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Omar during a campaign event. Photo: Mark Vancleave/Star Tribune via AP
Omar during a campaign event. Photo: Mark Vancleave/Star Tribune via AP

Ilhan Omar: Progressive, refugee, Muslim, next member of Congress

Ilhan Omar is the new Democratic candidate for District 5 of Congress in Minnesota after winning the primaries on Tuesday, making history as the first…

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When the whole country was shocked by the candidacy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, another young millennial woman with student debt and without resources to acquire a home was campaigning simultaneously in Minnesota.

Her name is Ilhan Omar, 35, and she was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her family immigrated to the United States in 1995 after civil strife forced them to move to refugee camps in Kenya, and the Lutheran church helped them relocate to the U.S., initially in Arlington, Virginia.

Adaptation to the country - undermined by attacks on her veil, her race and her origins - allowed her to access education, learn English in only three months, and begin to get an idea about American democracy.

Subsequently, the family decided to move to Minneapolis, where Omar trained in political science and international studies at North Dakota State University. She began her political career working for the Kari Dziedzic campaign for the Minnesota Senate, later joining state's Department of Education.

But entering politics in the United States, as in Somalia, is not so easy when you are a woman. However, Omar didn’t let this slow her down and she increased her work in public health education and political activism. Her profile as a campaign member for Andrew Johnson became a threat for male candidates of the same origin, such as Councilman Abdi Warsame, who during the 2013 elections threatened her to stay out of politics.

Despite being a victim of violence during that year's elections, Omar continued her foray into politics, forming part of the Women Organizing Women Network, an activist association for the participation of East African women in political and civic leadership.

In 2016, Omar officially launched her candidacy for the Minnesota House of Representatives thanks to the support of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), beating incumbent Phyllis Kahn for the party nomination. In November of that year, while Donald Trump won the presidency, Omar became the first Somali-American legislator in the country.

Since then her political message has been very clear: "I am a millennial with student debt, and a renter," said the 35-year-old lawmaker during a pre-election forum at the University of Minnesota, VOA News reported.

This closeness with her fellow citizens was what allowed her to win the Democratic primaries on Tuesday, making her the Democratic candidate in the November midterm elections to represent District 5.

"It was a simple yet effective message by Omar, conveying that - despite her origins in Somalia and the hijab upon her head - she was just like many younger, progressive and liberal voters she needed to court in the Congressional district she seeks to represent,” VOA News continued.

Omar emerged victorious in a popular election (which had six candidates in the race) to fill the seat of current Rep. Keith Ellison who decided to run for Minnesota Attorney General instead of returning to Congress, despite facing accusations of domestic abuse during the last days of his campaign, explained Vox.

Considering the strong Democratic stance of the district, Omar will almost surely become the new member of Congress in November, joining Rashida Tlaib of Michigan as the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Her platform is based on progressive approaches such as Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, and tuition-free education. She joins the 146 women who have won Democratic primaries in 2018.

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