Ilhan Omar Ayanna Pressley

Reps. Ilhan Omar (left) and Ayanna Pressley

It doesn’t seem like just eight short months, but that’s all it has been.

It seems longer because the names Omar, Pressley, Tlaib and AOC – also known as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) … “The Squad” – have dominated the national headlines in the ever-present 24-hour news cycle. Some of the coverage has been of their own accord. Sadly, much has been due to the hate spewing from the Twitter fingers and mouth of President Donald Trump. Nonetheless, we know who they are. They are four freshmen House of Representative congresswomen of color who are changing the face – and voice – of the Democratic Party. In short, they are The Squad.

Just recently, three of the four made their way to the Twin Cities on separate occasions – first Tlaib with Omar to hold a joint press conference to voice their anger and dismay at a travel ban to Israel and Palestine placed on the two following a Trump tweet, and a week later Pressley was in town with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus; a part of a multi-day listening tour. It was during that tour that Omar and Pressley sat down with Insight News for an exclusive conversation.

“It’s been an intensive eight months, that’s for sure,” said Omar, sitting on a couch in her downtown warehouse district Minneapolis office. “We’ve got a lot accomplished.”

Of the accomplishments Omar points to are 20 bills or amendments introduced by Minnesota 5th District representative; 12 of which have passed. She has cosponsored another 371. Among them are bills to recognize the Paris Agreement on Climate, an amendment to require reporting on financial costs and national security benefits for overseas military operations, one that prohibits the use of funds to establish any permanent military base or installation in Somalia and one that ensures employers with more than 100 employees, including government contractors, must submit racial and ethnic pay data to EEOC.

As noted on her official government webpage, Omar is a member of the House Budget Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she serves on the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. She also serves on the House Education and Labor Committee, where she is a member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development and the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. She is also Midwest Regional Whip of the Democratic Caucus and the Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She is a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Women’s Caucus and Pro-Choice Caucus. Those are lofty assignments for a freshman representative.

“Having her (Omar) on the Foreign Affairs Committee is a big, big deal,” said Pressley. “To have a freshman on that committee signals change, and we know, nothing changes if nothing changes. It’s her voice on that committee that is helping to bring about change.”

In fact, it is Omar’s voice (along with others) that is helping to reshape the way in which many view the United State’s relationship with Israel; in particular, as it relates to the treatment of Palestinians.

“The shift is the fact that we’re actually having the conversation,” said Omar. “I’m willing to talk about this and not worry about my political survival. My concern … my worry is people living under oppression. I’m a mother and I look at things from that perspective, believing, knowing, that no one person should be viewed as more valuable than another person.”

It’s that sense of equal value that is guiding one of Pressley’s initiatives.

This past June, Pressley, along with Sen. Cory Booker, reintroduced the “Baby Bonds” legislations, a bill they say, “would give every American child a fairer chance at economic mobility by creating a seed savings account of $1,000 at birth. Each year, children would receive up to an additional $2,000 deposit into their American Opportunity Account, depending on family income. These funds would sit in a federally insured account managed by the Treasury Department, achieving roughly 3 percent interest. Account holders may not access the money until they reach age 18 and will only be able to use the funds for allowable uses like homeownership and higher education – the kind of human and financial capital investments that changes life trajectories.”

Pressley’s first ever bill was introduced just days into her tenure during the government shutdown. It was a bill to ensure government contract employees would receive backpay once the shutdown ended.

“These men and women were showing up at the Capitol every day not knowing when … if … they were going to be paid and it struck me as hypocritical to walk past them knowing we would receive pay and they may not,” said Pressley.

With what the four freshmen congresswomen of color have accomplished it’s hard to fathom considering they have been the target of racist verbal attacks and death threats. The level of vitriol towards the four tends to amp-up any time Trump tweets about them or talks about them at one of his campaign rallies. Just days ago Omar was the target of a death threat with someone saying they would kill her at the Minnesota State Fair.

The fact that “The Squad” is receiving unprecedented attention is by design said Omar and Pressley.

The moniker, “The Squad” comes from a social media hashtag created by Ocasio-Cortez. It came about when the four sat for their official House photos. They took a photo together as a part of a historic freshman class featuring four new members who are women of color, two of whom are Muslim, one, Omar, Somali-born.

“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, ‘Hey, we gotta post this (on social media); we need a hashtag’ and she came up with the hashtag #SquadGoals,” explained Pressley.

Right-leaning media quickly picked up on the hashtag and began to dub the four The Squad – a designation none of the congresswomen shy away from.

“We want to show that as women and as women of color we can stick together and work to better the conditions for all Americans,” said Pressley. “When people say we are the face of the Democratic Party I say the face of the Democratic Party is the American people. We represent the growing table of the Democratic Party and its expanding electorate.”

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