Women politicians in Minnesota face increasing threats and intimidation

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Threats come through mail, email, voicemail, and social media. Hateful comments are shouted out of a car window or in the queue at the grocery store. Threats are coming home more than ever, in the form of protests or strangers circling the block.

As women make significant inroads and their numbers increase in politics, so does the number of threats and intimidation against them. Threats have long been a troubling aspect of the lives of elected officials. But in interviews, women across Minnesota politics described an increase in vitriol and a worsening of the atmosphere.

“Women in elected office have become the preferred target,” said Representative Betty McCollum, D-Minn., Who has served at the local, state and federal levels for more than three decades in public life. “Women in this country still don’t get the same respect as their male colleagues. In other words, women are easier targets, they are softer targets. And I think that puts us all in a situation. much more dangerous. “

The COVID-19 pandemic and lies about the 2020 election heightened hostility towards politicians in general, culminating with the capture of the Capitol on January 6. But violence and threats against women in politics are distinct and threaten the progress they have made. in government, said Mona Lena Krook, a professor at Rutgers University who has written a book on violence against women in politics.

“In the United States, we’ve never had so many women in politics and women of color in Congress. It goes to the roots of identity violence,” Krook said. “It’s really about who looks and doesn’t look like a politician to some people.”

Representative Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul, said she struggled with sexism and racism as an Asian American working in finance and nonprofit sectors, but never felt safe. danger until she was elected to the State House in 2018.

After bringing in a bill and testifying in favor of an income tax increase to the fifth level, cars began to drive around his home in St. Paul as well as a farm property on which his parents live in Stillwater. Several people got out of the car and asked her father if she lived there, pretending to be his friends. She didn’t know them.

“These are the kinds of things that are really annoying,” Her said. “I also know that the work is too critical for me to be afraid not to do it.”

In December 2019, someone left a voicemail in an office of U.S. Second District Representative Angie Craig saying, “If you don’t vote for President Trump to be impeached, you’re going to die, bitch.” Months before the 2020 election, Craig’s Burnsville office was evacuated due to a bomb threat. Over the past year, Craig said he has seen a substantial increase in the number of threats against her and her family.

In a post she shared, someone wrote in an email that “January 6 was a practice race. She described as” important extra security “for her home.

“I have four boys, I have a family,” said Craig, a Democrat. “I would be lying if I said they didn’t care about my safety. I have a new grandson. Sometimes you look at yourself and say, how much? How much is it worth?

Threats made against women in politics are often about identity and not issues, Krook said. They focus on the gender, race, sexual orientation or physical appearance of the woman they are speaking to.

State Representative Marion O’Neill spent over two years next to someone in Maple Lake who threatened and yelled at her almost daily, pointing out that she was a Republican and a wife. He once left a bird he shot in his garden on his porch.

“These are horrible and very threatening things,” she said. “You have to have very thick skin and a strong support system to be a woman in politics.”

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has been in politics for a decade, but more recently threats and intimidation have become a constant presence in her life. She has become more cautious about her physical whereabouts and movements. The police had to drive and check his home, and his staff at the office are taking extra precautions.

The effort it takes is grueling and exhausting, sometimes distracting her from the job she has asked to be done.

“Honestly, it’s so common that it’s no longer unusual to have to pay attention to this,” Larson said, adding that LGBTQ women and women of color experience even more vitriol. “It’s something you learn to live with. It’s 100% part of being a political leader as a woman.”

For years, many women in politics have remained largely silent about the threats they face, fearing that they will inspire imitation threats or be seen as unable to handle the pressures of politics.

But more and more women are talking about their experiences. The House voted last month to censor Arizona Republican Representative Paul Gosar for posting an animated video of him killing Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword. In a speech before the vote, Ocasio-Cortez said “as leaders of this country, when we incite violence with representations against our colleagues, it turns into violence in this country”.

Later that month, Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar publicly shared a violent voicemail message in which an anonymous person said Omar “won’t live long.” The post came in the wake of recent anti-Muslim comments by Republican colleague Lauren Boebert.

“We have unfortunately seen constant threats from my first to second term,” Omar said in a statement. “In my case, we have seen attacks and threats based on my gender, religion, ethnicity and race, which creates an aggravating problem for women with marginalized intersectional identities.”

Many fear that threats and intimidation will cause some women to withdraw from politics or decide not to run for office, which could undermine the historic gains they have made in Congress and the legislatures of the United States. States.

“Women who want to lead have to come in knowing that, unless they intend to be somehow a true status quo politician … they’re going to attract that anger and it’s going to have special meaning,” said Senator Jen McEwen, a first-year Democrat from Duluth who was the subject of online threats after her support for an abortion measure was posted by fellow Republicans on Facebook.

As the former leader of Planned Parenthood, US Senator Tina Smith sees a slight increase in “evil and hate” messages sent to her whenever the issue of abortion is in the news. But Smith says the problem is becoming more and more explicit – and it’s spreading system-wide.

“When we talk about this, we’re not talking about our ideas, and we’re not talking about our accomplishments, we’re not talking about what we want to do for people,” Smith said. “You reach a tipping point where you have to say something. “


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