“I Was Sent Here to Fight for Shared Humanity”: Rep. Delia Ramirez on Why She Backs a Cease-Fire in Israel and Palestine
In These Times Executive Editor Ari Bloomekatz and Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) discuss the urgency of a cease-fire, a progressive approach to foreign policy, and why Marjorie Taylor Greene poses such a threat to everyday Americans.
Illinois Congresswoman Delia Ramirez is one of 18 members of the House of Representatives who have signed a resolution calling for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and Palestine. Ramirez talked about it, among several other things, in an exclusive interview with In These Times on Oct. 20.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ARI BLOOMEKATZ: Can you share a bit about the various issues and dynamics that you’ve been working on and navigating since this all began on October 7?
CONGRESSWOMAN DELIA RAMIREZ: I think, as for many of us, it’s been quite painful and frustrating to see where we are. We are talking about Israel and Gaza, of what we’re seeing there, coupled with the fact that we have a House that’s not in order, a House that’s not open, and so much emotion about the frustration of having no Speaker. And it feels like, day-to-day when we’re here, we are wasting taxpayers’ dollars, who sent us here to work, to negotiate and pass appropriation bills to keep the government open, to make sure that legislation that we are working on, like me with the American Dream and Promise Act and some things I’m doing around education, can actually move forward. And certainly, to be able to get more resources for cities like Chicago for new arrivals.
And then you see what’s happening in Gaza and Israel. And I guess, what I would say to you that I find most painful is that there are colleagues here in Congress, that if you ask, “What about the Palestinians?” it’s almost as if there’s an assumption that you are saying that you don’t denounce Hamas, or that you are a Hamas protector. And I think that’s really heartbreaking, and actually, quite frankly, very dangerous. So it’s been a really difficult time here, but I would also say to you that it is an affirmation, that it is incredibly important to have people like me that come from places like Chicago, who have to stay firm, stay courageous, and always demand peace and justice in any framework of what we’re talking about.
And certainly, for me, being able to be here and say, “Yes, first of all, I do denounce Hamas and what they’ve done. And two, I am incredibly concerned about what’s happening to innocent civilians, many of them children, many of them in Gaza, many Americans that are in Gaza, who have been forgotten by everyone.”
BLOOMEKATZ: How are the conversations going with your constituents and your friends and allies?
RAMIREZ: Emotional, I would say. I mean, this is one of those things that I think oftentimes we forget: we are human beings. We are children. We have parents, or we are parents in some cases (not myself, but many people here). And we have family, and we have friends and people that we love, who are being impacted by what’s happening in Gaza, what’s happening in Palestine and Israel. And so that means that we are not immune from the emotion of wanting to fight for peace in a place that unfortunately continues to say more war.
And that has meant that many of us have had to cry ourselves to sleep for weeks, for two weeks here. But also it is an affirmation, as I said to you before, that it is important for us to be here. It’s important for a number of us to continue to respond to what people in our communities are saying, which is we need to call for de-escalation. We need to cease fire. And if our responsibility is diplomacy, then we have to lead with diplomacy, not war.
And that’s been difficult, right? Because there’s this field of folks on the Democratic side and the Republican side, that is, “Oh, our job is to defend Israel and that means to go to war. And that means yes, some innocent lives might get in the way. But this is the only way we get rid of Hamas.” And it, to me, feels like a dehumanizing way to see the world and the role we play in it.
BLOOMEKATZ: The amount of dehumanization going on right now, both in the political sphere and in mainstream media, it’s across the spectrum. It feels like there’s just so much dehumanization going on. Is that the sense you’re feeling too?
RAMIREZ: Yeah, and I think it’s also a lot of danger. What you’re hearing from politicians, what you’re hearing from some groups, what you’re hearing on TV and in the media — the death threats, certainly anti-Semitic rhetoric, but the Islamophobic rhetoric you’re hearing, you’re seeing, is driving people to stab babies. That little boy was a baby. He was six years old, right? And we just saw, just yesterday, in Lombard, right outside my district, two people being attacked because they’re Muslim. This moment calls for us to ask ourselves, “What side of history will we be in?” Are we going to be the side of the perpetrator? Or are we going to be the side of peace and justice? That words matter, language matters. And what we do with our words, and what we do with our actions, truly have an impact all around the country.
We can’t repeat what we saw in 9/11. However, if we are not careful, we’re going to be in the same place. And this is why I think what we’re saying across the country, when we say it is time for de-escalation, it is time for cease-fire, it is so incredibly important. We have to be able to negotiate a cease-fire. And that does not mean that we don’t call for the return of hostages. Of course, we’re saying that. We’re saying “both, and.” However, what you’re seeing is this call for more money for defense. Well, who are we defending? And who are we killing?
BLOOMEKATZ: In terms of that call for more money for defense, how do you think about how the federal government, for the most part, is operating right now? How do you think about Secretary Blinken and President Biden, what are your thoughts about the U.S. role in all of this?
RAMIREZ: You know, I’ve said this a couple of times. I’ve heard the President say that the U.S. is one of the most powerful nations, one of the most resilient nations. And so, as he says that, I agree. And I agree in such a way that I believe that we have an influence, and an ability to really be the country that helps facilitate a way out of this. That it is our responsibility, instead of funding more, we need diplomacy dialogues for peace. And I think that we can’t say that we’re worried about the children in Gaza and continue to send money for bombs. It’s inconsistent. We can’t say that we are concerned with the lack of humanitarian aid in Gaza, people going without water and food, and then say, and therefore we’re going to fight for more defense. And yeah, some civilians might get in the way of it, or might unfortunately die from it. Every single innocent person that passes, that dies in this moment, we have a responsibility, and we’re helping fund that.
And so you know, what I say to the President is, thank you for beginning to talk about the importance of lifting the people in Gaza. Thank you for a reminder that Hamas is not Palestinians. And with that said, this war can’t be against Palestinians. We can’t have a war against Palestinians, but that’s what it exactly feels like.
Thousands and thousands of people, I mean I’ve heard as much as one child is dying every 15 minutes, right? So we have to take this moment to collectively recognize how we’re moving towards a terrible future that’s reminiscent of the past. Look, the aftermath of 9/11 led to widespread Islamophobia and unending wars that we did to destabilize the region. We have to learn from that.
What I call for the President to do is to remember where we’ve come from. So that we don’t repeat that history. That the only way out of this, and to keep us from a regional war is to begin to intentionally call for a cease-fire and de-escalation. I know there’s details around how that all works, and we have the ability, as the country who is providing the most funding in this moment to Israel, to really have the influence in helping lead Israel into a cease-fire right now.
BLOOMEKATZ: In terms of the resolution, can you give me a little insight into how something like this comes together? Were you expecting more of your colleagues to sign on initially?
RAMIREZ: Well, I mean, I’ve said to you that I am very proud of the number of members who have signed on. Quite frankly, I think, if you would have asked me a week ago, I would have said just a few of us would have signed on and who you would assume that would sign on. Last week, the word “cease-fire” seemed to be the worst word in Congress for so many people. “You can’t say that. You can’t say that. What are you saying, cease-fire? So do you not care about the hostages?”
I think that the narrative has significantly shifted for a number of reasons in the last week. And the fact that we have at least 18 members of Congress who have signed on to the resolution I think shows that the narrative is changing. And what the people, and what our folks, what the American people are saying in polls — what they’re saying, as do the peaceful protests all around the country — is that we must cease fire now. And what does that actually look like? It means that the U.S. uses power and its influence as a third country, right? Working in partnership with other international partners to help create the space where we’re able to have dialogue and diplomacy and making that the critical steps that are going to bring us the true lasting peace. That means sit down, let’s talk about what the cease-fire would look like in this moment, for what period of time, for what region, under what conditions. There are a lot of parts to it. But the point is, we have to get to a point where we say we are moving to cease-fire right now. And here’s how we’re going to go about it in the next few days to de-escalate and bring us to a place of peace. If we don’t do that, what we are going to see is, we’re going to see a regional war, where more and more children are going to die on our watch. And that to me is not consistent with who we say we are.
I think the second part of that is in the resolution itself. You see the language and its pretty general language. I think that was important. Because I think there’s a lot in the cease-fire process that I think that we can unpack as we begin the negotiations. But the second part of that, that I think is really important, is the essential component that gets us to humanitarian aid into Gaza, and getting the American citizens out of Gaza. If you don’t cease fire, you’re not going to get them out. There is no way to get them out. These borders are not opening, right? There is no leverage to negotiate to do that. And I think the second piece of that is we have to make sure that there was a resolution that clearly indicated the importance of prioritizing humanitarian aid to Gaza, especially as we, here, are being asked to consider a budget that’s going to send more money to the region.
BLOOMEKATZ: I want to ask a follow up question here, which is something that I’ve been wrestling with a bit personally: How are you talking to folks — what sorts arguments and frameworks — are you giving folks whose hearts have hardened so much right now? Are you finding it also difficult to get people to understand the gravity of what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank right now?
RAMIREZ: You mean colleagues of mine? You mean people in my district? Both? Yeah. I mean, I think, for me it is about stepping back and asking first of all, why are we here in Congress? And why did you send us here? And I believe in a future where Palestinians and Israelis are free and safe. They are not today. They were not yesterday. And they weren’t last month. That’s the reality. That before this happened, Israelis and Palestinians were not free and safe. And for me, it’s asking the question, what do you want to see? And what did you send me here to fight for?
I was sent here to fight for shared humanity. I was sent here to fight for peace and justice. And I can say that I prioritize the children, as some of my colleagues tend to say. If what we’re saying is we’re prioritizing children, therefore we’re sending money to bomb children? So I think it’s really asking folks to step back and ask ourselves, “How do we move in this moment?” And how do we make sure that our actions are consistent with who we say we are? That we’re creating unity, and not division.
And quite frankly, for me, as I even look at any legislative proposal, I ask myself the question, “Delia, how does this bring us to a politic of unity? Does this legislative proposal move us to a politic of unity, or a politic of division?” I think as we look at the supplemental budget request, as we look at the resolutions moving forward, my colleagues and my constituents should be asking the question, “Will your vote move us closer to unity, or division? Will your vote move us closer to safety, or the killing of children?”
And I think that’s how we need to think about it. And I am confident, firm like never before, that I am on the right side of history. And I call on my colleagues to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “I too, am on the right side of history. I am for peace, and I am for justice.” And that’s how I will vote in the coming resolutions and budget votes coming.
BLOOMEKATZ: I’m thinking about the connections among all of this. You drew some connections between issues with the House and the Speaker and these issues right now, too. And I’m also curious, what you think the possibilities are for a larger progressive foreign policy agenda. What would that type of approach look like both in terms of the situation in Israel/Palestine right now, but also, how do you think a progressive foreign policy agenda could be applied around other issues like the forces that are driving migrants from Venezuela and other countries to Chicago? And do you think about any of these issues as connected in terms of foreign policy?
RAMIREZ: I certainly do. You know, when I think about foreign policy, I think about how am I, in this position as a member of Congress, leading with diplomacy and also recognizing the responsibility that I, as a member of Congress and this country has, in the way that it engages other countries. You know, when I think about what’s happening with Venezuelans, I certainly think about the sanctions and the impact that sanctions have had on the people of Venezuela. When I think about people in Cuba, I think about the sanctions that we have on them, and the impact on Cuba. When I think about Guatemala and the challenges its going through in this particular moment — where they are at risk of losing any democracy in that country. I ask myself, “What role is the U.S. playing in really taking a stance for democracy and the protection and the liberation of the people in Guatemala? Are we doing enough?”
Because there is a correlation between the root causes of migration and the role that we play or don’t play. And I think it’s the same way as we think about what’s happening in Israel, what’s happening in Palestine. We engage in one way or another. Sometimes it’s positively, sometimes it’s not. But what I know is that what we do and how we move has lasting impact. And I think it’s really important that we make those connections, because oftentimes we don’t. When I came here, I said, “I am running for Congress to build on the work that we’ve done in Illinois. I believe that housing is a human right, and we need to prioritize that. I believe that no human being is illegal and we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that healthcare should be a human right. It’s not a human right because if it was, we’d have Medicare for All. And that if we’re going to actually have a world for our children and our children’s children, we’re going to actually fight like hell for clean water and clean energy. And we’re going to pass the Green New Deal.
You know, I didn’t say my priority is my work in foreign policy, but here’s the reality: If we don’t understand the role we play in foreign policy, the impact we have on foreign policy, how it all connects in one way or another, we’re actually not going to move on the issues that we say we care so deeply about. It is absolutely interconnected. And, if you ask me why, it is our shared humanity around the globe.
RAMIREZ: It is really unfortunate and sad that we are sitting here wasting people’s time, because Republicans think that this is a joke. Or they think that they can wear people down so much that they can force themselves into the speakership. There is a threat to democracy in this country, and in this Capitol right now. And we are seeing that face to face. And it’s a shame. It’s a shame that while they’re doing that, you have the Marjorie Taylor Greenes (R-GA) of the world out there spewing so much hate, hate for people who are [peacefully] protesting the injustices of Palestinians, and [she’s] calling them insurrectionists. You have members here who call some of us Hamas. Why? Because we dare to take a stand for injustice and Palestinian children? It is really scary that they are weaponizing this moment and putting [the] lives of people in this country that they say they love so much at risk … and there are no consequences for their actions.
And these are the same people that are constantly attacking and bullying people like me, people like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), people like Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), people like Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA), people like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). It is really unfortunate that this is a moment that our children and our young people are having to witness this from their highest level of government representatives.
BLOOMEKATZ: You talked about the murder of a six-year-old Wadea, and also of this horrible hate attack in Lombard. How do you think Illinois — and Chicago — how can we move forward as a state and as residents here in a way that combats this?
RAMIREZ: Look, you need to call out that people who are using hateful rhetoric, be it in Illinois, be it in the city of Chicago, and that have any … influence, or are in any leadership positions, need to be censured. They need to be responsible for the deaths and the violence against our communities. And these are Jewish communities, these are Muslim communities, immigrant communities.
There is real consequences when Marjorie Taylor Greene, when Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ), when the list of all of them, say what they say. When you have a Heritage Foundation saying that no Palestinians should be allowed in this country because they are all Hamas, you are literally sending Palestinian people practically to receive violence, to be oppressed, to be attacked. I mean, that is to me, as criminal as it is, as if you did it yourself. Words are, you know, my mom often says, words sometimes can feel like a knife. And I believe that Marjorie Taylor Greene is responsible for a lot of what’s happening. I believe that a lot of the people that are re-sharing the crap that they put out there are responsible for it. And I think we should be calling for them to take responsibility for what they’re doing, and they should be censured.
BLOOMEKATZ: Anything I’m not asking you that you wanted to talk about?
RAMIREZ: I think I would wrap up with you by saying this: So you asked me what are some of my core values? And what am I saying to people as we’re navigating this? How am I talking to my colleagues who are conflicted about signing on to the resolution, or conflicted about this moment, conflicted about the pain and their own pain in this particular moment? What I would say is [that] we know that this conflict is long-standing, this did not start two weeks ago, it is incredibly nuanced. And this is exactly why we have to return to diplomacy. I believe, to my core, that our futures are interconnected. And [through] that realization is the only way that we can create a path to co-existence. I believe to my core that diplomacy is the only way forward, and that we will not get there by bombing.
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Congresswoman Delia Ramirez represents Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. She is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, wife of Boris Hernandez, and a dog mom to Lola and Milo.