Coffee and Kulan Creates Conversation

State Representative Ilhan Omar meets community members to discuss Capitol happenings

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

Shortly after her election, State Representative Ilhan Omar began holding periodic meetings called “Coffee and Kulan.” In them, Omar acts as a source of support in a turbulent political climate.

She offers a window into the goings-on at the Capitol and a place to discuss issues in the community with her constituents. Last month, she held one such conversation near the University of Minnesota.

The second recurring event was held Jan. 30 at Daybreak Press Global Bookshop and Gathering Space in Stadium Village. “Kulan” means meeting in Somali, and the goal of these community meetings are to be focused on a specific subject, within which constituents can spark a dialogue. More than 70 curious citizens were in attendance according to Patrick English, a member of Omar’s in-district staff.

While Omar started a dialogue at 8 p.m., constituents were able to enter the space around 7 p.m. During the spare hour, neighbors and friends gathered in chatter, hugs, and the consumption of coffee and sambusas, a Somali pastry. Omar made rounds throughout the space, introducing herself to each and every eager citizen. After collecting names or exchanging laughs and stories, attendees began to prepare for a discussion on topical points in the political climate.

“I came because I wanted to meet this great woman,” University senior Johana Cornejo-Cisneros said. “There are a lot of issues in our current political climate that worry me. A lot of it has to do with my legal status here, so I would like to know what our local politicians are doing to fix this.”

As Omar started to introduce herself, the room erupted in applause, which continued many times throughout the discussion.

The meeting was segmented so that Omar shared her priorities with the group, but also included time to converse with those in attendance. “We are among family, and I want you all to feel like this is a safe space,” Omar said. “This is for you all to ask questions and to push me on whatever you think I’m not doing yet, or what I could do better.”

Omar went on to update the group on the bills she has introduced at the Capitol. Many were geared toward infrastructure. Omar also discussed a bonding bill, a renovation project for the Glendale housing complex in Prospect Park, a bill to give a tax exemption for car sharing services, some criminal justice and policing reform bills, and some student-oriented bills having to do with affirmative consent and student loan servicing.

English recalls his first meeting with Omar—“I was never really politically involved much before, and I had the same star-stuck introduction to her as a lot of the students did last night. I’ve really gotten to enjoy Ilhan on a level which the star-struck Patrick, last May, never would have expected.”

Action was a topic of conversation in addition to simply offering political updates. Once conversation had begun, whether in small groups or the large group overall, students asked a lot of questions to help them learn and understand the political process. “I think it was great. We were trying to get more students involved as well as provide some insight into student life for Ilhan as she’s pushing policy at the Capitol,” English said.

Students were encouraged to write their reservations and questions to their legislators, track bills that they care about online, and keep a dialogue going at town hall meetings. If that action doesn’t work, Omar suggested being relentless, repeating those actions.

Questioning occurred after Omar discussed her political agenda. The room became heavy with discourse regarding civil rights, historic inequities, privilege, and even misleading aspects of protesting. The audience was diverse, and much passion was present in the small bookstore. There were benevolent disagreements, and fueled statements. This was a space for those hurting in the happenings in America.

For Omar, who began her term in early January, the discussion was to be expected. “There are some cool things happening at the Capitol, some depressing things happening, and some really angering things happening in our nation,” Omar said.

After Omar’s speech and the subsequent questioning, there was more time for discussion. Much like before the event, the crowd and Omar shared hugs.