Christ. So it’s a broad cross-section.
And the Movement for Black Lives has called this gathering to physically show that we will, you know, dissect, get ourselves out of our lives, our busy lives, and come here to stand with Ilhan Omar. And she is not only being attacked, as Angela said, because she’s an immigrant woman, because she’s a black woman, but also because she’s a progressive voice that won’t be silenced, right? So, she has spoken — you mentioned Venezuela earlier. She eloquently called Elliott Abrams to task for his history of violent, imperialist interventions in Central America. And he is, of course, being the point person for what’s going on in terms of U.S. policy in Venezuela. So, very progressive voice that is refusing to be silenced.
I think there’s two things for us. One is that we see a growing trend of attacks on African Americans who dare to speak out on foreign policy issues, particularly the question of Palestine. Of course, Angela Davis, in Birmingham, was denied an award — and then had the award reinstated — because of her principled stand on Palestine. Marc Lamont Hill fired from CNN. And the list goes on. So we’re prepared to say that we want progressive black voices, in a spirit of black internationalism, to speak out on these issues without punishment.
And the second is, you know, the targeting of black women. Trump has been vitriolic toward so many groups, but I think there’s a particular venom when it comes to black women. He has attacked Maxine Waters. He attacked Frederica Wilson in Florida. He called his former —
AMY GOODMAN: The congressmember.
BARBARA RANSBY: The congressmember. He attacked Omarosa, who I certainly don’t have very much political likeness to, but called her a dog. You know, so this kind of attacks on black women just has to be opposed.
AMY GOODMAN: You recently tweeted, “We remember Anita as we come together on April 30 to defend Ilhan.”
BARBARA RANSBY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: In defense of Ilhan, you said.
BARBARA RANSBY: Yes, yes, absolutely. And it’s interesting that Anita Hill has been in the news lately, of course, because of Joe Biden’s bid and his inexcusable role in humiliating her and making her vulnerable. I was a part of a mobilization in 1991 called “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves” — Angela was also a part of it — which came to the defense of Anita Hill, who was being vilified, who herself suffered death threats and threats of sexual violence because of the position she was put in and the way that she was so publicly humiliated and vilified. So we see similarly with Ilhan Omar now.
And these kinds of — these words have consequences. You know, we see a rise in right-wing violence. Recently a bookstore right outside of D.C. had an anti-racist book event disrupted by white nationalists, who literally marched through and intimidated people. So, the brazenness and boldness kind of in the — very much reminding us to pre-Nazi Germany.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the shooting in San Diego.
BARBARA RANSBY: And the shooting in San Diego.
AMY GOODMAN: At the synagogue.
BARBARA RANSBY: The synagogue in San Diego, the synagogue in Pittsburgh, what happened in New Zealand. All of these things point to the ways in which racist violence is being fueled by the words of Trump and others.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to professor Barbara Ransby, historian, author and activist, as well as Angela Davis, author, professor and activist, who have come to Washington, D.C., with at least a hundred other women of color to stand with Congressmember Ilhan Omar, who is facing an increasing number of death threats. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: John Williams’ theme to John Singleton’s critically acclaimed Rosewood. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting today from the nation’s capital, from Washington, D.C. I want to turn to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar in her own words. This is Omar speaking at Busboys and Poets here in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: No, we know what hate looks like. We experience it every single day. I have colleagues who talk about death threats. I have colleagues who talk about death threats. And sometimes — there are cities in my state where the gas stations have written on their bathrooms, “Assassinate Ilhan Omar.” I have people driving around my district looking for my home, for my office, causing me harm. I have people, every single day, on Fox News and everywhere, posting that I am a threat to this country. So I know what fear looks like. The masjid, the masjid I pray in, in Minnesota, got bombed by two domestic white terrorists. So I know what it feels to be someone who is of faith that is vilified. I know what it means to be of someone who is of ethnicity that is vilified. I know what it feels to be —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
REP. ILHAN OMAR: — of a race, of a race — right? Like, I am an immigrant, so I don’t have the historical drama that some of my black sisters and brothers have in this country. But I know — I know what it means for people to just see me as a black person and to treat me as less than a human.
And so, when people say, “You are bringing hate,” I know what their intention is. Their intention is to make sure that our lights are dimmed, that we walk around with our heads bowed, that we lower our face and our voice.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Ilhan Omar speaking at the local restaurant and gathering place Busboys and Poets in these last few months.
Our guests are Angela Davis, author, professor, activist at University of California, Santa Cruz, professor emeritus, and Barbara Ransby, one of the people and movements who have organized with the Movement for Black Lives a defense rally today of Ilhan Omar. As you listen to Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis, your thoughts?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, first of all, I am extremely proud that finally we’ve elected someone to Congress who speaks out in such a powerful way on behalf of black women, on behalf of Palestinians, on behalf of all people who are oppressed.
I’m also quite afraid for her. We know that she has received many death threats. And we know that much of the attention that is focused on her as an individual is meant to also focus on all of us who are trying to speak out against the current policies of the U.S. government, and particularly the policies on Israel. We experienced the assassination of another elected official in the American hemisphere, Marielle Franco in Brazil, a little more than a year ago. And it pains me to —
AMY GOODMAN: She was the Rio councilmember, major LGBTQ activist.
ANGELA DAVIS: Absolutely, absolutely. And she received threats and was targeted in the same way that Ilhan Omar is being targeted today. And so, I —
AMY GOODMAN: And it looks like one of the people involved with her killing, who’s been accused of that, has a relationship with the Bolsonaro family, the current right-wing president of Brazil.
ANGELA DAVIS: Oh, absolutely, and they were both former police officers. So we know that the government was directly involved in this attempt to eliminate Marielle Franco. Fortunately, there is a vast movement in Brazil. Her memory is being defended, and the black women’s movement in Brazil has only grown in the aftermath of her assassination.
It is up to us to prevent a similar set of circumstances from unfolding here in the United States, in defending Ilhan Omar. I have to really thank Barbara Ransby, who has done such an amazing job helping to organize this event with the Movement for Black Lives. And Barbara mentioned earlier that she participated in the defense of Anita Hill, Black Women in Defense of Ourselves. She was one of the main organizers of that massive movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Back in 1991 —
ANGELA DAVIS: Back in 19 —
AMY GOODMAN: — when Anita Hill testified against then-nominee —
ANGELA DAVIS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
It’s been very interesting to see the changing landscape, political, ideological landscape, when it comes to Israel. The current edition of Newsweek has a full picture of Ilhan Omar, and the headline is “Ilhan Omar, the Democrats and Israel.” And the article, by [Jonathan] Broder, is looking at the breaking of the consensus, particularly within the Democratic Party, around support for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. You look at the AIPAC meeting that just took place. Among those who didn’t attend were one after another Democratic presidential candidate. Senator Bernie Sanders wasn’t there. Senator Kamala Harris wasn’t there. Senator Elizabeth Warren wasn’t there. Beto O’Rourke wasn’t there. Julián Castro wasn’t there. Washington Governor Jay Inslee wasn’t there. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg wasn’t there. Beto O’Rourke recently called Netanyahu a racist.
Can you talk about this breaking of the consensus? You then have an event that’s taking place at University of Massachusetts Amherst that’s getting tremendous pushback, that has people like Marc Lamont Hill going, as well as Linda Sarsour, Dave Zirin and Sut Jhally of the Media Education Foundation. You have a number of groups protesting this, but you also have them pushing back and the university standing up for the right of this gathering to speak about Palestine, that’s going to be taking place May 4th, this Saturday. So there is a breaking of consensus. Ilhan Omar is not out there alone, though she is the lightning rod for all of this.
ANGELA DAVIS: Absolutely, absolutely.
BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah, it’s so important. I mean, I think there’s a number of variables. And Angela’s leadership and visibility on this, since the delegation in 2011, you know, has been really remarkable. And I also just want to put in context, you know, the movement in Brazil in response to Marielle Franco. But here, you know, it’s not just us, it’s also Thenjiwe McHarris and Miski Noor and some of the young leaders in the Movement for Black Lives, who, in 2016, included in their “Vision for Black Lives” solidarity with Palestinian human rights, and caught a lot of flak for it and had funders move away from them because of it. So I think it’s this generation of young black and Latinx activists. It’s also young Jewish activists, in Jewish Voice for Peace, in IfNotNow, who are breaking the silence around Israel. And it’s so important. So it’s important that Ilhan is not alone on that question and many others.
AMY GOODMAN: You have Patrisse Cullors coming out today, Alicia Garza, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, coming out for Ilhan Omar, that’s happening today at noon?
BARBARA RANSBY: Yes, absolutely, and a wide range of organizations. Black Women’s Blueprint is involved, Black Youth Project 100. Black women from all over the country are coming to say we stand with Ilhan and that other women stand with us. So we’re telling the Republicans to back off. We’re also telling the Democrats to step up and have a much more vigorous defense of her.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, if people were just watching the news, they would think that Ilhan Omar only speaks about Israel. But, in fact, she takes on many, many different issues and is the forefront on those. I want to turn to Congressmember Ilhan Omar questioning Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, on his record, earlier this year.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: If I can respond to that —
REP. ILHAN OMAR: It wasn’t a question.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ilhan Omar questioning Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams — Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of lying to Congress, appointed by President Trump to be the point person on Venezuela. In a moment we’re going to be speaking more about Venezuela, because as this broadcast got underway, Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, is currently attempting a coup against the Venezuelan president. We’ll see how this unfolds throughout the day. But the significance of Ilhan Omar on all of these fronts, Angela Davis?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, Ilhan Omar is a major progressive voice on foreign policy issues, on issues of racism, on issues of misogyny. And finally, we do have someone in Congress who is not afraid to stand up and fight back. And, of course, I’m not at all attempting to belittle the legacy of people like Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, who have been struggling with the Democrats in Congress for many years. But I think it’s particularly important that she took the lead in challenging the position on Venezuela.
The apparent coup that is underway now, supported of course by the U.S. government, is an attempt to increase the effect of the move towards the right throughout the world — Bolsonaro in Brazil, of course Duterte in the Philippines, Netanyahu re-elected in Israel. And, of course, one might be critical of the current leadership of Venezuela, but he was democratically elected. You know, what would we say in this country if another power decided to support a coup in the U.S., even though we have a president — well, we won’t get into that now, but you get the point that I’m making.