Comeback Kid: Jill Abahsain, from the margins to the center of American politics and pop culture

Comeback Kid: Jill Abahsain, from the margins to the center of American politics and pop culture
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Interview conducted by Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD

 

This is a follow-up to an interview we did of an American politician, Jill Abahussein (Abahsain), in March 2021 when she first began running for office. For those who don’t know Jill lives in Minnesota State, in one of the coldest most northerly regions of the United States of America, but has a long and proud relationship with the sunny Middle East, having been married to Saudi Arabian and lived in Egypt for many years.

Dear Jill, first congratulations on your election win in the local Minnesota Senate and commiserations on your failed election bid for Congress. So, what went right the first time and wrong the second time?

Perhaps because I often began a speech saying that I ran for Minnesota State Senate in 2020 “and while I did not win, I certainly did not lose.” Indeed, the Republican incumbent won for perhaps his 4th or 5th term.  But I did not lose per se, as one ­gains great understanding and insight to the mechanics of running for political office, conducting a campaign and most importantly how to get your message out to the voters.

I wouldn’t say anything went ‘wrong’ with the second run.  My run in 2022 was for a national office. That is, to represent the state of Minnesota in Washington, DC in Congress. Every state has (2) Senate districts, and (8) US Congressional districts, a number determined by population.  Minnesota has a very strong Democrat party officially named Democrat Farmer and Laborer (DFL). No other state has his organization, rather they are linked to the national Democrat party, the DNC. I ran for the seat of Minnesota US Congress District 7—which is nearly the entire western half of Minnesota. All rural. That seat had been held by a Democrat, the same guy, Colin Peterson, for 30 years. But he had no problem keeping the seat because he was a farmer and although Democrat by party, he voted mainly with Republicans; ie. Pro-gun, lower taxes for corporations, against impeaching Trump etc.

In 2020 he lost to Trump endorsed Republican Michelle Fischbach. So, in 2022 I was the first Democrat to run for that seat in 30 years. The party had no ‘machinery’ in place. No field advisors, campaign organizers or volunteer networks. And while that was amazingly unhelpful, it did give me the ability to create my own vision of what can and should be done to bring the public services, infrastructure, and programs that rural Minnesota had been badly lacking for decades.

If you’d won, what would you have hoped to accomplish both for your State and the US? Did you have foreign policy ambitions too?

I ran on a platform balanced between Social Democrat and Progressive. First and foremost, I ran to make badly needed changes for rural health care access. Under Republicans, small town hospitals were closed and services moved to larger towns (for bigger profits in health insurers). This means that farmers and rural residents need to drive or be transported sometimes hundreds miles or more for specialized lifesaving care. People living in rural areas have a 10% higher mortality rate than their urban counterparts. A farmer can bleed to death trying to get to a hospital while the same injury to a person in a metropolitan area can get in an Uber and make it to the hospital in minutes. A linking issue is the abysmal lack of rural mental health care. In 2021 there were 561-gun deaths in Minnesota. 65% were in rural areas. 85% of those deaths were suicides. This is in no small way due to the fact that elected republican representatives would not vote for rural health care funding – and so rural Minnesotans die. I would have fought mightily for that funding.

As far as foreign policy, the 7th Congressional district is rural and dominated by agriculture issues. The constituents tend to be under-involved or unconcerned about international affairs.  Tariffs with China and foreign grain markets would be policies the Congressional candidate would be expected to understand and vote on.

Tell me something about the Sauk Centre?

I love talking about my town.  So did Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1935, for writing about Sauk Centre (thinly veiled as ‘Gopher Prairie’ in his genre breaking Main Street (pub 1920).  And the town HATED him for that, it still carries a grudge. He brought out in public all the hypocrisies and foibles of small-town life, but to the rest of the world he was a hero for telling the truth. So, Sauk Centre is a famous town. It has a population just under 5,000. Overwhelmingly Republican and Catholic, although we have eight different protestant churches (Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and more).  A hundred years ago the city made a charter that they could only license as many bars/pubs as there were churches. Sauk Centre is well known for having much higher-than-average number of churches and pubs. Be we also have strong Social Democrat representation as well, which is the group I count myself among.

Jill talking with rural residents on the campaign trail.

Now to broader politics. Is there any chance for real socialism in the US, especially with Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in Congress?

Gen z is coming.  Its’ all about the Benjimins

Congresswomen Ihan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are part of a small but growing number of members of Congress who are members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). DSA is not a political party but rather an association that helps refine a socialist message whose bottom line is that the working people of the USA should have more power in politics through unions and to disenfranchise Citizen’s United. Citizen’s United was a move made by Congress, and confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2010, that allowed corporations the same constitutional right to vote and support as common citizens. This made way for corporations to be able to donate millions of dollars to candidates without revealing where that money came from.  Since that time the American political system has become less of a democracy as much as an oligarchy.

They mostly run as Democrats or Independents as DSA is not a registered party. There has been, slowly, a growing number of DSA elected legislators in both Washington and the states. The DSA is a political nonprofit organization and not a political party, therefore DSA members usually run as members of the Democratic Party, or at times, independents.

Rashida Talib made news by denouncing Saudi Arabia for its part in human rights violations in the Yemen war. Ihan Omar has been outspoken for human rights and voting rights. AOC has been very public about putting forward a socialist agenda as it is the main political leaning of her constituents in her district in New York.

It will take time for the US to see a majority of DSA/socialists as legislators.  Especially given the right-wings insulting impulse to taint all Democrats as Socialists and from there Nazi/tyrants.  I do believe, still within my lifetime, we can see a strong move toward true democratic socialism to the betterment of the country, the people and the planet.

And what’s the deal with Trump on the rightwing? What does he hope to accomplish with his re-election bid? 

The further we get from Trump’s failed 2020 bid the less relevant he is. Civil and criminal charges mount against him. The recent inability of Republicans to vote in a Speaker of the House of Congress due to a minority dedicated to Trump. I think this shows that while he may soon no longer be relevant, his racist, disruptive and undemocratic political henchmen continue to be part of our governmental system. At this point in time, I predict Florida’s Ron DeSantis will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. He is as racist and conspiracy oriented as Trump, but a well educated man. And I believe, more dangerous.

On a previous occasion you encouraged me to watch the Spiderman movie Far From Home (2009) to get an angle on conspiracy theories in the US, even among the educated elites. Has anything changed since 6 January 2021 and QAnon?

We continue to see conspiracies crop up on Twitter—which under Elon Musk is no longer moderated to flag conspiracies—much of them still concerning vaccinations. I personally feel we had such a heavy dose of conspiracies from 2015-2020 that they are settling into being understood as mere misinformation, only to be repeated by fools and dullards.

Where to from now on? Your ambitions and what are you reading?

Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction by David Enrich which delivers a well written history of Deutsche Bank’s role in funding and keeping Trump afloat. I’m re-reading Joseph Campbell’s quartet The Masks of God: Oriental, Occidental, Primitive and Creative Mythology. And have just ordered Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke. I must add, of course, I am working my way through Arab and Muslim Science Fiction: Critical Essays, edited by a friend of mine.

I had booked a trip to Cairo long before the campaign was over, knowing I would have to go somewhere to clear politics out of my system. I spent most of this December happily not emersed in American mainstream and alternative news.  I returned refreshed. I am debating whether to pursue becoming a patient advocate in the rural healthcare system or become involved is the anti-gun movement.  I am currently enduring a weather dictated house arrest as several blizzards and artic temperatures have descended on my Minnesota home. I am happy to have had my time in politics.  But I will leave the future to a younger generation.

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