On Jan. 3, the new members of the United States Congress will be sworn into office, officially making our legislative branch the most diverse it's ever been. This swearing-in means we'll officially have a new youngest Congresswoman in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the country's first Muslim and Native American female representatives in Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, respectively. States will have black female representatives for the first time ever (see Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes), and young, millennial women will be getting a seat at the table (hello, Katie Hill).
In the run up to this historic day, ELLE.com asked a number of young women what this new Congress means to them and how this sort of representation affects how they view their government and, in turn, themselves.
"There's a recurring theme in the musical Hamilton about wanting to be in 'the room where it happens.' I've never wanted to be in those rooms because I've never seen their impact or their value for me as a person. But where we once saw closed doors, glass ceilings, and overwhelming whiteness, we now see sisterhood, progressive alliances, and color. This new cohort has done more for transparency, accessibility, and motivating real people to see themselves advocating for their communities since the fireside chats. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Pressley, Rep. Omar, Rep. Haaland, and so many others... they're bringing politics to the personal not just through their identities and use of technology but also through their unapologetic boldness in envisioning a new America. I expect this will dramatically shift who runs for office, what support these candidates can find in 'the establishment,' and a new level of accountability and partnership between people and their representatives. I couldn't be more ecstatic." -Brea Baker, 24, racial justice activist
"Our new Congress is symbolic of the American government that young people are yearning to see: one that actually looks like America. When I was in high school, I remember sitting on my dad's computer in our electronics store, searching for political role models that looked like me that I could look up to. It was that day that I found Rashida Tlaib, who was still in the Michigan state legislature at that time. I was so inspired that I even wanted to apply to the University of Michigan just to be near where history like that was happening! I'm so proud to witness the election of the first American-Muslim congresswomen, as well as (finally!) the first congresswomen from other walks of life because I know firsthand the impact it has on a young girl to see a reflection of herself. While we wait to see real legislative change, I believe in our new badass history-making congresswomen, that they will bring into the chambers the same fight that got them there in the first place." -Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, 26, founder of MuslimGirl.com
"The new Congress means courage to me. As an undocumented young Latina, being able to see Ocasio on the forefront, for me, means that someone is ahead paving the road for young Latinos who, like me, [are] working to push immigration reform and be part of essential conversation and movements that are transforming las comunidades AKA our communities. These newly elected women are trail blazers, and I hope to see them continue to tackle large issues all the while continuing to stand tall in their truth and their powerful voices. I hope to see them address the problems that affect underprivileged communities, like the need for prison reform, gun violence, and so many of the other untouched issues. We know that one elected official cannot change every single problem while in office, but they can set intentional goals, reach across the table, and build a legacy for youth to follow." -Sara Mora, 22, activist and influencer
"The new Congress means a return to true Native American leadership-a leadership when women in our matrilineal societies made the important decisions for our people and the next seven generations. It's beautiful to see so many firsts for women in Congress, and I believe this means we will see a return to sensible decision making. I hope to see this new leadership tackle environmental issues, such as stopping the desecration of our sacred lands and water by ending the construction of pipelines. Another important issue that deserves immediate attention is the Violence Against Women Act, which expired during the government shutdown, and in particular, focus on the very real issues surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women.
With this new leadership in the House, it is time for truth and healing in this country. And with two Native American women, Deb Halaand and Sharice Davids, taking seats in Congress to impart indigenous worldview, I am optimistic that we are well on our way to defeating the erroneous and hurtful leadership that has been affecting us all. I am very excited to see so many powerful women come together in Congress, that in itself is truly healing. The further is female. The future is indigenous." -Allie Young, 29, Diné tribe, writer
"Seeing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez take office is, in so many ways, like seeing myself represented for the very first time. I am a young woman of color who was raised by a single mom and who faced homelessness in high school. Her focus on the struggles of everyday people and her commitment to presenting herself and her experiences honestly is inspiring to a young woman like me who strives to bring my community, my family, and my most authentic self into my work as an activist and organizer. She and all of the other incredibly diverse women who were elected in the 2018 midterms are a testament to the strength of community organizing and the value of representation.Seeing women, who truly demonstrate the diversity that makes America strong, win big in elections across the country makes my dream of one day being President of the United States feel a little bit closer." -Deja Foxx, 18, activist, organizer, and student
"I am overjoyed by the collective presence, determination, confidence, and self-assuredness of the women newly elected to the U.S. Congress. This new reality teaches Black girls, Latina girls, refugee girls, Native American girls, and Muslim girls that their lives, voices, and vision are valued and needed in U.S. politics. As leaders of change, we all push tirelessly toward building a future in which the next generation of young women is truly empowered to expand America's definition of truth and justice. The swearing in of these women is so remarkable because, in owning their power, they have opened the door for a diversity of women to step into that same power unapologetically." -Taylor Shaw, 23, founder & CEO, Black Women Animate
"When I was a little girl, there were no Barbies that looked like me. Growing up, I didn’t see representation of myself anywhere. The true history of the genocide of the Indigenous Americans was often blanketed and sugar coated in American schools. We are often seen displayed as a people that are extinct (try image googling 'Native American' and we are mostly black and white portraits). The win of Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland brings Native Americans and Alaska Natives forward collectively as living, thriving people, and has great potential to open up pathways to teach our true histories and raise awareness of contemporary wars over land rights, water rights, and the protection of our women in the missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic.
Many Native American and Alaska Native tribes can trace our histories back thousands of years. Within that, we can understand how are people are intricately intertwined, which means a win for Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland is a win for all Indigenous tribes. Historically, the realm of United States politics has not been made for women of colour, let alone Indigenous women. Deb and Sharice are changing that-we’re here, and we are visible." -Keixe Yaxti/Maka Monture Päki, 25, Tlingit and Mohawk tribes, activist, student, and model
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