While racism has always been a shameful fixture in American life, it’s impossible to untangle the current administration’s rampant bigotry from the recent rise in white supremacist hate. This disturbing trend hits especially close to home at People For the American Way Foundation when members of our Young Elected Officials Network are targeted by racist attacks.
The YEO Network is the first and only national initiative to provide a network of support to the newest generation of progressive leaders at every level of elected office. Founded in 2005 by a class that included Julián and Joaquin Castro and the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney, YEO currently numbers more than 1,300 elected officials across the country in offices ranging from local school boards to the United States Congress. Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., first joined YEO in 2016 and 2012, respectively, prior to their historic congressional wins in 2018. Today, as the president’s ire and that of his base turns toward them, along with fellow “squad” members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., they continue to graciously embody our YEO convictions and serve as an example for other young leaders.
On July 18, the YEO Network released the following statement about Rep. Omar, who has found herself at the center of the storm:
U.S. Representative and YEO Network member Ilhan Omar embodies the best of YEO values. She brings energy, conviction and courage to her work every day on behalf of her constituents in Minnesota and those in need of a voice across our country, regardless of the personal cost.
Over the course of her groundbreaking career in public service, her commitment to progressive values and justice have been met with seething racism, death threats and the weaponizing of Islamophobia. In recent days, such hatred and bigotry has escalated, fueled by racist tweets from the White House and dangerous chants which echo the darkest moments in our history.
In response, YEO follows the lead of Representative Omar when she states:
I am not going to let them distract. Today I am going to do the work the people of Minnesota sent me to do[.]
We reject bigotry, racism and Islamophobia in every action, word and tweet. We will continue to work with our over 1300 elected members and alumni, like Representative Omar, to strengthen and support the next generation of young, progressive elected leaders. We stand with her today, and every day, in the struggle to realize the full promise of liberty, equality and justice for all and won’t be distracted or deterred by vile attacks that aim to diminish our moment to create lasting change for those who need it most.
On July 19, PFAW Foundation joined a statement of solidarity sent to all four squad members:
As organizations that have been fighting for decades for the rights and dignity of women, people of color, immigrants, young people, LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities, workers and people living at these intersections, who too often face discrimination, oppression, violence and hate, we thank you for the strength and courage you have shown in the face of shameful racist attacks by President Trump and his allies. We recognize the assaults on you as an affront to our country’s most fundamental values and applaud you for standing strong against such ugly, inexcusable sexism, racism and xenophobia. Nobody should have to face the kind of vicious white supremacist attacks that now regularly spew from the White House.
We recognize the history of women of color members of Congress who for decades have endured racist comments and actions as they have fought to represent their communities and bring new voices into Congress. We stand with them as we stand with you.
Your leadership is essential to achieving the just and equitable world we all seek. We are deeply grateful for your service, courage and commitment to representing your constituents and for giving voice to those who too often are unseen and unheard. We know that your constituents elected you not just because you are supremely qualified, but also because you share their life experiences and understand their struggles–which is what democracy is about. Like them, we appreciate your willingness to take on the toughest battles, from speaking truth about the human rights violations our country is committing against asylum-seekers, to fighting for women’s health care, to challenging unfair wages and working conditions, to demanding clean air and water and a toxin-free environment for our children.
We stand with you at this critical moment and will not be derailed in our quest for liberty, equality, and justice. We will continue using our collective reach and power to defend and support each of you as you continue your vitally important public service.
While others use their platforms to amplify hate, Reps. Omar and Tlaib continue to lead with power, resistance, and resilience. Alongside Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley, these extraordinary women have demonstrated time and again the attributes we value when welcoming members to the YEO Network, and they prove the importance of supporting young elected officials when they first enter public office.