The sur­pris­ing sil­ver lin­ing to Trump’s pres­i­dency

As Amer­i­cans head to the midterm elec­tion polls, it seems Trump’s di­vi­sive and con­tro­ver­sial lead­er­ship has had one pos­i­tive side ef­fect: a surge in women run­ning for of­fice to de­fend fe­male rights. Jane Mulk­er­rins re­ports

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from the sep­a­ra­tion of im­mi­grant children from their par­ents to the moves to roll back trans­gen­der rights, ev­ery week in US pol­i­tics since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump two years ago this week brings new con­tro­versy. But as the na­tion limps, di­vided and frac­tured, to­wards the half­way point of Trump’s four-year pres­i­dency, one pos­i­tive side ef­fect has ma­te­ri­alised: the un­prece­dented tide of women run­ning for of­fice in the midterm elec­tions.

A record 527 women have launched cam­paigns for seats in Congress and the Se­nate in the midterms this week. ‘ This uptick in the number of women run­ning for of­fice is like noth­ing we’ve ever seen be­fore,’ says Alexan­dra De Luca, spokesper­son for Emily’s List, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps pro-choice Demo­cratic women can­di­dates.

‘In 2015 and 2016, we heard from 920 women who were in­ter­ested in run­ning. Since Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, we have heard from 42,000 women who are in­ter­ested.’

This is not a re­sponse to Trump alone, she says. ‘It’s also in re­ac­tion to the at­tempts by Repub­li­cans to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act and ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health care; and to their forc­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh on to the Supreme Court, de­spite the anger from women all over the coun­try. The #Metoo move­ment has re­ally in­spired women to come for­ward and make their voices heard, too.’

It’s not the first time women in the US have risen up to run for of­fice in re­sponse to a sense that the pow­er­ful pa­tri­archy was ig­nor­ing their protests. In 1992, a then-record 24 women were elected to the Se­nate, in­creas­ing fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion by 60%, lead­ing to it be­ing dubbed The Year of the Woman. Back then, the in­crease in fe­male can­di­dates was closely linked to lawyer Anita Hill’s tes­ti­mony the year be­fore against Clarence Thomas, who she ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and who, like Ka­vanaugh, went on to be elected to the Supreme Court af­ter be­ing nom­i­nated by Ge­orge W Bush. ‘It’s a very sim­i­lar im­pe­tus this time around,’ says De Luca. ‘ Women feel their voices aren’t be­ing heard. Women see a prob­lem and want to do some­thing to solve it.’ Both Thomas and Ka­vanaugh de­nied the al­le­ga­tions against them.

A huge number of those run­ning are first-time can­di­dates. ‘ There are so many women who are em­i­nently qual­i­fied, who thought be­fore that it wasn’t the right time. They are re­al­is­ing that there is no right time – the right time is now.’ So, here are the names you need to know…

ALEXAN­DRIA OCASIO- CORTEZ

The 29-year-old from the Bronx be­came the break­out star of pol­i­tics this year when she caused the big­gest sur­prise of the midterm race so far, win­ning her pri­mary against Joe Crow­ley, a long-stand­ing mem­ber of Congress for New York’s 14th dis­trict. This ‘seis­mic po­lit­i­cal up­set’, in the words of TV net­work MSNBC, was in spite of the fact that Crow­ley spent $1.09 mil­lion on his cam­paign whereas Ocasio- Cortez spent just $127,000.

Un­til re­cently mak­ing her liv­ing as a bar­tender and wait­ress­ing in a taque­ria, Ocasio- Cortez also worked as an or­gan­iser for Bernie San­ders’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016. Her poli­cies in­clude abol­ish­ing the of­ten-bru­tal Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment – known as ICE, in­tro­duc­ing Medi­care for all and tighter gun con­trol. She says of Trump: ‘I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.’

STACEY ABRAMS

Not con­tent with be­ing a hugely suc­cess­ful tax lawyer, 44-year-old Abrams, the daugh­ter of Methodist min­is­ters, is also a pub­lished ro­mance nov­el­ist un­der her nom de plume, Se­lena Mont­gomery – she fin­ished her first book while still at Yale Law School. Now she is run­ning to be­come the gov­er­nor of Ge­or­gia, too – with the po­ten­tial to be­come the first African Amer­i­can fe­male gov­er­nor in the en­tire United States.

She’s a Demo­crat and was en­dorsed by Barack Obama; her poli­cies in­clude in­creased spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion, pro­tect­ing abor­tion rights and the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of small amounts of mar­i­juana. She has held pub­lic of­fice for the past 15 years, first as the deputy city at­tor­ney for At­lanta, then as a mem­ber of the Ge­or­gia State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And, since 2011, she has served as the mi­nor­ity leader of the Ge­or­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And yet, in a recent tweet, Trump – who had never held pub­lic of­fice un­til Jan­uary 2017 – called Abrams ‘to­tally un­qual­i­fied’.

GINA ORTIZ JONES

Gina Ortiz Jones, 37, is not only the first woman to po­ten­tially rep­re­sent her dis­trict (the sprawl­ing 23rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in Texas) but, should she be suc­cess­ful to­day, she’ll 

also be­come the first Iraq war vet­eran and the first Filip­ina-amer­i­can in Congress, plus the first openly gay woman from Texas ever to serve her state.

She was raised in San An­to­nio by a sin­gle mother who came to the US from the Philip­pines as a do­mes­tic worker. ‘I think that the fact that I can – 40 years later – run for Congress, is an hon­our,’ says Ortiz Jones, who, in her mil­i­tary ca­reer, served as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in the United States Air Force. ‘I had al­ready served in coun­tries where women and mi­nori­ties are tar­geted, and I have seen what hap­pens when demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions are un­der at­tack,’ she adds. ‘I wanted to see what good I could do from within.’

il­han Omar

Born in Mo­gadishu and raised in her na­tive So­ma­lia un­til the age of nine – when her fam­ily fled the coun­try’s civil war, spend­ing the next four years in a refugee camp in Kenya – Il­han Omar now looks set to be­come one of the first two Mus­lim women to be elected to the US House.

She is the Demo­cratic-farmer-la­bor Party (a so­cially lib­eral party, af­fil­i­ated to the Democrats) con­gres­sional can­di­date for Min­nesota, where she al­ready sits in the State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and is the first So­mali-amer­i­can woman ever elected to po­lit­i­cal of­fice in the US.

Omar, 36, a child nu­tri­tion ex­pert, ar­rived in the US when she was 12 with her six sib­lings, her fa­ther and grand­fa­ther ( her mother died when she was very young). The only words she knew in English at that time were ‘hello’ and ‘shut up’ – but she spoke flu­ent English within three months. Like Ocasio- Cortez, she is com­mit­ted to dis­man­tling ICE, the agency tasked with en­act­ing the harsh im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment. ‘I’ve al­ways seen how it was cre­ated out of fear, and how it be­came a tool to de­hu­man­ise and treat Mus­lims as sec­ond-class ci­ti­zens within this coun­try,’ she says.

Rashida Tlaib

Run­ning un­op­posed in her con­gres­sional dis­trict in Detroit, Michi­gan, 42-year-old Rashida Tlaib can pretty much count on be­ing the first Mus­lim woman elected to Congress this week. The daugh­ter of Pales­tinian im­mi­grants, and the el­dest child of 14, she cred­its her her­itage with form­ing her com­mit­ment to ac­tivism.

‘I want peo­ple across the coun­try to know that you don’t need to sell out,’ she says. ‘ You don’t have to change who you are to run for of­fice.’ She has also vowed to ‘fight back against ev­ery racist and op­pres­sive struc­ture that needs to be dis­man­tled,’ telling con­stituents: ‘ You de­serve bet­ter than what we have to­day with our Pres­i­dent.’

A mem­ber of Moms Against Trump, Tlaib put her money where her mouth is, heck­ling the then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date dur­ing a speech in Detroit in Au­gust 2016. Af­ter ques­tion­ing Trump ac­cept­ing a mil­i­tary medal from an el­derly vet­eran – in spite of hav­ing never seen ac­tive duty – she was phys­i­cally es­corted from the room.

ayanna Press­ley

Grow­ing up in what she has de­scribed as a ‘tough neigh­bour­hood’ in Chicago, Ayanna Press­ley was raised by a sin­gle mother – her fa­ther was ‘in and out of prison’ through­out her child­hood but even­tu­ally be­came a col­lege pro­fes­sor. She made it to Bos­ton Univer­sity, but had to drop out be­fore grad­u­a­tion to sup­port her fam­ily af­ter her mother lost her job. She has also spo­ken about be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted at 19. Af­ter nine years on Bos­ton’s City Coun­cil, 44-year-old Press­ley is now set to be­come the first African Amer­i­can woman to rep­re­sent Mas­sachusetts in Congress.

Ahead of the vote con­firm­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court, Press­ley called for him to step aside if he had ‘an iota of de­cency’ and spoke of ‘the dis­grace to our na­tion, that sur­vivors are never given the jus­tice they are de­served’.

Six of the record 527 women cam­paign­ing for seats in Congress

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