“We are one of the wealthiest countries in the history of this world. And yet millions of adults in the United States still don’t have health insurance,” Rep. Ilhan Omar told an audience of her Minnesota constituents at a July 18 town hall.
A day after the president of the United States incited rallygoers to chant “send her home,” the congresswoman was in her home district, hosting a policy-heavy discussion of Medicare for All, the single-payer, universal approach she argues would fix our “broken” health care system.
The president’s name was not mentioned once from the stage.
After a week of vile attacks from the president, Omar announced that she wouldn’t let the president’s racism distract her from doing what she was sent to Washington to do. Despite the frenzy, Omar, along with her fellow Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley — popularly referred to as “the squad” by the media — are keeping the focus on policies to bring justice to their constituents.
The four representatives have been bold and progressive in their tone and policies. They made waves last month for breaking with party leadership on a bill that would offer more funds to the Department of Homeland Security to continue its human rights abuses at the border with little accountability. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi singled them out after their vote against the funding measure, reducing them to “four people” who’ve simply got “their public whatever and their Twitter world,” in the New York Times.
But all four have been fighting hard for their constituents ever since they were sworn into Congress earlier this year. Omar and Tlaib have sponsored bills that run the gamut from canceling student loan debt to forbidding auto insurance companies from discriminating based on credit scores.
Ocasio-Cortez has earned praise for her masterful questioning during House hearings, and for introducing the enormously popular framework for a Green New Deal. Meanwhile, Pressley has been one of the Green New Deal’s leading advocates, speaking at one of the country’s first town halls on the issue about the plan’s focus on “equity and economic justice” and the opportunity it provides to “transform the economy.”
And despite this week’s wave of hateful attacks from the president, they’ve been more focused than ever on advancing an agenda to materially help their constituents. The same day Omar received standing ovations at her Medicare for All town hall, Tlaib was surrounded by laid-off workers as she spoke out about how private equity funds have looted companies in her Detroit district, destroying the jobs and pensions of workers who’ve spent decades building up their firms.
“People who’ve worked hard their whole lives to earn a pension deserve to be able to rely on that money still being there,” Tlaib said.
She was speaking in support of the Stop Wall Street Looting Act, which would create protections for workers and communities against the vulture-like private equity firms that have plundered Toys R Us, Payless ShoeSource, and many other companies to line investors’ pockets.
Pressley was also busy that day, releasing an op-ed in Teen Vogue co-authored with Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal that explained why raising the minimum wage was a women’s issue. “All women — whether they are sports champions in the limelight or the caregivers, servers, and others at the low end of the income ladder — deserve fair pay,” the congresswomen wrote. The op-ed appeared just hours before the House voted to pass the Raise the Wage Act, which would incrementally boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour while ending exclusions that kept tipped workers, people with disabilities, and young people from earning equal pay.
Earlier in the week, Ocasio-Cortez used yet another House hearing as a public education opportunity while questioning Facebook exec David Marcus about the tech giant’s recently announced new cryptocurrency. Ocasio-Cortez connected Libra to corporate-controlled currencies of the past that allowed companies to price-gouge their own workers.
“We are discussing a currency controlled by an undemocratically selected coalition of largely massive corporations,” the congresswoman said, proving again her adeptness at finding the heart of concern when it comes to complicated financial topics.
While people across the country have vocalized their support for the women, their districts in particular are paying attention. “That’s my congresswoman,” Detroiter Chris McClain told news outlet MLive.com about why the president’s attack felt personal. “Truly, she represents me.” Local news outlets found Pressley’s constituents felt the same.
And Omar’s constituents provided the most fitting tribute of all. As the congresswoman stepped off the plane in Minnesota on Thursday, residents of her district greeted her with a moving chant: “Welcome home, Ilhan.”