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A Few Words In Selma w/Congressman Keith Ellison

Rep. Keith Ellison, the progressive Minnesota Democrat who just won his sixth term, was recently elected the Deputy Chairman of the Democrat National Committee. He should have won the fierce election for the top job, but was vigorously opposed, he says, by President Obama, Joe Biden and the Clinton's who all rallied around the eventual winner, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Perhaps it was because the 53-year-old Ellison, a Muslim, African American co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was poised to hold a position of influence in the party during one of the darkest moments in the DNC's history. Democrats are out of the White House and in the minority in Congress, and they've lost their window to reshape the Supreme Court. They control both the governor's mansion and legislature in just six states; with another round of redistricting looming, the electoral map is only poised to get worse.

The role of the DNC chairman is to run a political machine that helps to elect Democrats throughout the country, not to dictate the party's policy priorities. But Ellison's blueprint for defeating Trumpism is nonetheless rooted in the anti-establishment politics of Sanders, as was reported by Tim Murphy for MOTHER JONES.

“As Americans worry about everything from health care to walls to bans, the Democratic Party is stepping up to address their concerns with its all-new Democratic Party live stream,” said Ellison, who used live streams during his DNC bid to showcase rallies.

I interviewed the personable Congressman in Selma, Alabama where he joined Congressman John Lewis and others to observe the 52nd Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." He is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

ME: Seemingly it has been a robust and revealing roller coaster ride for you politically, given the contentious results of the Democratic National Committee [DNC] election for chairman of the party that you eventually lost to former Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. You are now the Deputy DNC Chair, has that catapulted your cache and political clout?

KE: I’m not looking to be catapulted. I got into the DNC race, not because we lost one election, but because we lost a thousand races since 2008. All these states out here passing photo ID laws, pushing the right to work for less laws, taking away the right to collective bargaining and undermining unions; cutting into women’s rights and a whole lot of horrible [political] stuff nationally.

My district in Minnesota is 63 percent white, and they elect me year after year. I’m black and I’m proud and they know it. And, I’m Muslim. And, my opponents let everybody know that I’m Muslim. So, why did I get into this? Somehow, given my district, I’ve been able to increase voter turnout at least by 40,000 votes every year.

My first presidential election was 2008. We got 220 thousand votes. The last one we got 250 thousand. And, if I had not increased turnout, Minnesota would have went red just like just like Michigan and Wisconsin.

ME: It seems like an uphill battle, but can you replicate that across the country?

KE: We have too. We have no other chance. You look at a state like Arizona or Alabama voter turnout is low. We don’t have to convert “T” partiers’ to progressive Democrats, we’ve just got to get progressive Democrats to show up. And the way to make them show up is to make the Democratic Party really represent them. Let’s be perfectly candid. Here’s the problem. You’ve got two thirds of the Democratic Party that is always with the workers, always on the side of racial justice, always on women’s rights, always trying to fight for better, cleaner air and water. Then you have another third of them mixed up with the big money interests – coal, finance. You’ve got some Democrats who don’t like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau[CFPB]. They don’t like Connecticut Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They think Bernie Sanders is a bigger problem than Donald Trump! You got that {divide and dissension].

ME: So what do you do?

KE: We’ve got to organize my man, there’s no other way about it. The many can overcome the money, but you’ve got to organize the many. How do you organize the many? You’ve got to talk to them. When is the last time the Democrat Party walked through a low income housing development and talked to everybody and asked, “What’s going on with you. Would you come to engage us , would you come to meet with us? We are organizing around better pay for you.” That’s what’s got to happen.

ME: Can you do it? Is that going to be your charge and cause as the DNC Deputy Chairman?

KE: Yeah, we can do it. We’re going to do it. It’s absolutely necessary.

ME: We are here in Selma for the 52nd Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Has President Trump helped to rekindle the racial discord that permeated the South back the

KE: I’ve always believed that Trump was simply Republican philosophy on steroids. He wasn’t materially different from them. He was just more blatant than them. What did it mean when he said don’t be so politically correct? What he really meant is—you all over here talking about “those people”, why not just say it. You got all this low level anti-Muslim hate, he would just say ban them. You got this stuff about Latino’s taking our jobs, he just said wall um. Trump is not going straight at African Americans. He does use a lot of racial code every time he talks about Chicago and being tough on crime. What he’s really saying is lock them up

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