Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ack! The Primaries

Perhaps I should have been blogging about the primaries BEFORE they happened, but last week, I couldn't get to my desk because a huge pile of David Yassky literature was blocking the way. Thank goodness that craven ass didn't win. Unfortunately, Jonathan Tasini got only a small proportion of the New York vote. As Tasini points out in his own dailykos diary, he was polling in numbers similar to Lamont's in Connecticut at the beginning of the primary campaign. However, Tasini's campaign got nowhere near the support or publicity that Lamont's did. Why? The only answer I can think of is fear. Progressive Democrats hate Hilary Clinton, but they don't think Tasini can win. Therefore, they didn't vote for him. So, I'm glad to see that people in other states are a little bolder than the lily-livered dems of New York.

For example, Minnesota democrats just voted for Keith Ellison. Good for them.
I don't generally follow political races outside New York (and I barely follow the New York races) but I notice that my old buddy, Keith Ellison won in Minnesota. That's good news.
I met Ellison in the mid-1990s when he was defending my friend Kieran, who'd been charged with felony assault after defending himself against a Nazi skinhead at an anti-Nazi demonstration. It was my understanding at the time that Ellison was a member of the Nation of Islam, and we had a few interesting conversations about Jewish and Black identity. He was sympathetic (as I've found many Black nationalists are) to anyone with a strong Jewish ethnic identity, and asked me if I was perplexed by the Jewish student who was testifying against Kieran. (I was - the kid seemed to feel that self-defense was just mean.)
Knowing him over the years, watching him defend young white guys who'd gotten into conflicts with neo-Nazis, I never found Ellison to be an anti-semite. In fact, because he took on at least two big felony assault cases during which he had to cross-examine pea-brained neo-Nazi boneheads, he probably knows more about anti-Semitism than most people want to. Despite this, and despite his voting record in the Minnesota stage legislature, I imagined that his involvement or association with the NOI would lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Of course it did, but the accusations didn't stick. Plenty of other people have had the same kind of experience with Ellison that I've had, which is why they voted for him, and it's also probably why the American Jewish World, Minneapolis' mainstream Jewish newspaper, endorsed him in the primary.
The only thing I'm disappointed to see is that Ellison's taken a pretty conservative position on Israel, and even says in his campaign literature that
Iran is the leading sponsor of international terrorism as well as the major financial supporter of many radical groups that threaten moderate regimes throughout the Middle East.

The reality is, however, that taking any other position on this issue is likely to result in losing the election, especially if you are a Muslim.
Middle-East politics is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Keith Ellison. I knew him as a lawyer who specialized in indigent criminal defense, and as an activist around the issues concerning the urban black poor. I heard him give a great talk at a 1998 prison conference I helped organize in which he pointed out that the Minneapolis police's gang task force listed a number of Black gangs, and argued for a policy of aggressively surveilling suspected/potential gang members (ie, black teenagers), but only one white group: the "baldies," an anti-racist skinhead group that had by that time not existed for at least ten years. If they included the Aryan brotherhood or other white biker gangs, he suggested, they might be able to do something about the methamphetamine traffic in the area. Of course, that was long before "meth" became a national scare.
Ellison is an engaging, open-minded fellow who defies easy stereotypes of the Black nationalist bogeyman. He had me as a guest on his radio show once with David Roediger, whose work on whiteness interested him. He also showed himself to be an all-around nice person, not a lofty activist superstar. One snowy morning I was standing at the bus-stop waiting for my ride to the U and a car drove up, it was Keith, offering me a lift to school. Of course I said yes, and on the way, for some reason, he started talking to me about how much he liked Molly Ivins. Is that what you expect the "follower of Farrakhan" to be talking about or thinking about on his morning drive? Well, he may surprise you yet.
Big ups to Minnesota for being out in front and choosing one of the few true progressives to run for congress as a Democrat.


Anonymous said...

cross posted you on DKos - maybe will generate some traffic, but no comments so far.

Check out the "Townhall" response to Ellison's win, here

".....first they migrate to our shores and multipy like rabbits...

.....then they infiltrate our schools and government...

.....the next thing you know our women are in burkas and we are on prayer rugs under Sharia Law..."

Anonymous said...

tristero at Hullabaloo

"liberals hate radical solutions and revolutions, especially if they increase suffering. And liberals don't believe anyone who tells them that short-term suffering caused by increased oppression will lead to long-term benefits for the people suffering the most. It never has. It never will."

Anonymous said...

Good analysis, Reb. I like "progressives" about as much as I like spoiled hummus, but you're right that Keith is an all-round decent human being, and I'd rather see him in power than most other folks.

Now how 'bout getting Nikolas Stein to run for president?

Phoenix Woman said...

One quibble: Ellison's mosque isn't part of the Farrakhan-run group which he calls "The Nation of Islam". The original NoI renamed itself as "The World Community of Al-Islam in the West" in 1976 when it dropped the black-supremist dogma in favor of a more conventional interpretation of Islam, including a far more friendly stance towards Jews; Farrakhan was incensed by this and went on to create his own group in 1978, using the discarded "Nation of Islam" name.

Ellison's mosque is Masjid An-Nur, and works with Jewish and Christian groups to perform good works in the local community.

From the Masjid An-Nur website:

In the 1950's a group of African Americans in Minneapolis, MN looking for an alternative lifestyle in America, converted to the religion of Islam via the Nation of Islam, under the leadership of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad-self proclaimed "Messenger of Allah". Under the guise of religion, the 'Black Muslim' theology gave this group of disenfranchised blacks a new sense of identity - self-worthiness to combat the frustration they had felt from every avenue of life. The Nation of Islam, using much of the dogma of the religion of Islam; was in fact a black-oriented self help group. With the passing of Elijah Muhammad, the leadership of the Nation was passed on to his son, Wallace; who had been groomed for many years to take over the leader-ship of the community.

On Feb. 26, 1975 at the annual convention of the Nation of Islam, Wallace (now known as W. Deen Mohammed) was nominated and unanimously chosen as the new head of the organization. Immediately after Imam (spiritual leader) W. Deen Mohammed assumed leadership, he began to make dramatic changes in the doctrines and structure of the Nation. He insisted that the group dismiss many of its teachings and embrace the original orthodox religion of Al-Islam as it was established by Prophet Muhammad on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th Century. In doing so, Imam W. Deen Mohammed threw off the name "Nation of Islam" and connected with the majority of Muslims throughout the world. In Minneapolis, the local Temple was enthusiastic about the changes. The name of the meeting place was immediately changed from 'temple' or 'Mosque' to the proper Arabic name for a Muslim place of worship "MASJID". Masjid An-Nur, supporting the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed in the Muslim American Society, underwent a series of changes in name and location. In 1995, Masjid An-Nur acquired and renovated the building it currently occupies on North Lyndale Avenue.

Muslims who attend Masjid An-Nur are of many racial and ethnic groups; all working together to bring a new sense of unity and cooperation to the Near North Side. In addition to the traditional Friday afternoon congregational prayer, Masjid An-Nur holds weekly Islamic studies and Arabic language classes for men, women and children. For many years, Masjid An-Nur's community outreach program, mostly through the use of volunteers, has focused its efforts on positively impacting the lives of disadvantaged residents in dignified and meaningful ways. Their mission has been to touch the lives of the various segments of the community that experience the most despair when trying to lead productive lives. Masjid An-Nur is located in the heart of the inner city of North Minneapolis. Though the surrounding community is 50% African American, there is a rich cultural and racial mixture from around the world. At Masjid An-Nur there is a dedication to interfaith dialogue and partnership.

In 1996, Masjid An-Nur began to work with Jewish and Christian partners in an interfaith effort sponsored by the McKnight Foundation. The charge for the partners was to engage members of their various religious persuasions to volunteer in their local and city-wide communities to help individuals in need and those persons in transition from welfare to work. Thousands of individuals from various religious backgrounds answered the call to volunteer; many were one-time opportunities but more volunteered on a regular basis.
Masjid An-Nur has established a monthly food distribution program that serves over 1,000 families annually. They also operate a hot meals program, clothing distributions several times a year; (partnering with Al-Shifa Clinic of the Islamic Center of MN) provides referrals for medical services provided by volunteering medical professionals (including pediatricians, internal medicine, dentists, pharmacists, etc) for persons lacking insurance; and (partnering with Al-Birr Social Family Counseling Service) provides free individual and family counseling..
Masjid An-Nur has embraced a program envisioned by Imam W. D. Mohammed called "The Mosque-Cares Project". The object of this project is to provide a nucleus for the growth and development of the Muslim American Neighborhood. The Mosque-Cares Project calls for the establishment of Mosque and school; Community Employment Services; Food Shelves; Hungry Kitchens; Reduced Price and Free Clothing; Dormitories for the Homeless; Islamic Health and Fitness Centers; etc. Masjid An-Nur has begun to incorporate the various aspects of The Mosque Cares Project in its Community Outreach Programs
Masjid An-Nur currently has two multi-unit apartment buildings to help provide affordable, safe housing. Their goal to add additional units to help meet the growing need for housing.
Masjid An-Nur recently completed a successful computerized academic program with Summit Academy. The object was to work with a cohort of 25 youngsters. following them through their high-school careers; insuring they master the State of MN mandated standardized testing requirements for high school graduation. .This program achieved a 95% success rate. Masjid An-Nur has plans to introduce similar academic programs when our renovation/expansion project is completed.

reb said...

thanks for the clarification, Phoenixwoman. I hoped it was clear in my post that when I knew Ellison it was my own understanding that he was somehow associated with NOI, but the Wallace Dean Muhammed breakaway makes sense, as I've read his stuff and am aware that he sees "whiteness" as more of a social than a biological reality. Regardless, Ellison is "good people."

reb said...

joel, I know what you mean, but I'm optimistic about the rising tide of activist progressives. No, they're not revolutionary socialists, but Keith's success, along w/the rise of people like Cindy Sheehan are signs of something positive in the culture. I don't think that the democratic party is the vehicle that will take them or any serious social change movement forward, but I think there will be interesting developments in the next five years or so. In fact, the smartest thing the dems could do to survive this storm will be to absorb this left wing...if they don't, the disgruntled anti-war progressives will likely move to the left as the war continues.

Anonymous said...

Hey reb, good to read your recollections of Keith Ellison in the 90s. Out here in MN these days, it has been very interesting watching Ellison run for this congressional seat. I was frankly shocked that he won the DFL nomination at their convention, considering that the ultimate insider Mike Erlandson (Sabo's 18-year staff member and former DFL state chair) was trying to get the spot. Ellison won that in a fairly easy vote. Then during the primary, Erlandson ran against him as well as a couple other DFL insider bores. They did their best to smear him with the anti-semetic label, as well as dredging up crap like parking tickets that Ellison hadn't paid (really!) and the more serious problem that Ellison had been late paying his income taxes for a number of years in a row. He handled the smears very well, and it is surprising that none of it really stuck. He won the primary election handily. The demographics show that he got most of his votes in Minneapolis and he came in third in most of the Western Suburbs (no surprise). I was surprised that he didn't at least take the northern suburbs like Columbia Heights that have a sizeable new Muslim community. As you refer to, he did however hold on to some very key Jewish supporters, which I think helped him brave the storm of the attacks. The position he's taking on Palestine and Israel is unfortunately conservative though.

Ellison survived the DFL primary, which for all intents and purposes is the election in the MN 5th District. But even though the nobody the Republicans threw up against him has no chance of winning, it became clear the day after the election that the dude is gonna drag Ellison through the mud and try to do whatever he can to tear him down for the next couple months. The day after Ellison won, the Republican dude (who happens to be Jewish) launched into a tirade about how it's a disgrace that the Democrats could pick "this kind of a candidate"...which can only mean a Muslim, a black man. It's gonna be mean and dirty, no doubt. But unless they can find some unbelievably insane skeleton in Ellison's closet, the seat is his.

Anonymous said...

I've never voted in a primary before, but following a chace meeting with Kieran's mom on the bus, I made of point of voting this time around. When I first came to Mpls, I saw Martin Sabo as an old-school, machine party Dem. Erlandson's main point in the campaign was that his connection with this machine would give him a leg-up in getting things done in Congress. Apperently, voters in the 5th District wanted something other than the same-old, same-old.

In the first week of debates and interviews for the general election, the Republican candidate Fine has made a point of smearing Ellison as a racist and closely connected to NOI. At one point a local journalist asked Fine if he really believed the charges he was making or parroting Republican talking points, yes or no. Fine declined to answer. I think Fine's campaigning will not be to win the election (local conservatives have all but conceded the election.) Instead, I think Ellison's election will be used as a weapon against the Democrats nationally. The same way the distrotions (lies) of Wellstone's funeral was used nationally for the Republican. So far, I don't think any of the other Democrat candidates in MN have shown much support for Ellison. You'd like to think local Dems would support one of there own candidates, but no such luck.

Anonymous said...

Time for an Anxiety Alert, Iran edition?

Yglesias: Craziest Goddamn Thing I've Heard In a Long Time

"...Persons inside the Office of the Vice President took the view that we could use the nukes -- in other words, launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Iran -- and then simply deny that we'd done so."

Anonymous said...

First Employers Sent Your Job Overseas. Guess What? You’re Next (AFL-CIO)

"Blue Ridge Paper in Canton, N.C ... made plans to send Carl Garrett, a paper mill technician, to India for gall bladder and shoulder surgery."

Anonymous said...

Sweet -- way to go Rebecca. I did the data entry for Get out the vote for Ellison -- nice to know your take on it. drew