Bankole: Why Rashida Tlaib needs to deliver
Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib does not have the messianic unction to perform miracles that will instantly end all the problems facing the 13th Congressional District. Like other candidates who prevailed during last week’s primaries in heavily Democratic districts across the nation, she will be heading to Washington, D.C., in January at a time when opinion of Congress is at an all-time low.
But Tlaib, who is set to be the first Muslim Congresswoman, must be ready to deliver for her district, where issues of economic inequality remain the intractable challenges facing many families. According to her, a significant number of her district members don’t own homes or have been victims of the foreclosure crisis.
Tlaib has acknowledged in the past how blacks have long struggled for opportunity but still face entrenched odds and obstacles. They continue to labor painfully under the heavy weight of progress and opportunity. Promises are made to them generation after generation, but they are hardly kept. Almost on every socioeconomic index – like health care, education, criminal justice, economic development - African Americans are performing worst and continue to remain at the bottom of the ladder for a number of factors. Her district, which is 56 percent black, is a microcosm of challenges that have long strangled growth and deprived residents of opportunities for a better life.
That means Tlaib must do all within her power to go to work for voters who granted her a resounding victory as the legitimate successor to retired Congressman John Conyers Jr.
In doing so, she should strike a balance between the urgent needs of her district and at the same time taking on issues that are equally connected to her proud Palestinian American heritage. Because of the uniqueness and historic nature of her victory, she will be sought by groups on both sides of the spectrum to address their audiences and advocate for their causes.
While she is expected to speak out on Palestine, which remains an unsettled question of our age, Tlaib’s biggest and most important audience is the district that decided she was the best choice to go to Washington, D.C.
“I’m going to be at home in the district as much as possible. I think it’s really important that I stay rooted in the community, rooted in what I promised, which is neighborhood service centers throughout my 13th Congressional District,” Tlaib told Channel 4, the British public service television network earlier this week. “I think staying connected to them and making sure I elevate their voices is what’s important.”
Remaining grounded and fighting for the families of the district that elevated her to new political stardom is what will determine Tlaib’s effectiveness in Congress. Even though she soundly defeated Brenda Jones, the president of the Detroit City Council, and the consensus candidate for a group of African American civic and labor leaders, some are waiting for what initiatives she will push in Congress.
Tlaib has already proposed expanding the Civil Rights Act during her campaign.
Several civic leaders I spoke to expressed cautious optimism about her proposal to expand civil rights. They are hoping that it doesn’t become one of many documents that never see the light of day after their initial introduction in committees. Still, some of them never imagined that Tlaib would emerge as the successor to Conyers, whose five-decade civil rights legacy led them to conclude that an African American should replace him.
The bottom line is Tlaib won and she is qualified to inherit Conyers’ seat. Aside from the fact that she was a former state legislator, she is known to be a brilliant political organizer with an educated understanding of retail politics as demonstrated by her unexpected win.
Another question that has come up recently is whether she is black enough. In other words, does she have black loyalty?
It’s easy to dismiss the question as divisive and unfair because race shouldn’t be a barometer for political competence. But the late Ron Walters, a noted African American political scholar, says such a question is always a legitimate one and should be posed to any candidate expecting support of black voters.
“It is way of reminding us in politics that culture is fundamental,” Walters says.
Tlaib’s loyalty to her constituents should be predicated on her ability to bring home the bacon because many of them are waiting for relief.
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