The first-ever “Squad” photo was taken at our 2018 Women and Power Town Hall just days after the midterm election in November. Then Representatives-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and VoteRunLead alumna Ilhan Omar (D-MN) took time out of their congressional orientation to participate in a national conversation about women, our power, and where we were headed as a country having just elected the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history. Like the thousands of other women who ran for office in response to a leader who had diminished their identities, dismissed their ideas, and disrespected their ideals, they were hopeful but steeled for the road ahead.
As congresswomen, they have endured death threats and hateful propaganda. In the latest round of racist tweets from President Donald Trump, he said they can “go back” to where they come from. In doing so, he is questioning their patriotism as a means to undermine their power—and he is fueling another generation of women to run for office and win.
Ayanna warned us not to “take the bait.” We know this is not just about silencing four women who are “too big for their britches” or “have too much social media power”—the bait that she alludes to. It’s the same bait we all took when we belabored Hillary Clinton’s emails. We learned that lesson the hard way, and women won’t let that happen again.
We understand that this attack is meant to distract us from this disastrous administration and the current state of our democracy, where half of the population is not motivated to vote, where one of its two main parties is advocating for disenfranchising even more voters—especially voters of color.
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Mr. Trump thinks that if he can somehow make us believe that it is these individual women are responsible for damaging our democracy, he will achieve an even greater goal: squashing the ambition of any and all women who look like the “Squad” from stepping into power. Why? Because representatives of the white patriarchy know the potential of our power, and they don’t like what they see. They are scared of us. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon admitted this to Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek. “The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo 10,000 years of recorded history,” Bannon told Green. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”
They are not scared of our brown skin or our traditional clothing or our accents. These are simply proxies for what they are truly afraid of: powerful women who don’t subscribe to the patriarchy and whose patriotism is dismantling it.
It is about all women, and especially women of color, having too much power for white men to handle. It’s about scaring us into thinking that “these women”—nonwhite, feminist, unapologetic—are destroying our country when the opposite is true: These feminist patriots will save us.
These newly elected representatives have made and continue to make their power about the people. Their power to control the narrative is upheld by their combined over 7 million Twitter followers. Their power to break through the noise too often dominated by Mr. Trump is reinforced by their millions of supporters—constituents, and non-constituents alike. Perhaps most importantly, their power in their individual districts is demonstrated by their ability to raise voter turnout by historic margins. In 2018, Ilhan’s district had the sixth-highest turnout in the nation and Ayanna’s district saw the highest voter turnout in a nonpresidential election year in decades. Their power to bring a new audience excited about our democracy is solidified by how they show up every day and by the principles by which they lead. Their power is of, for, and by the people.
Mr. Trump’s message of hate is for a specific, narrow audience: the white patriarchy, embodied by the 193 representatives in the House who voted against condemning his racism at Tuesday evening’s floor vote. Charles Blow in the New York Times rightly said the “central framing of this kind of thinking is that this is a white country, founded and built by white men, and destined to be maintained as a white country. For anyone to be accepted as truly American they must assimilate and acquiesce to that narrative, to bow to that heritage and bend to those customs.”
But that’s a simple (not factual) narrative, and the numbers don’t add up. By 2046, the United States will be a majority minority country, and the ascension of women leaders has been on a steady incline. If we continue to accelerate the rate of electing women that we saw in 2018— and the cultural change that comes with it—we should reach gender parity in Congress in my lifetime.
The United States needs more feminist patriots running for office and winning. We need more women of color with power, wielding it for the betterment of all.
We need more Ilhans and Ayannas and Alexandrias and Rashidas, in both parties. We need more women whose ambition to reshape the United States is deeply rooted in their patriotism and whose leadership is led by their feminism.