Alexandra Bate, BA Social Anthropology and History of Art
Photo Credit: @martinschoeller, @vanityfair
On January 3, the winners of the 2017 November midterm elections were sworn into their official seats in US Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This marks a historic moment for an unquantifiable amount of diverse interests that for the first time, are being reflected in the makeup of the US Congress.
For example, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat was voted in as the first Somali-American member of Congress. Upon arriving in Washington, she tweeted: “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress”. Together with Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve, they are the first two Muslim women with seats in Congress. Tlaib remarked that she “considered the possibility of using Thomas Jefferson’s Quran or her own, calling the former President’s Quran a “symbol (that) Islam has been a part of American history for a long time”.
This is a ground-breaking moment for the Democratic Party in America, and the power the Democratic majority holds in the very diverse makeup of the House of Representatives.
Many more glass ceilings were broken when you look at the diversity of backgrounds and interests that make up this years’ newcomers: Women hold a record number of seats from a previous 87 to 102, according to Pew Research Center. This also includes the first two Native-American women, Democrat Rep. Deb Haaland (New Mexico) and Rep. Sharice Davids (Kansas), who is also the first openly LGBTQ Representative in Kansas. Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts) and Rep. Jayana Hayes (Connecticut) are the first black congresswomen to represent their states.
Moreover, Democrats Rep. Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are Texas’ first Latinas in office; and Florida, a historically heavily Conservative State, voted for Democrat Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the first Ecuadorian-American, and the first South American immigrant representing a state in Congress. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) also stunned everyone by becoming the youngest woman ever elected, at just 29 years.
In the higher chamber of the Senate, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is the first female Senator of the male-dominated State (think John McCain) and is also the first openly bisexual member of the Senate.
This is a ground-breaking moment for the Democratic Party in America and the power the Democratic majority holds in the very diverse makeup of the House of Representatives. For the Republicans however, January 3 showed that the Party is far behind and drastically declining in women’s participation. According to The Conversation, “only 1 out of 36 newly elected female representatives in Congress is Republican”. This comes as a shock compared to the number of glass ceilings broken by members of the Democratic Party. Looking at photos of the filled seats in Congress, one can see that the Republican side are overwhelmingly dressed in dark suits and are white men. The Democrat side in contrast, was fervently bursting with warm colours, ready to set the priorities for American society straight.
This election has proven that America’s public is more engaged than ever in celebrating diversity in the Capitol. The way the younger generation of representatives are mobilizing social media outlets, especially Instagram, is a good omen for what this stand-out class will be able to achieve — and how they continuously re-define what democracy looks like in practice. (Follow them on Instagram!)
This being said, the Democrat trailblazing women will face a lot of challenges this year, the first being the current 30-day long government shutdown as President Trump tries to push for funding for “the wall”. Everyday this goes on, federal employees aren’t getting paid and President Trump’s reckless proclamations such as America is “under siege” by ‘dangerous immigrants’, is driving up tensions and divisions in the country more than ever before.