Rana Abdelhamid grew up being ignored by Carolyn Maloney. Now she's trying to replace her.
And some big news, too
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According to the national mythos hardened over 20 years of self-assuring repetition, Americans cast aside politics after the attacks of September 11th and came together in a rare and beautiful solidarity. It’s a comforting and nostalgic story, especially in contrast to the current hyper-partisan culture war-zone in which we now live, and for some, it does reflect the reality of that moment. But for too many people, the days and years that followed 9/11 were a long nightmare.
It didn’t take long for Americans’ grief to curdle into anger, which was expertly exploited by craven politicians and a national media that enthusiastically beat the war drum. Together they cultivated existing racism and weaponized a collective lust for revenge, selling a shattered nation on what became two decades of wars both abroad and in communities across the United States.
Rana Abdelhamid grew up in Queens as the daughter of Egyptian immigrants. She was just eight years old when the towers fell, so most of her life has been shaped by the explicit post-9/11 harassment of American Muslims; her adolescence was spent under the watchful, ever-present eye of the NYPD, which terrorized communities like hers in Astoria. Abdelhamid’s dizzying experience typified that of a generation in this city: She was rushed out of school with her classmates the day of the attacks, and when school re-opened, her classmates asked if the attacks were her fault.
“People in my life were being deported and nobody knows why. People were changing their names and taking off their hijabs. There were police outside of our mosque and there was the FBI knocking on our door and everyone was really confused and terrified,” Abdelhamid remembers. “And there's the balance of that and being afraid because you're a New Yorker and your city just got hit by a terrorist attack, and then there are people in your life who are both Muslim and first responders.”
Life under that regime turned Abdelhamid into a community organizer. Connecting with and doing what she could to protect her neighbors was the only thing that made her feel safe, as even her own government had turned on her. Her supposedly liberal member of Congress, Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), was contributing to the nightmare. In October 2001, Maloney wore a full head-to-toe burqa as she spoke on the floor of the House in support of invading Afghanistan, the implication being that Islam itself mistreated women in fundamental ways.
“This is a common narrative that has been used historically to perpetuate violence against the bodies of women, and here is a woman — whose district has a Muslim-majority neighborhood that was being impacted post-9/11 — and she is propagating this narrative,” Abdelhamid says. “I was walking down the street as a teenager and experienced a hate-based attack. I was assaulted by a man who tried to take off my hijab and the narrative was that he was ‘liberating’ me. As if the hijab inherently is oppressive and the burqa is inherently oppressive.”
The street assault cemented Abdelhamid’s path in life. Soon after, she started a self-defense course for Muslim women in Queens that has since become an international nonprofit organization that she still runs. And now, Abdelhamid is running for Congress — primarying Maloney, who has been in office longer than Abdelhamid has been alive.
This is the third straight campaign cycle in which Maloney has faced a serious primary challenge, and had the multiple candidates running against her last year all thrown their support behind just one challenger, Maloney would likely be an ex-member of Congress. She received less than 43% of the primary vote in 2020, edging out her top opponent by three points. It’s proof that the district is ready for a new leader and new direction.
The progressive electoral activist group Justice Democrats have backed Abdelhamid, helping to consolidate the field and put her in position to be Maloney’s one main challenger this time around. As a longtime resident of the district myself, I can attest to the need for change — Maloney has been MIA for the past decade, save for some weird recent YouTube ads boasting about her deep love of infrastructure.
The post-9/11 experience necessarily informs both her general worldview and personal political beliefs, but Abdelhamid is also running a forward-looking campaign that promises a responsive, community-driven politics foreign to much of the district.
NY-12 encompasses an illustrative cross-section of the Democratic voter base. It includes the $20 million dollar townhouses on Park Avenue; the gentrified artist-and-immigrant enclaves of the East Village, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg; and diverse, working class neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx. It’s not hard to guess which neighborhoods and constituents Maloney most prioritizes; Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and the American Bankers Association all rank amongst her top-10 all-time political donors.
Abdelhamid wants to deliver fundamental progressive change for the many constituents who have gone virtually ignored by Maloney throughout her career, including over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes people like Abdelhamid’s mother, who contracted the virus but had little to no access to the high-quality hospitals and expensive treatments that other people in the district enjoyed.
“I was involved with mutual aid efforts to fight food insecurity, to fight housing insecurity, all things that I'd been involved with for a long time, and not seeing a similar kind of urgency from our representative, it made me look around and think we deserve better,” Abdelhamid says. “I saw my community coming together time and time again with deep love for each other and having each other's back and we need the same kind of representation.”
Maloney has assembled a mildly liberal voting record in Congress, but her unwillingness to actually work for any of the progressive policies she supposedly supports, including Medicare for All, renders it hollow. A recent example is illustrative: Maloney may have been willing to vote for an extension of the eviction moratorium, but she was silent when it expired. It took relentless public advocacy and agitation from Squad progressives like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush to cajole President Biden into a temporary expansion, an approach that Abdelhamid would have also taken had she been in Congress this summer.
Abdelhamid has for years been an activist for housing justice, focused on winning the kind of real affordable housing policies that are exceedingly unlikely to be supported by someone that just took a $10,000 donation from the National Multifamily Housing Council, the trade group representing major corporate landlords and builders. Perhaps its money blinded Maloney to the fact that she also represents the nation’s largest public housing complex, but Abdelhamid, who has spent much of her time fighting for those tenants, decries the “the lack of federal government commitment, spending, and even the awareness of how bad the quality of housing is and how long it takes to get repairs.”
Maloney has made a few statements about the problems at the Queensbridge Houses, which has been riddled with infestations and asbestos for years, but her paper-thin advocacy has proven so useless that the residents filed a lawsuit in a desperate attempt to obtain relief. Abdelhamid, having been so close to the problem for so long, lists the repair and restoration of public housing as one of her most urgent concerns.
Similarly, Abdelhamid wants to spur the creation of truly affordable housing and find new ways to protect the residents and small businesses that continue to get hammered by major storms like the one that struck NYC earlier this month. The Green New Deal is just as important for working people in the city as anyone else.
Perhaps even more important than the divergence in their priorities is how Abdelhamid plans on delivering results. As a longtime organizer, she’s running a bottom-up campaign and intends on operating the same way while in Congress. That’s in stark contrast to Maloney, who has been so disconnected from her district that she’s done things like publicly defend the the ill-fated Amazon headquarters that was meant to be built in Astoria before local groups rallied in opposition.
“For me, this is about building a grassroots base, about using our constituency services and our office space for people to be able to be actively involved in the electoral process, not just in an electoral moment.”
This race isn’t just about New Yorkers, either. Far from it. Over the past four years, the progressive newcomers that have won contested primaries against moderate and conservative Democrats have proven to be the party’s most effective messengers and legislators. They have pushed the party toward embracing popular policies, reinvigorated grassroots organizing, and served notice to entrenched powers. Abdelhamid can continue that revolution.
JD Scholten: Last month, the former Congressional candidate and executive director of RuralVote.org told Progressives Everywhere that rampant misinformation is the number one cause of rural America’s increasing hatred of Democrats. This week, his organization took its first step toward combatting the spread of misinformation by setting up a tip-line through which anyone can submit spurious articles and social media posts that are making the rounds amongst their aunts and uncles on Facebook.
World Business Chicago: This may be the first and only time I give a shout-out to a business-friendly organization, but trolling is one of my passions, so I have to give them their due. Chicago’s public-private business development organization took out a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Saturday inviting Texas-based businesses to move up to the Windy City in response to the Texas GOP’s new voter suppression and anti-abortion laws.
It’s a pretty decent troll, as far as corporate interest groups go, and is especially notable because most businesses have remaining relatively quiet about the horrifying bounty hunter anti-abortion scheme, which has basically shut down all the clinics in the state as they wait for a more through Supreme Court hearing.
Joe Manchin: The dude just can’t help himself. He went on a mini tour of Sunday shows this morning to trash the Democrats’ big infrastructure bill, which contains most of President Biden’s very popular economic agenda. Most just let him spout nonsense, but at least George Stephanopolous, himself a political strategist for the pioneer of conservative Democrat triangulation, called him out on it:STEPHANOPOULOS: But if the bill is fully paid for and doesn't add to the deficit -- the unknown that you're concerned about, one of them is inflation. That's not really a concern, is it, if the bill is fully paid for? MANCHIN: *word salad*
Manchin knows exactly Democrats’ need to finish off their big bill within the next two weeks — he helped set the deadline. Party leadership promised the little clown car of conservative Democrats that they’d get a vote on the limp bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27th; if it passes before the $3.5 trillion bill gets its vote, those conservatives, who were coached by Manchin during the negotiations, will just tank the more ambitious bill.
So why is Manchin doing this? Maybe it’s to punish the people who put him in office? West Virginia is one of the poorest, most unhealthy, least educated states in the country, so federal aid is disproportionately helpful there. In fact, a recent study found that assistance programs built or fortified by the CARES Act and Rescue Plan wound up cutting poverty in the state by 71%. Most of those programs just expired, so Manchin is essentially fighting to leave his constituents out to dry.
TV news bookers: Having eliminated any moral or political rationale for sinking Democrats’ attempts to help his constituents, it quickly becomes clear why Manchin is pulling this shit: He loves the attention.
Yes, he’s absurdly corrupt, with gigantic investments in coal, a fondness for corporate donations, and a daughter who made her fortune in pharmaceutical monopolies. His talking blabbing on about inflation is likely just cover for not liking these modest tax hikes on corporations and the rich. But more than anything else, Manchin loves the attention that being the swing vote affords to him.
Oh, Manchin will insist that he does not relish being the deciding vote in the Senate, but those protestations always seem to occur during a nationally broadcast television interview. He’s such a regular on Sunday shows, so often playing the role of solemn and “rational” Congressional centrist, that he deserves a damn SAG card.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Manchin gets to bask in the spotlight of TV networks hyping up his appearances and providing him prime slots on their flagship shows. The networks gets to spend days teasing his interviews, which are always good for some bit of news, a pavlovian response from serious beltway reporters, and countless hours of rage-tweets embedded with clips of his most egregious, dream-crushing comments.
TV bookers, please find some other megalomaniac to put on TV for a while… or better yet, start inviting progressive Democrats, the only people fighting to ensure that the planet will be even mildly inhabitable for your children.
Voting Rights: Might there be hope after all? Rolling Stone is reporting today that President Biden has promised Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi that he will work harder to get Manchin’s slimmed down version of the For The People Act over the finish line. That means pushing Joe Manchin and fellow infuriating holdout Krysten Sinema on reforming the filibuster, something Biden has long resisted. Perhaps now he finally sees the stakes. Or maybe the story isn’t accurate. We’ll see!
Labor: Jennifer Abruzzo, the badass new general counsel at the NLRB, is beginning her assault on union busting. First up, forcing employers to pay consequential damages to workers who were wrongfully terminated. Right now, the NLRB can only order employers to provide backpay and reinstatement to those workers, and most employers wind up appealing anyway.
This change would allow the agency to award wrongfully fired workers compensation for things like medical bills that came about due to their termination.
Elections and Ballot Initiatives
Cleveland: A city mired in corruption and government incompetence will have a chance at rebirth on Tuesday when it chooses its first new mayor in 16 years. Remember the name Justin Bibb: He’s the young, black progressive who stands a good shot of winning and could really usher in a new era.
Detroit: A county judge has approved the language for a municipal ballot referendum that would provide unspecified reparations to the city’s Black population for years of systemic racism. The referendum would change the city’s charter but comes with no budgetary power, so if it passes, it will represent just the first step in a longer campaign.
Austin: Conservatives are pushing a ballot initiative that would substantially grow the city’s police department, requiring two officers for every 1,000 residents. It’s estimated that hiring that many cops would cost the city up to $550 million. Austin is generally a very liberal place, but don’t sleep on this one, as conservatives there were able to pass an initiative that essentially criminalized homelessness in May.
Voter Suppression and Redistricting
Ohio: In 2015, voters in Ohio overwhelming approved a ballot amendment that enshrined protections against legislative gerrymandering in the state constitution. Based on the map presented by the Republican majority on the bipartisan redistricting commission today, it’s become clear that the GOP is very uninterested in complying!
Here’s a zoom in on Franklin County, the most populous and blue county in the state.The GOP leaders said that they “didn't consider racial, demographic or election results data when putting their maps together,” as one party aide said during a hearing today… which is pretty hard to believe given the fact that this map would give Republicans an even bigger supermajority in both chambers of the legislature.
Assuming Democrats on the commission don’t vote approve the maps, lawmakers will have to draw them anew in four years. And I don’t think they will be approving — a redistricting committee hearing today got pretty intense.
North Carolina: The State Supreme Court basically punted on the question of whether the state should automatically restore former felons’ voting rights. A trial court initially returned the rights of 56,000 people in a decision issued on August 23rd, only to have a circuit court put them on pause ten days later as it looks at an appeal filed by Republican legislators. The Supreme Court ruled that those that registered in that 11 day window could vote in the upcoming municipal elections but those who did not will remain ineligible until the circuit court issues its ruling.
Arizona: Sec. of State (and gubernatorial candidate) Katie Hobbs wants to amend election rules so that election officials are no longer permitted to toss out ballots due to simple precinct errors. Unfortunately, she needs GOP Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich to sign off on the rules change, which could seriously imperil her very reasonable and admirable plan.
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