How Ilhan Omar is Altering U.S. Politics – Part 3 of 3

"Ilhan Omar 02.jpg" by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

The previous article in this series, “A Look at Ilhan Omar’s Policies-Part 2 of 3,” looked at some of Ilhan Omar’s policies and controversies since her election into Congress. This final article looks at some changes within United States politics and society that Ilhan Omar’s identity influenced.

The 181 Year Headwear Ban

On Sept. 14, 1837, the United States House of Representatives adopted the rule that members couldn’t wear a hat during sessions on the House floor. According to The Washington Post article by Ronald G. Shafer, Representative Charles F. Mercer of Virginia first proposed the ban in 1822 but the House didn’t pass it. A few others tried as well to get the ban through with no luck. 

Then, in 1837, the House passed the ban without any debate. Why was it so easy to pass the ban this time? Well, Mercer had risen to chairman of the Select Committee on the Rules of the House by 1837. Shafer says Mercer tucked the ban into a group of rules that the House voted on together without discussion.

According to History, Arts & Archives, the new resolution read, “Every member shall remain uncovered during the sessions of the House.” 

Lifting the Ban for Omar

Flash forward to Dec. 2018 when Representatives Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Jim McGovern of Mass. and Omar proposed that they lift the ban to accommodate Ilhan Omar. Omar is a Muslim-American woman who chooses to wear a hijab and is one of the newest members of Congress.

“I think that Ilhan Omar, she did what was necessary, she did what was constitutional in repealing that ban. And while it does not affect me it is a huge step in terms of religious freedoms to practice religion and from religious interference.”

Sophia Shepp, a political science and environmental sociology major at Colorado State University said.

Michelle Boorstein says in a different Washington Post article that the proposal to lift the ban passed, 234 to 197. It passed on the same day that Omar and Rashida Tlaib took office. They became the country’s first female Muslim-American members of Congress. 

The rule on headwear is now, “During the session of the House, a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may not wear nonreligious headdress or a hat or remain by the Clerk’s desk during the call of the roll or the counting of ballots.”

“The Squad”

Since joining Congress, Omar’s identity has also made her a member of “The Squad.” There are three other representatives who make up The Squad: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. 

In an interview with Gayle King for “CBS This Morning, the four explained how they got their name. They used the #SquadGoals for a picture they took of the four of them after an interview. The interview was about them representing firsts in their own rights in Congress. After they posted the picture to social media, their audience took it and ran with it.

Their status as the youngest women elected to Congress and being women of color only gave them the name. They maintain their name through their aligned interests and values.

“Anyone who is committed to the work of building a more equitable and just world is a part of the squad.”

Pressley said during the CBS interview

Lejla Brka, in her article for the Carolina Political Review, says that after each woman secured their victories, they became the targets of many racist and sexist attacks from Republican politicians and other internet users.

“We are a disruption to the business-as-usual that’s been Washington,” Omar said during the CBS interview. 

Brka goes on to say that The Squad represents “the new American identity – children of immigrants, people of color.” And that they are inspiring people to push the Democratic Party in a more progressive and positive direction.

Omar’s Wall of Sticky Notes

It’s easy to question how Omar has impacted the people of her state when it’s coming from journalists. But if anyone has been around Omar’s office in Minnesota’s Capitol Building, they can find a multitude of colorful Post-it notes covering her door and it’s surrounding walls that show how Omar’s presence in Congress impacts people. 

“I don’t remember when they first appeared on the wall outside my office in the Capitol Building…” Omar wrote in her memoir “This is What America Looks Like.” “I do know when they started to become a problem for Facilities. It was a few months after I became the first Somali American Muslim Woman elected to Congress in 2018.”

Many of the sticky notes have words of encouragement or praise on them. Others thank Omar for being their voice. Omar says in her memoir that because she fled her birth country as a child and is a refugee, she is still trying to find where she fits in. Therefore, she says the most important note she’s seen says “You belong here.” 

Omar’s start in Congress wasn’t the easiest with her controversy about her being anti-Semitic. But, she has a large group of supporters who believe her presence in Congress is changing things for the better. 

“I know a lot of friends who are women, people of color, people in the LGBTQ community who are inspired to run for public office because they see people like her in these positions of power,” Shepp said. “And they know that they can do it.”

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