The midterm elections this year were nothing short of historic. Across the country, women filled up more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than ever before.
I’m talking about women from almost every walk of life; women whose experiences and hardships have been the motivating forces behind their campaigns.
Rashida Tlaib and IIhan Omar, for example, became the first Muslim women in Congress. This is extraordinary when you consider that just two years ago, anti-Muslim hate crimes were about “five times more frequent than they were before 2001;” and that President Donald Trump once “called to ban all Muslim travel to the U.S,” according to NBC News’ Aliyah Frumin and Amanda Sakuma.
America has never had a Muslim woman to Congress. We just elected the first two in history — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. This is progress. pic.twitter.com/rPxcjfBosX
— Simran Jeet Singh (@simran) November 7, 2018
Now, Omar, a Somali-American who came into this country as a refugee more than 40 years ago, has the power to directly address and dismantle America’s deeply rooted fear of the “other” from within Congress.
In fact, in a CBS This Morning interview the day after the elections, she expressed her plan to usher in a “unique insight” into the “lives and struggles” of refugees and help “serve as a check on the rhetoric of fear and division.”
“When I was coming to this country, I heard about it’s promises,” Omar said. However, those promises, “aren’t extended to everyone . . . I couldn’t sit on the sidelines.”
In addition to Omar and Tlaib, Democrats Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American women elected to Congress.
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 7, 2018
Davids also became the first lesbian to represent Kansas in the House.
“Sharice won the hearts of voters by putting forward a positive and solutions-oriented agenda while explaining how her experiences as a Native American LGBTQ woman influenced her policy positions and beliefs,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, to NBC News.
In Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley became the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.
“What I’m offering is a vision,” she told supporters Tuesday night. “One where together we can break cycles of poverty, break and rebuild a criminal legal system that actually delivers justice … One where we can break through and create an economy where one job is enough.”
I am eternally grateful to everyone who made this very moment possible. But we know that this is more than just a moment. Together, we have built a movement for inclusion, justice and equity. With thanks to your labor of love, change is on the way. pic.twitter.com/aZi3cAVoEI
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) November 8, 2018
Pressley is all too familiar with these social and economic issues. She was raised in Chicago in what she has characterized as a “tough neighborhood,” with a hardworking single mother and a father who was “in and out of prison” and hooked on drugs.
Although first-time candidate and outspoken gun control activist Lucy McBath is not the first African-American woman from Georgia to win a seat in the House, she is the first member from Mothers of the Movement to have a seat in Congress. According to Vox’s P.R. Lockhart, this is an organization of Black women who have lost their children through police brutality and the “vigilante violence central to the rise of the Black Lives Matter” movement.
Remember 17 y/o Jordan Davis? He was murdered in 2012 by a man upset with him for playing loud music at a Florida gas station.
His mom Lucy McBath was just elected to Congress. pic.twitter.com/xs58svgu9d
— Janel Forte (@JanelForte) November 8, 2018
McBath was inspired to run for office by the murder of her 17-year old son Jordan Davis, who, in 2012, was shot and killed outside of a Florida gas station in an act of “racist gun violence,” wrote Lockhart. During McBath’s campaign, she “used her personal stories of losing her son and surviving breast cancer twice, to connect with voters.”
In addition, according to Lockhart, “McBath made inroads in a majority-White congressional district and gained national attention; The New York Times argued that she was ‘redefining social justice in politics this year.’”
She also created “Jordan,” a campaign ad in which she delves deeper into her son’s death.
“I still continue to mother [Jordan] by making sure I preserve the lives of other children,” McBath says in the ad.
After Wednesday night’s Thousand Oaks, California shooting, in which 12 people were killed, it is clear that the addition of a politician such as McBath into Congress is what this country needs right now—someone who’s experienced the loss of a child through gun violence and will offer more than just prayers to grieving parents; she’ll offer to go to war for them.
“As a congresswoman, but more importantly as a mother, I pledge to do everything I can to make our communities safer,” she tweeted Thursday afternoon.
“The most important title I am ever going to have is Jordan’s mom…I pray that Congress will support me in taking action to prevent these tragedies… I pledge to fight as hard as I can for every single family in this country.”
In contrast, President Trump tweeted, “God bless all of the victims and families of the victims. Thank you to Law Enforcement,” not once addressing possible solutions (such as stricter gun control laws) that could be enforced to prevent these kinds of tragedies from reoccurring.
This isn’t surprising, of course. Unlike McBath and Pressley, Trump probably doesn’t have to worry about losing those closest to him to senseless and often racially motivated gun violence— especially when he has Secret Service protecting every member of his immediate family.
This world of constant mass shootings and dead children and adults is far removed from his reality and therefore, it becomes harder to emphasize with the victims.
And from my experience, without empathy and understanding, it becomes almost impossible to even want to do the right thing.
Fortunately, along with their political knowledge, these newly elected officials are bringing in their pain and experiences as women, minorities and mothers to Congress.
They are representing all the African-Americans, Native Americans, Muslims and lesbians out there who, for so long, have been underrepresented and mistreated in this country. They are representing the parents who have lost their children to gun violence and continue to be told to “Just pray” every time another White man decides to shoot up a church or a grocery store.
At the end of the day, they’re not just business-minded politicians fiending for greater power; they’re people who, because of their gender, sexuality and race, understand what it means to be treated unequally and unjustly; people who, hopefully, will bring forth the kind of change that doesn’t discriminate against, murder or oppress anyone.