Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is a member of the black caucus and co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, and is also the first Muslim member of Congress. In an interview, he told Amy Goodman of the leftist DemocracyNow! Website about the accomplishments of the Democratic party’s Platform Committee in advance of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. 
 
Ellison was chosen by Sanders to sit on the Platform Committee, which was chaired by former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. He lamented that stronger language condemning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, signed by President Barack Obama, was not adopted but he applauded its positions in favor of a nation-wide $15 per-hour minimum wage and other progressive standards. “What did we not achieve? Compete opposition to fracking; we don’t have that. What is else not achieved? There’s some things on foreign policy fronts that, I think, would and could be better; some saber rattling with regard to Iran that I don’t think is helpful and good to be in our platform.”
 
With regard to foreign policy, Ellison said the progressive Democrats wanted a “clearer statement on two-state solution” for the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said that there should be no fear among Democrats to use the word “occupation” to refer to the current status of lands now administered by Israel. When Goodman asked what he would have liked to have seen, he said that U.S. should state the the “occupation” should continue. “I don’t think there’s any fear of using the o-word, if you will, I mean Ariel Sharon used it. You know, the UN uses it. I mean, it’s a commonly used phrase to describe what’s going on. I think we could have also made some stronger statements about the…” At this point, Goodman interjected, asking, “What is that word?” To which, Ellison answered, “Occupation.”
 
As for domestic issues, Ellison said it was his mother who called on him to join fellow House Democrats, such as John Lewis, Katherine Clark, and David Cicilline in their June “sit-down” protest in favor of further gun control. Ellison said that even while citizens know that he and the Democrats can introduce and vote on legislation and are thus “empowered,” he argued that “Well, the truth is, given the influence that the NRA has on the Republican majority, we’re disempowered. You know, we’re trying to fight for very simple stuff like background checks, things like that, and you know, we can’t get anywhere.”
 
It was because of Republicans’ alleged intransigence, said Ellison, that they  “decided to disrupt, not play by the rules, and draw attention to this appalling condition.”
 
As for his mother, Ellison verified that his mother asked him to sit on the floor of the House, even though he was headed that way already.  “But, I was always happy to hear from mom who taught me to stand up for what's right no matter what. And so, I got a note from her, and I handed it to a friend of mine. We laughed. He took a picture of it and tweeted it, and it kind of went viral, to tell you the truth.”
 
In view of the shootings in Dallas, Ellison called for an “assault weapon ban” while saying that no other country has as many hand-gun deaths. “When they shot Gabby Giffords in the face, and killed members of her staff, we did nothing. When they killed 20 little kids and seven of their teachers in Sandy Hook, we didn’t do a thing. When they killed people at a theater, we didn’t do a thing. And now, here, they kill 49 people at a nightclub, we had to do something.”
 
Ellison argued that Democrats must allow a vote on what he called “critical issues facing the American people.” As for further action by fellow progressives, Ellison predicted, “And I think you can bet that there’s gonna be much more social justice activism toward getting sane sensible gun laws in this country. We are out of control.” 
 
“Why can't we get real, sane, sensible gun legislation? 'Cause the NRA, funded by Mossberg, Smith & Wesson, Glock, and all the rest of the big dogs in the weapons industry, you know, spread around donations and won't let it go through.” “Big money interests,” said Ellison, have a “stranglehold Congress and we can’t move anything forward.” Arguing there is a “money-in-politics angle to this,” Ellison called for citizens to participate in democracy to overcome monied interests.  “It’s gonna take a lot to overcome these big dollars. But, we have the many people. They got the many bucks. I think the people’ll overcome the bucks.”

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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