Vot­ers chose Congress that looks like Amer­ica

Tulsa World - - Opinion - BY VERON­ICA LAIZURE

A Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can woman, a So­mali-Amer­i­can hi­jabi, an openly gay Coloradan, a 29-year-old Puerto-Ri­can and Bronx na­tive and a les­bian mem­ber of the Ho-Chunk Na­tion of Kansas all walk into a vot­ing booth.

It sounds like ei­ther the cast of a mil­len­nial sit­com or a joke, right?

But th­ese are some of the ground-break­ing po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates who, against all odds, won their races on Tues­day and se­cured their places in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Pol­i­tics has, for many years, been dom­i­nated by a sec­tor of the pop­u­la­tion that is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Amer­ica's many faces. Be­fore Tues­day, there were only 85 fe­male mem­bers of Congress, even though

Laizure

women make up 50.8 per­cent of Amer­ica's pop­u­la­tion. There were no Lati­nas in Congress to help rep­re­sent Amer­ica's 57.5 mil­lion His­panic peo­ple. There were no Mus­lim women to rep­re­sent the mil­lion or so Mus­limahs who live, work, and vote in our com­mu­ni­ties. There were no Na­tive Amer­i­can women, de­spite the fact that Na­tive Amer­i­cans are a vi­tal and nec­es­sary part of our elec­torate.

The cast of play­ers on Amer­ica's po­lit­i­cal stage has not, for a long time, rep­re­sented the di­ver­sity of its au­di­ence.

For cen­turies, our po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives rep­re­sented only a few as­pects of Amer­i­can iden­tity. Race, class, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, abil­ity sta­tus, re­li­gion, indige­nous sta­tus — th­ese all af­fect the ways in which we en­gage with our du­ties and priv­i­leges as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. But if our elec­torate does not ac­cu­rately re­flect the re­al­i­ties in which we live and op­er­ate as Amer­i­cans, what voices are we leav­ing out? What per­spec­tives are be­ing ex­cluded? What tal­ents, view­points and skills are ne­glected for the sake of ho­mo­gene­ity?

What our coun­try saw on Tues­day was a re­jec­tion of this lim­ited vi­sion of Amer­ica. It was a re­pu­di­a­tion of a pa­tri­o­tism that left no room for di­ver­sity, for in­clu­sion or for plu­ral­ism. It was a re­fusal to let the tox­i­c­ity of the past con­tinue to poi­son our fu­ture. And it was an af­fir­ma­tive cry — a roar — in fa­vor of an Amer­ica that truly ex­ists for We, The Peo­ple.

Tues­day was the cul­mi­na­tion of years of work for many of the triumphant can­di­dates who emerged from th­ese races. It sig­naled a re­turn to the draw­ing board for oth­ers who ran highly com­pet­i­tive races and chal­lenged the sta­tus quo, par­tic­u­larly in their grace­ful ac­cep­tance of many more years' worth of work. And for thou­sands of newly awak­ened voices, Tues­day was the clar­ion call for a gen­er­a­tion of re­newed pas­sion and in­vest­ment in the Amer­i­can demo­cratic process.

The Amer­i­can story is a work in progress. No­body doubts that we have a long way to go be­fore our goal of an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety is re­al­ized. Elec­tions are a pow­er­ful step; they lead to changes in pol­icy that re­verse the cen­turies of op­pres­sion that are an in­deli­ble part of our his­tory's foot­print. But more im­por­tant is the vi­sion of an Amer­ica re­s­plen­dent with vari­a­tions on race, color, gen­der and iden­tity — the vi­sion of a coun­try that fi­nally, truly re­flects the in­tensely di­verse re­al­i­ties in which we live.

On Tues­day, Amer­ica took a step closer to that fu­ture.

Veron­ica Laizure is civil rights di­rec­tor for the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can-Is­lamic Re­la­tions, Ok­la­homa Chap­ter.

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