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What Keith Ellison Learnt About Race, Politics and Power (PART I)


By Rahelio Soleil


Running for high office must be teaching Keith Ellison, who is now America’s first likely Muslim congressman, many things.


Fortunately, his life has been all about learning, mostly about those topics, and mostly from experience, not just books.


At age 42, Keith Ellison has come a long way. He now believes in a system that he once thought of as menacing and corrupt. Today, he delivers a constant progressive message of inclusion, hope and gaining power from the basis of values.


Ellison wants nothing more than to enter congress as the best representative of Minnesota's 5th congressional district - liberal, dedicated, and unwavering in the face of right-wing pushback.


It would be a nice story if it ended there. Maybe we were all a little naive to think that America is a place where men grow from a Dickens-like state of being into great men that the fertile grounds of freedom and democracy allow us to transcend our beginnings and emerge into the power class based on merit and high ideas.



Stomping for votes with Rev Jesse Jackson


We all know too well that underlie the grand social illusion of America. Freedom is an illusion. Choice is an illusion. And, an open society of equal opportunity is most assuredly the cruellest of illusions of all.


After Ellison's cathartic winning of the Democratic Party endorsement, one observer seemed to be astute enough to sum it all up:

As a jubilant throng of Ellison supporters left the premises that day, Minneapolis Park Board member Annie Young stood off to the side, resting an ailing hip, and watched them go. She raised her eyebrows and sounded a prescient alarm. "They should enjoy it now and then get back to work," she said warily. "Keith is a black man with designs on a very powerful position. You know there will be attacks." -City Pages


Let's first look at what he has learned from people.



Ellison's first education is that liberal support, even in the most liberal part of America, is not complete enough to ensure fair treatment.


Liberals are not a monolith. There are old liberals, lutefisk liberals, Jewish liberals, anti-war green liberals, suburban SUV liberals, black radical liberals, esoteric Unitarian liberals, and more.


Pundits claimed that all these liberals would "relish" the opportunity to make history by electing the "first black Muslim" to Congress, but those pundits were only attempting to chide liberals overall. The truth is that once the GOP began using paid opposition research specialists to concentrate on Ellison the game changed immediately.


Overblown and deceptive stories about  his " strong ties to the Nation of Islam" (pushed relentlessly by Republican bloggers) angered and alarmed Jewish and SUV liberals - as well as moderates and Democrats stoics who favor bland tradition over social progress. 



                      The Capitol Hill on his sight: Ellison on the campaign trail


A flurry of personal stories repeated in the so-called "liberal media" regarding traffic violations, taxes, and campaign finance fines sent middle-class suburban noses flying into some judgmental stratosphere where only the whitest and most fortunate social isolationist can survive.


The lesson here is that the realism of the urban core turns to relativism once it crosses the city lines.


Ellison has pushed right through the muck with a smile, a scowl, and a fixed vision of what he intends to accomplish - critics be damned. If he weren't the real thing he would have cracked by now.


Even so, he must think differently about some things, some people, and some of his politics. He once knew that the system was not fair and that the majority population, regardless of how liberal they appear, participate in a supremacist system - favorable to themselves - in order to maintain power.



When he started believing the system was just and that we can work within it to achieve common aims, some Black folks gave him hell. In fact, some on the black side of the fence might tell you that Ellison is a sell-out.


Ellison once considered himself a part of the "tell-the-truth" collection of political activists. He may not have been cut from exactly the same cloth, but he fancied himself fighting for fairness and freedom in an urban area that yielded too little of either. 


However, by 1998 Ellison hit the next level of maturity that many urban radicals never achieve - he saw elective office as an extension of the public service he was already doing.


Whereas some Black activists types never truly emerge from the juvenile predilection for stomping their feet in front of the master's cameras, Ellison followed the natural path from ground level to front-line to high office.


In short, he effectuated his beliefs rather than live loudly beneath the frustration of not being able to measure up to them.


His education in this regard has to be that neither your race, nor your party, can determine your friends. However, both of those characteristics might determine your enemies.


Rev Soleil is a commentator on American political life. He blogs as American Hot Sausage.


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