“I’m Bringing My Bullhorn to Congress”: Rashida Tlaib Poised to Become First Muslim Congresswoman

StoryAugust 16, 2018
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Detroit Democratic congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Palestinian-American woman and first Muslim woman to serve in Congress, after winning the Democratic primary for John Conyers’s old House seat in Michigan last week. Tlaib is a Democratic Socialist who supports the Palestinian right of return and a one-state solution, Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing ICE. The child of immigrants, she has spoken out against the Trump administration’s travel bans. We speak with Rashida Tlaib about her historic victory and her plans for Congress.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a congressional candidate in Michigan who’s poised become the first Palestinian-American woman and first Muslim woman to serve in Congress. Rashida Tlaib is a Democratic Socialist who supports the Palestinian right of return and a one-state solution. She also supports Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing ICE. The child of immigrants, she has spoken out against the Trump administration’s travel bans.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary for John Conyers’ old House seat in Michigan. This is a part of her victory speech.

RASHIDA TLAIB: I will uplift you in so many ways, not only through service, but fighting back against every single oppressive, racist structure that needs to be dismantled, because you deserve better.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashida Tlaib is a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives. She is joining us now from Detroit.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Rashida Tlaib, your response to your victory, which is extremely significant considering you are running unopposed, is that right, in the general election in November? What will be your first acts as a congressmember from Detroit, as the first Palestinian-American politician in—woman in Congress, as well is the first Muslim woman to be elected?

RASHIDA TLAIB: I’m going to introduce the Justice for All Civil Rights Act. As many of you probably have heard—I mean, I’ve been talking about the fact that the 1964 Civil Rights Act hasn’t been basically implemented as it was intended. Last 55 years, we’ve seen the courts, very heavily stacked with conservative judges, completely change how we apply it, and saying that we can only show our civil rights was impacted or violated with intent, intentional discrimination. And what I want to do is introduce a proposal that would change it back to saying that if you show that the impact in itself, that the impact of the policy may be redlining through the car insurance industry, may be denying people of color the right to homeownership, those are the kinds of things that I think we need to get back to. And again, the impact of a policy in itself, if it’s discriminatory when it’s implemented, when it’s on the ground, then it should be considered a violation of our civil rights.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Rashida, could you talk about how being a Palestinian American influenced your policies and the positions that you’ve taken?

RASHIDA TLAIB: You know, it’s a combination, because I grew up in Detroit, where 85 percent of my neighbors are African-American, where many of my teachers through Detroit Public Schools were women, women of color who marched side by side with Martin Luther King. So many of them told me about where their family, grandparents and their parents, couldn’t buy homes in certain parts of the community. All of that, and combined with hearing the stories of my grandparents and my ancestors, who talked about the fact that they couldn’t—you know, they were forced to leave their homes or that they were discriminated against, primarily because of their ethnicity. Again, I think that combination, all of that, hearing it at home and also experiencing it outside of my home, through friends and through mentors and teachers and everyone around me, I think that, all of those things, comes with me when I serve in Congress and represent and fight for the families of the 13th Congressional District.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you certainly will be voting on issues related to Israel-Palestine. Can you talk about your views, the right of return, also what you think is the solution there?

RASHIDA TLAIB: You know, as a child of Palestinian immigrants, again, every corner of my district is a reminder of the civil rights movement, and I bring that lens, and I try to—you know, many of the Palestinians, they have called me, reached out to me via social media. All I can say is I’m going to humanize this issue, and I’m not going to choose sides. And I’m not going to choose Netanyahu’s Israel, just like I’m not going to choose Trump’s America. I am for everyone, every single person, Israeli, Palestinian, to have equal access to opportunities, to feel safe where they live, and to really be a genuine partner and a visionary around reaching peace in that region.

And so, I come with those stories of my grandfather and my uncle and my grandmother, who still lives in the West Bank. Those are the kinds of stories I bring to try to humanize the issue, not trying to choose sides and these kinds of labels that people are already putting on me, as if I have to be one for the other when I can’t just be for humanity and for everyone that lives in Israel and Palestine. Every single one, I can tell you, the majority, do not speak about this issue like the leadership there. They all really do want to live side by side. This kind of “separate but equal,” I’ve seen what it’s done in the history here in America, and it didn’t work. And it still hasn’t worked, I mean, even in continued segregation of our schools, which has increased with the privatization of our school system. All of these things, again, I come with that lens, and as well as a civil rights, human rights lawyer here in Detroit.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do you advocate a one-state solution for Israel-Palestine?

RASHIDA TLAIB: I absolutely believe “separate but equal” doesn’t work. That’s something that I believe. But, as an American, Amy—and you know this—I can’t impose my own beliefs onto a whole people. I don’t live there. I live here. But I can tell you, if it was something of possibility for a two-state solution, absolutely. Do I think it may work? That’s my only opinion, is I don’t know, because I’ve seen that, you know, South versus North didn’t work for us. And so, I really just see this, again, through an American lens, through an American lens that grew up in a predominantly African-American community and looking at that history and understanding that those both, one state and two state, is a struggle, and for us to be able to try, as Americans, to finally just step back and allow people to determine that themselves, not to impose my own opinion onto a whole people.

So, know that I believe in those kinds of values of equality, and that equality and justice for someone shouldn’t be based on their ethnicity, on their faith. And I think that is what drives me to say of course I prefer and lean towards one state, because I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful, that the day that my grandfather told me the story of the Arab Jew that used to farm next to him, that it wasn’t who was Palestinian/Israeli, they both were Arab. They both were farming, just like—you know, and providing for their families. Again, I’m an optimist. And that’s what I believe in, is one day to get back to that moment where my grandfather can look to his neighbor and not think that he’s less than.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Rashida, to go back to the policies that you have advocated here in the U.S., you support Medicare for all, as we mentioned earlier. You were asked by The New York Times how you planned to fund that, and you pulled up the Department of Defense website and read aloud its daily announcements of new contracts, some for hundreds of millions of dollars. I mean, you’ve also taken a very strong antiwar stance. So, could you say how you intend to cut military spending and whether you hope to find many Democratic allies in attempting to do so?

RASHIDA TLAIB: Absolutely, because we have to separate this idea of like, oh, supporting our—obviously, our men and women in the armed forces. And I can tell you, this is about the military complex, Amy. I mean, this is—just like I say, you know, look at how we’re funding education, which has now become an industry, a for-profit industry. And I don’t want military, our health industry—I mean, look at what’s happened, that every single thing, from even our police, has become a for-profit industry. These are private companies. I mean, yesterday, I think it was $44 million in contracts to for-profit companies, industries, that are getting money to do work, so—you know, with the Navy and the Army and so forth.

And so, when I pulled up the website, I wanted to prove a point, that: Is this money that is really helping the American people, or is it helping companies? Because when we become a, you know, kind of company- and corporation-driven government, from having our military and having our education system—even now our healthcare system is so much towards leaning towards very corporate-like and very for-profit—I think that’s when the danger comes in. That’s when we know those people are not for us, they’re for the greed that comes with trying to privatize our whole military industry.

AMY GOODMAN: Rashida Tlaib, with the Israeli military killing, it’s believed, over 140 Palestinians in the latest protests in Gaza, do you believe the U.S. should cut off military aid to Israel?

RASHIDA TLAIB: I believe that we shouldn’t be supporting any form of aid towards countries that are killing people that are innocent. And you can claim, as many will claim, that this is about security and so forth, but I think America needs to be held responsible. I mean, me, as an American, I know and feel that when you see protesters, peaceful protesters, marching, if it’s in Gaza, all the way to even Africa and other parts of the world—I see it everywhere—that if it’s promoting, you know, the violation of people’s international human rights, if it’s promoting the lack of freedom of speech, the lack of freedom to assemble, which is our core—part of our core of who we are as Americans, then, yes, cutting off aid is a possibility for me, absolutely. I mean, we have to use our American aid and our partnership as leverage, Amy, to promote who we are. And we don’t do that by supporting those kinds of killings.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to go to this amazing 2016 moment. It was right after the Democratic convention, and Donald Trump spoke at the Detroit Economic Club. This is right after Khizr Khan had held up the Constitution and told candidate Trump to read it. During Trump’s speech, women in the audience repeatedly stood up to ask about his stance on sexual harassment in the workplace. One of the women was you, Rashida Tlaib. You got up, and you shouted, “Have you ever read the U.S. Constitution?” We’re playing right now the videotape of this moment. “You need to read the Constitution!” Let’s go to a clip.

RASHID TLAIB: [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: We are watching right now, Rashida, you being taken out by security as you were standing there. Talk about what you were chanting, in these last 30 seconds, what you were demanding of then-candidate Donald Trump.

RASHIDA TLAIB: I was asking him, as he comes less than a mile away from where I live, is if he ever read the U.S. Constitution and what part of the U.S. Constitution does he believe in. I think it’s so important that we really get back to who we are. And Trump’s America is not who we are. And it was really my most American thing that I could ever have done, is ask him a question that day, alongside with 12 other incredible women, who also asked about labor rights, sexual harassment in the workplace and so many things that—

AMY GOODMAN: Could you see yourself doing the same thing again, with you as a congressmember and him as president?

RASHIDA TLAIB: I’m bringing my bullhorn to the floor of Congress, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion, and we’ll play that, as well, and post it at democracynow.org. We particularly want to ask you about what Democratic Socialism is. We’ve been speaking with Rashida Tlaib, who’s poised to be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

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