Jill Abahsain, 68, is currently columnist for the Sauk Centre Herald and La Voz Libre in Central Minnesota.
She had followed an academic life into the Middle East. She was widowed in 2007, but continued to work as an editor and columnist for an English language newspaper in Egypt. She returned home after the Egyptian Revolution of 2010-11, and taught adult education in Alexandria.
While I would like nothing better than to meet voters in person, be it a at a county fair, town hall forum or a farmers’ market, the 38 counties that make up our district pretty much make a personal conversation with voters an impossibility. I can introduce myself here and hopefully relate to you some sense of who I am, the person running to be your representative in the US Congress in 2022.
My name is Jill. My parents were second generation Scandinavian immigrants born and raised in Minneota, Minnesota. I remember my mother cautioning me not to stare as my grandfather took his coffee and poured it into the saucer, an old Swedish custom to cool the brew, but frowned upon at dinner tables in the US. My folks moved to south Minneapolis where I was born. We were a union family and proud Democrats, back when politics was a choice not an assignment. After high school I got a clerking position downtown, passed the college entrance exam and was able to attend the U of M. No loans, just my salary was enough to pay tuition and rent on a small basement apartment.
My plan was to get a degree in Library Science which required a BA of wide cultural programs. I chose Comparative Religions as a major. I worked for a while as a phone counselor at a mental health crisis hotline in St Paul. This led to a similar position at Planned Parenthood in Salt Lake City where I had moved to be with my classmate who would soon be my husband. This was 1978, and already there was a growing group trying to limit, even eliminate, the recently won reproductive rights ushered in by Roe vs Wade. Here I learned to organize letter writing campaigns to Congress, attended grassroots strategy meetings and even went with a group to Senator Orrin Hatch’s office where we had been granted 5 minutes with the Senator to make our case of why it was against medical reason and potentially damaging to women’s health to change the limit of legal abortion in Utah from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. We failed. And women did die because of that, including one lovely young woman I had personally counseled. It was devastating to all of us. Within a few months, however, this would recede into the background as I married and we began our new lives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
I was fortunate to live a life of western comfort, my husband being a professor at the main University. I got certification and would teach high school English at a private school for girls. I had plenty of time to study the culture. It struck me how the conservative religious beliefs of Utah’s Senator and voters who sought to control women’s life choices were not that unsimilar to the religious based civic laws that all women in the Kingdom were subject to. After 20 years, we were able to retire to Cairo. I was sadly widowed in 2007 but stayed on and found a position as political page editor and columnist at a major English language newspaper in Cairo. I watched the discontent of the educated unemployed youths grow until it blossomed into a full-fledged revolution in December of 2010. A few months later I realized it might be nice to go home.
Home for me had become Sauk Centre, where my brother lived and where my husband and I had vacationed for many summers. The change from living in a city of seventeen million to a town of 3,400 was stunning, but, on reflection, the social and political issues of the Middle East and the Mid-West seem to merge, since they are human issues. I had taught English abroad and watched as my adult students struggled to find the services, and comfort, they had known in their own counties. I now was teaching English and citizenship for the Alexandria (MN) Adult Basic Education Consortium, assigned to teach in milking parlors, poultry processing plants, church basements, as well as a store front classroom in Melrose. My students, mostly Hispanic, were from Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and many different states of Mexico. Every single student had an overwhelming drive to learn the language, find the services and the comfort they so desperately sought. But soon I would clearly see a major flaw in our educational system. Benchmarks for attendance and test scores, set by the state educational association, had set the same requirements for funding as those in busy immigrant neighborhoods in the cities. My students were rural, they had farm jobs with 12-hour shifts in milking or processing. They had children that needed care if they were to get a chance to attend lessons. They were talented students, but our ESL center could not keep pace with the benchmarks, so we lost funding, and our hours of service were reduced. The needs of the immigrant community were growing but our services shrinking, and I could see starkly that rural education has different requirements, and this is not taken into consideration to keep us growing and responding to residents’ needs.
My early political activism juices began to brew again. I found the local DFL unit (Stearns 12B) and got involved. In 2019 it was announced that there was no one to challenge the incumbent MN State Senator Torrey Westrom. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. “This is not the Middle East, with their sham elections. We cannot let an incumbent run unopposed!” “Would you do it?”, they asked. So, I ran. It was 2020 and COVID set the pace, but it was a well-supported and organized run. I did not win, but I didn’t lose either. I had gained a wealth of understanding of our state political system. In 2021 I considered running again for MN Representative for 12B, but redistricting had me bow out to a very committed alternative candidate.
In May, I got a call out of the blue that several candidates for Democratic US Congressional seat CD7 had taken themselves out of the running. It appeared that the incumbent, Michelle Fischbach, would run un-opposed. Well! If I was concerned about Mr. Westrom running unopposed as being undemocratic, clearly this was even a more dire situation! As OUR representative, she supports the fiction of a rigged election. Her first vote, ON THE DAY OF THE CAPITOL RIOT, was to reject the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Then came June and the Supreme Court’s reversal of women’s reproductive rights. All my memories of working with reproductive rights and the women who sought medical care during their most tragic personal circumstances again before us. As new generation is poised to be brutally stripped of privacy and self-autonomy. I feel this IS the fight of a lifetime!
There are many, many critical issues which affect the quality and future of life in rural Minnesota. Our educational system, our rural health and mental health care access and a Farm Bill that for decades has ensured national food security while protecting farmers from catastrophic loss. Mrs. Fischbach, along with a slew of urban Republican legislators, plan to let that bill expire in 2023 and replace a greatly scaled back version controlled by individual states.
I am running to remove Michelle Fischbach as our Representative. Her position against women is immoral, her allegiance to extremism is dangerous and indefensible. I will work tirelessly to improve the services and institutions rural Minnesotans deserve, for quality education and health care and most of all to stand up to those who are tearing away at the very core of our democracy.
This is who I am, and this is why I am running.