Roe McDermott looks at some of the trailblazing Democrat women who secured seats in Congress, and explores why their victories are so important.
The bad news? Republicans still rule the Senate, and so Trump isn’t being found guilty of an impeachable offence any time soon.
But the good news is that women led a parade of unexpected and unprecedented victories during the US midterms that led to Democrats reclaiming the House. The presence of these women in Congress is going to have a palpable impact on discourse around education, reproductive rights, healthcare, immigration, gun control and the environment.
Related: What does it all mean for the 2020 Presidential campaign?
Women’s activism and supporters
This year’s midterm elections saw an unprecedented number of female candidates for both parties, leading to a record number of women being elected to Congress.
The massive upswing in female representation for the Democratic party is due in large part to two years of anger, passion and determination by women understandably appalled by Donald Trump’s election and the blatantly misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies of his administration. Grassroots activism and fundraising over the past two years, notably organised and run by women, has seen candidates receive unprecedented amounts of small-dollar contributions; indicating widespread and galvanized levels of support for candidates.
This support has come from diverse demographics of voters, particularly voters whose rights have been suppressed. This includes people of colour who are disproportionately affected by many of Trump’s policies and his racist rhetoric around immigration, police brutality, and his refusal to denounce white nationalism.
Vulnerable communities such as the sick and elderly are also concerned as they are gravely affected by Republican healthcare (or lack thereof), while many young voters turned up to support Democratic candidates, thanks to many youth vote initiatives and youth activists themselves, such as survivors of the Parkland mass shooting who advocate for gun control.
“White women continue to vote along racial lines, supporting Republicans who do not support women’s issues or equality”
We need to talk about white women
One demographic who remain steadfast in their desire to self-destruct, however, is white women. In 2016, 53% of white women chose to vote for the man who bragged about his love of grabbing women “by the pussy.” One would hope that the past two years would have taught them a lesson – but no. White women continue to vote along racial lines, supporting Republicans who do not support women’s issues or equality. In the words of Rebecca Traister, “White women, who enjoy proximal power from their association with white men, have often served as patriarchy’s most eager foot soldiers.”
This was seen in State elections, where white women helped secure wins for Republicans Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and possibly Brian Kemp, who may beat out reproductive rights advocate Stacey Abrams, despite controversy over uncounted votes.
And in House races, only 49% of white women voted for Democrats this year, compared to the 92% percent of Black women and 73% percent of Latina women who voted for Democratic House candidates. White women are screwing this up – but thankfully, a record number of women of colour won Democratic seats in Congress, and are ready to pick up the slack.
And necessarily. Given the ever-escalating onslaught of oppressive policies emerging from the White House, representation of marginalised communities has literally become a matter of life or death for many Americans. Hopefully the presence of these diverse candidates will allow the specific needs and concerns of their communities to be represented.
Trailblazing women of colour
“Their victories this week will have an immeasurable impact on the young aspiring activists and politicians”
Just one of the women who made history this week is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old Latina socialist from the Bronx who is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Heralded as a rising political superstar, she supports progressive policies such as Medicare for All, tuition-free public college, gun control and an overhaul of mass incarceration in the criminal-justice system which disproportionately affects people of colour. Ocasio-Cortez also supports creating pathways to citizenship for immigrants who arrived in the States both legally and illegally.
Openly gay Kansas candidate Sharice Davids and New Mexico candidate Deb Haaland became the first Indigenous women to be elected to Congress, at a time where voter suppression of Indigenous people has reached a crisis point, as it has for Black voters. Meanwhile, 84% of Indigenous women have suffered violence inflicted by a white man in their lifetime, and there is an epidemic of Indigenous women going missing or being murdered – an issue which Haaland, in particular, is determined to address.
Rashida Tlaib in Michigan and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, has campaigned to abolish ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) – a movement that has gained more traction since June, when Trump’s family separation policy led to almost 3,000 children being separated from their parents at the border. Omar, a former refugee born in Somalia, supports the rights of refugees as well as offering free college tuition for students from underprivileged families and greater access to student loan forgiveness programs.
Lucia ‘Lucy’ McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, a Black teen who was shot and killed at a Florida gas station in 2012. The shooter was Michael David Dunn, a white man who claimed Davis was “playing his music too loud.” Jordan was only 17-years-old. Since the murder of her son, McBath has worked with advocacy groups fighting for gun control, and is a member of Mothers of the Movement; a sisterhood of Black women whose sons were shot to death by white men or police officers. Jordan Davis’ memory lives on through the Black Lives Matter movement, and McBath’s campaign was supported by EMILY’s List and Higher Heights, the political action committee aimed at getting more Black women candidates elected and galvanizing Black women in crucial elections across the country.
Other female Democratic candidates who emerged victorious this week were Jayana Hayes and Ayanna Pressley who became the first Black congresswomen from their districts, while Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia similarly became the first Latina women from Texas to be elected to Congress.
“Equality has already waited too long.”
A legacy that has already begun
The legacy of these women of colour will not just be based on the work done in Congress; their presence also increases visible representation in a governmental body that has, for far too long, been disproportionately run by and interested in wealthy, white, straight, cis males. Their victories this week will have an immeasurable impact on the young aspiring activists and politicians of their communities, who will hopefully be inspired to become the next wave of trailblazers themselves.
Let’s just hope that American voters’ renewed passion, activism and commitment to equality carries through to 2020. Equality has already waited too long.