Voters chose Congress that looks like America
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
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.