And a blue wave followed.
The results of the United States midterm elections were in some ways par for the course in the current era of hyper-partisanship: a sitting president’s politics and, in this case, his outrageous personality, were found wanting and subsequently punished, as has happened to many Chief Executives before him. As a result, the country must now prepare itself for two years of bruising congressional division with each party in control of one chamber of congress. For minorities, however, these elections represent quite a milestone. Across the country, various individuals, many only known at the state level so far, became senators, governors or representatives despite, but maybe also because of, Trump’s hostile stance towards women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ community, and minorities in general. We’d now like to introduce you to three of them, all women, who just became important firsts in their respective states. The uncertainty of the paths they chose to take, as well as the hardships faced along the way, make the story of their journeys worth telling.
Let us first stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Deb Haaland, 57, member of the Laguna tribe, ran for the 1st Congressional District as a Democrat. As of last Tuesday, she is, along with Sharice Davids (3rd Congressional District, Kansas), the first Native American woman to make her entrance into the House of Representatives. A huge step forward for indigenous people who, with more than 5,2 million persons, represent 1.6% of the American population but register one of the highest rates of non-participation in elections in the country. Since 1776, only ten Native Americans – all men – have been elected to congress. A rather lacklustre record for the over 500 different tribes, many matriarchal, that are often in need of a sympathetic voice in the capital. Haaland commenced law studies, but had to drop out of university because of a lack of financial means. She decided to start her studies again at age 35, after winning a tough fight against poverty as well as alcohol addiction. Having come back from so far herself, she made access to public education one of her top priorities, along with public health and climate change, the latter being a topic of primary concern for Native American tribes across the country.
Next stop on the map: Minnesota. More than thirty years ago, this state in the Midwest welcomed Ilhan Omar and her parents, a Somali family which, like many others, had fled the civil war devouring their country. Having lost her mother at a young age, she was mostly raised by her father and grandfather, both former public officials in Somalia. As a teenager, Omar, now 36, already showed that same keen interest in politics and she quickly found a way to get involved herself. In 2016, she ran as a Democrat for the state’s House of Representatives and became the first Somali-American and Muslim legislator in the history of the country. Last week, she and Rashida Tlaib (13th Congressional District, Michigan), became the first Muslim women to take a seat in the House of Representatives, a highly significant first in light of the hard time President Trump has given immigrants and Muslim communities since the day he took office.
Our final destination is Boston, Massachusetts, where Ayanna Presley, 44, won last week’s race for the 7th Congressional District unopposed. This way, she became the first Black woman to represent this small yet densely populated state in Congress. Also a Democrat, Presley swore to stand up to any of Trump’s future attacks against vulnerable minorities, especially immigrants, while putting the fight for women’s rights at the top of her agenda. And for good reason. In 2011, she revealed that she herself was a survivor of sexual assault while attending Boston University. Presley turned this tragedy into a powerful drive to help women succeed, which has now propelled her to the halls of power in Washington D.C. Besides her programme, her victory also carries great symbolic weight in a country where African-Americans remain more likely to face unequal treatment, poverty and police violence than their white counterparts.
The splash these three candidates made was emblematic for the larger blue wave slowly emerging from this election cycle. The results of the midterms could go a long way into ensuring that the trend of electing progressive minority champions will only grow in future elections. Democrats picked up hundreds of State House seats and several governorships. While not as flashy as more high profile races, this will play into the 2020 elections by giving the party the power to reverse years of Republican gerrymandering, breaking the strangleholds on certain seats. Furthermore, with only two Senate races as of yet uncalled, Democrats will have avoided the potential wipe-out lurking behind 2018’s unfavourable electoral map, limiting their loss to a maximum of three seats. While this somewhat eases the way for Trump appointments, Democrats now hold a solid majority in the House with all the investigative and spending powers that comes with it. Trump, for now, can kiss his wall goodbye.
Sometimes the victory of only a few becomes a triumph of many. In a nation as vast and diverse as the USA, it is particularly significant to have people from all walks, colours and creeds gain a seat at the table, a place to defend their interests. It is the key to safeguarding a country from resentment, division and ultimately, violence. These elections saw the victory of those exact few whose wins are a triumph for all Americans. They sent a strong message saying that, in the end, the USA still strives to embrace all who call it home. Three women, running on progressive platforms, made history last week by winning in the age of Trump. “The times, they are a-changing.”
By Marie-Sophie Silan & Matthijs Lenaerts