Breaking Down Special Interests — Bigotry Not Included

There has been some time to reflect over the last month since Congresswoman Omar tweeted “All About the Benjamins” and unleashed intense backlash from both parties for her rhetoric. The adamant cries of support defending her right to question special interests, no matter the interest in question, may get her thrown off of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and justifiably so.

That said, I appreciate the push to debunk and break down the power of special interests and their grip on politicians and policy. As a social entrepreneur, I am generally supportive of coloring outside of the lines into unchartered territories and expanding and deepening the definition of my own observations and experience.

But Rep Omar’s line of inquiry is not progressive, it is divisive, and it works to hold us back. It holds us back from unification as a community, sectioning off Democrats, independents and even Republicans, and it actually serves to undermine focus where it truly belongs- on the much more powerful and crisis-making special interests that many of us have been fighting for years.

Whether that’s Big Pharma and the Opioid Crisis or The Prison Industrial Complex and Systemic Racial Injustice, there are very urgent matters of special interest to address that are very much in our own backyard. Focusing on Israel is rather ridiculous considering it’s a topic that both political parties have usually agreed on and this misguided focus deflects from many other critical issues that need our attention.

Perhaps we should examine how distraction, such as this temporary focus on Rep Omar and her feelings about Israel, or AOC and her New Green Deal, serves to perpetuate the much bigger problems, and the much more powerful special interests at play. When we are busy focused on caustic, nonsensical political posturing and games, we don’t have to face those issues. I might hope that Rep. Omar could see through her own actions and realize the destructive, petty nature of her words, but that hope is also a distraction.

As Maya Angelou famously said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time”. If we want to tackle something as overwhelming as special interests, we have to move on from giving attention to people like Rep. Omar and revert our focus to the real problems at hand. One place to start is the Supreme Court, where special interests have revealed their grip in a disturbing pattern.

If Rep Omar is gravely concerned with special interests, she should direct her energy and anger at learning more about the role lobbying plays in Congress and in the Supreme Court, not only behind closed doors, as she intimates, but front and center, in how legislation comes and goes. If she really cares, she will educate herself as to the growing instances of unfairness and corruption happening here in the United States, and not go down the road of focusing on Israel and casting aspersions at the Jewish lobby.

Surely, it brings her some support to cater to an unfortunate faction of “progressive” society that trades on old tropes and fears. It is my hope that moving forward towards the elections next year, Americans for progress will embrace a broader sense of idealism, built around greater understanding and dynamic involvement focused on solutions and not attention driven drama. Considering everything we have before us, it is absolutely crucial that we take on the hard work toward changing this country and the world for the better — bigotry not included.

About the Author
Annette Blum is an activist and philanthropist with a focus on global citizenship. Using art and media as dialogue-generating platforms, Ms. Blum advocates for social justice causes across the globe, and sponsors diverse advocacy-based programs. Among many board and advisory positions, Ms. Blum is a member of the Artists and Educators Board at Center Theater Group, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Religions for Peace, a U.N. affiliate program. Recently, Ms. Blum has collaborated with the Jerusalem Season of Culture program, the Clinton Global Initiative, and is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, where she shares her experience with social and political programs and events taking place across the globe, with her specific focus on the intersection of art, advocacy and dialogue.
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