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What prompted chaos at the Minneapolis 10th Ward DFL convention?


Dave Orrick
Tuesday May 16, 2023

As shown in this screen grab from a video shared by blogger John Edwards, disorder reigned at the Minneapolis DFL 10th Ward convention on Saturday

They thought they'd be able to vote. They were wrong. They got angry.

Then things got out of control.

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That's the simplest explanation for why chaos and scuffling erupted Saturday at a Minneapolis DFL ward convention, according to videos of the event and several people who witnessed what happened from different vantage points.

While police continued to investigate the incident Monday, senior members of the city and state DFL Party prepared for a meeting later this week to get a handle on what happened, in what amounted to an embarrassment for the party — and to figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

What happened?

Saturday's events unfolded at the DFL's 10th Ward convention at Ella Baker Global Studies & Humanities Magnet School in Uptown, held to endorse a candidate — or issue no endorsement — for the ward's City Council seat in the November election. The contenders were Council Member Aisha Chughtai, in her first term, and Nasri Warsame.

As Chughtai's supporters took to the stage, backers of Warsame began shouting objections. In events captured on video by Minneapolis blogger John Edwards that quickly gained national attention, a group of Warsame supporters stormed the stage while scuffles broke out on the floor.

The convention was abruptly ended and technically remains in recess, according to a party official.

Several people went to the hospital or sought medical attention for non-life-threatening injuries, ranging from a possible concussion to a shoulder injury when one woman tried to stop a female Warsame supporter from shoving a table off the stage. No arrests have been made.

A host of officials and participants — including Chughtai, Warsame, Council President Andrea Jenkins and her opponent Soren Stevenson, state DFL Chair Ken Martin and Minneapolis DFL Chair Briana Rose Lee — have issued statements condemning what happened.

Why did it happen?

A number of Warsame supporters didn't understand the sometimes quirky proceedings for a political convention, according to several people present. The fact that many of them spoke only Somali didn't help.

"The main thing, I believe, was the language barrier," Warsame said in an interview Monday. "Elders who came down, because of the language barrier, were in tears. They felt the process was not fair."

Many of those elders, as well as others supporting Warsame, went to the convention in hopes they could cast a vote for him even though they hadn't signed up in advance to be voting delegates, according to Warsame and Lee.

Under the convention's rules, some people in that situation can be elevated to become delegates, and some were. But not all of them.

Lee, who was present at the convention but wasn't running it, said Monday that Warsame's supporters were intentionally misled about the process by Abshir Omar, the candidate's campaign manager, "which led to a lot of mistrust."

Lee noted that Omar served as political director on Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign in Iowa, "so it's hard for me to believe he doesn't understand the caucus system and can't accurately explain that to his supporters."

Omar could not be reached for comment Monday, and Warsame declined to comment on Lee's accusation against Omar. In a Facebook post, Warsame said Omar was assaulted in the melee and added: "We deeply regret the unexpected and unfortunate events."

Lee said that while unruly behavior, intimidation and violence must be condemned, she doesn't blame Warsame's supporters for being upset.

"If I felt like my vote was being taken from me I would be angry, too, but that isn't what was happening," she said.

Why so out of control?

Warsame, wearing a gray suit, can be seen in the video leaning against a wall by himself — arms crossed or hands in pockets — as his supporters begin to storm the stage. At one point, he begins recording the mayhem with his cellphone. At least three minutes pass before he goes to the stage, raises his arms and tries to calm his supporters — to little avail.

Warsame said Monday that he had been trying to assuage his supporters for some time, but eventually felt powerless to stop them.

"Things got out of hand," he said. "I tried to talk to them but they felt unheard. At some point, there's nothing you can do."

What's next?

The DFL could decide to resume the 10th Ward convention — in person or virtually — or it could abandon the endorsement process. The latter option is frowned upon by many, since it could send the message that disrupting a convention can succeed.

Nothing yet has been decided, Lee said. "The state executive committee will determine the next steps," she said.

That meeting, scheduled for Thursday, will also feature a proposal by Martin, the state party chair.

"I will be proposing a bylaw to ban individuals engaged in violent assaults from the DFL Party and will then take immediate action to remove the folks involved in Ward 10," he tweeted.

Staff writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this story.



 





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