Omar’s book gives an insight into one of the likely future leaders of Democratic politics. Some of the details are unexpected: I didn’t think the person, living or dead, she would choose to meet would be Margaret Thatcher: “Time and time again,” Omar writes, “she showed up in rooms filled with men and didn’t have to do much to lead them to decide that she should be in charge.” Omar complicates the narratives surrounding her.
Back in Minneapolis after graduation, she immersed herself in the Democratic Farmer-Labor party, first working to defeat ballot initiatives to require photo IDs for voters and to outlaw gay marriage. She figured out a winning narrative: both were threats to freedom and civil liberties, a message that worked with communities of color and white rural Minnesotans. No anti-marriage equality initiative had ever been beaten until then – the same year Barack Obama was elected president. Omar was elected to the state legislature in 2016, then to the US Congress in 2018, as one of the first two Muslim women in the House. She feared she would be banned from the House floor by an ancient rule barring hats, which would have prevented her wearing her hijab. Nancy Pelosi fixed the rule.
In one anecdote she recalls the reaction of a Minnesota state senator when she ran for the leadership of their caucus. “I have never allowed myself to let anyone make me feel that I didn’t belong…I don’t have a fear of rejection. I was an equal member of the caucus, elected by the people, same as them,” she writes. “What did he expect? For me to walk around with an inferiority complex?”
As the demography of the United States moves away from the white homogenous identity Trump represents, Omar’s story offers hope to women, non-whites and other minorities everywhere that political representation is not just their right but can become a reality.
More than anything else, the sense you get from reading Omar’s book is that if a better world is possible, she wants to be there to help us see it. If there is a future to fight for, Ilhan Omar will be there in the center of the scrum, offering us a fresh perspective on what this country is and, perhaps more importantly, what it can yet become.