Keith Ellison, the Democratic representative of Minnesota’s Fifth District, chief deputy whip to the house democratic whip, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the first Muslim in Congress spoke on Feb. 11 about the problems facing America today and what Georgetown students can do to make a positive difference in the political community. The event, co-sponsored by Georgetown University College Democrats, Georgetown University Muslim Student Association, Georgetown University Muslim Life and the Center for Social Justice, was held in the Reiss Science Building.

Matt Gregory (COL ’17), the chairman of Georgetown University College Democrats, introduced Ellison, who focused his speech on the importance of idealism in today’s youth, the steps that must be taken to fix the issues that American political system currently faces and the hurdles he encountered as the first Muslim in Congress.

Ellison began by stressing how important open dialogue with the students would be throughout the event.

“There’s a lot of important things going on in the world right now, and I think that we should talk about them,” Ellison said. “I want you to know that there are no off limit questions … it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re very liberal or very conservative or anything like that. There’s nothing we can’t discuss.”

Ellison emphasized the paramount importance of being optimistic, and said that cynicism does not lead to success.

“Whenever I run into a young person who is cynical and who thinks that you’re a chump or a sucker, if you believe that things can be better it makes me a little sad,” Ellison said. “Whenever young people that I encounter think that it is somehow sophisticated to assume the worst and that nothing’s going to go right it makes me a little sad, because if the youth aren’t idealistic and the youth don’t feel like the world can be a better place heaven help the rest of us.”

Ellison spoke of the great strides that the United States has been able to accomplish as a nation and of how a cynical representation of America’s current state would not be fair or beneficial to the country.

“The fact is, that if you want to tell a tale that America is irredeemably, irretrievably racist; if you want to tell a tale that America is irretrievably religiously bigoted; if you want to say that the class divisions are so wide and the rich will always stomp on the poor there is evidence on the record to stand on, but, what about the other side of the coin too?” Ellison asked. “What about the fact that we used to have segregation in our country and we don’t? What about the fact that to my mother it was inconceivable to her that there could be a black president and there is? … This is progress!”

Ellison stressed the income gap as one of the most pressing issues that our country faces today, and said that the rising cost of education is especially impacted by the income disparity.

“The fact that education is so expensive in the United States, even in public universities, you know it doesn’t have to be that way,” Ellison said. “This is a political decision we have made.”

Ellison claimed that economic growth is halted by the income gap as well.

“One of the reasons that we have had very, in my opinion, anemic economic growth is there are not enough rich people to spend money to fuel this demand driven economy,” Ellison said.

Ellison insisted that economic issues can be fixed by the younger generations.

“This is a problem you and your generation have got to help us solve,” Ellison said.

The representative also discussed campaigning and how to prevent political corruption by encouraging more transparency within campaigns.

In addition, Ellison discussed his position as the first Muslim in Congress, and how he faced intense hate and resentment from some citizens.

“One guy named Dennis Prager … says Keith Ellison is more dangerous to the republic than Osama Bin Laden,” Ellison said.

Ellison said, however that he believes that interfaith dialogue is an extremely important step in making a positive change in the world.

“I’ve always thought to myself we should break bread together, we should share meals together, we should feed the poor together, we should visit the elderly together, we should make the world a better place together,” Ellison said.

Ellison closed by prompting the audience to act.

“Don’t forget we’ve got a world here to fix … go heal the world,” Ellison said.

Enushe Khan (MSB’17), who attended the event, said she appreciated Ellison’s foreign policy points.

“I think that was a very inspiring talk for me personally,” Khan said. “I was very happy to hear his thoughts on foreign policy. … He was a very engaging speaker, and it was a great event and a very great talk.”

Leah von der Heyde (COL ‘15) said she enjoyed Ellison’s talk because of the way he addressed his faith.

“College Democrats advertised it as him being the first Muslim representative, which I think is really important, but then he did not make a big deal out of it until the very end,” Von Der Heyde said. “He actually stressed the interfaith dialogue and that it didn’t matter where he personally came from, but he emphasized a broader picture and I thought that was pretty amazing.”

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