When it comes to female leadership and women’s empowerment, we often think of Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Malala Yousafzai. But there is a new generation of inspiring female leaders and particularly in the male-dominated field of politics who are shaking things up and providing plenty of hope for what our future could look like.
They are brilliant, they are resilient, they have plans to unite their country and they deserve the spotlight.
Young women can’t model what they don’t see, so it’s important we lift up incredible women in the field of politics aiming to break glass ceilings and are challenging the status quo. Here are a few of the remarkable female political leaders in the US that you should know about:
1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
At just 28 years old, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the youngest nominees for Congress and should she win, would make history by becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the US House Of Representatives.
A rising star in the Democratic Party who identifies as a ‘Progressive Democrat’ and ‘Democratic Socialist’, Ocasio-Cortez, a Bronx-based educator and activist, won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District massively defeating a more experienced Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley, on a grassroots campaign entirely people-funded.
Ocasio-Cortez accepts no money from corporate lobbyists. She and her team have raised $860,906 and spent $543,570 compared with Crowley who spent $3.4 million on his failed campaign.
Having graduated from Boston University studying economics and international relations, her political experience began while working with Ted Kennedy. She then became a campaign organiser for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. However, it was being at the frontlines of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock that transformed her political activism to a personal political mission, which led her to run for office.
A champion for the working class, in an interview with TV program The View, she was asked whether she thought the future of the Democratic Party is socialism, to which she answered:
“First of all, there’s a huge difference between socialism and democratic socialism. Democratic Socialism is, what that boils down to me is the basic belief that I believe that in a moral and wealthy America, in a moral and modern America, no person should be too poor to live in this country. That is what I believe.”
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2. Kamala D. Harris
Kamala D. Harris is a US Senator for California, only the third woman ever to be elected in California’s history. She is a member of the Democratic Party and, according to her website, has been a lifelong public safety and civil rights leader, fighting for justice and giving a voice to the voiceless.
Harris, a graduate of Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. She made history by becoming the first black woman to serve as Attorney General of the state of California, and only the second to be elected to the US Senate. She is also the first Indian-American and the first biracial woman ever to serve in the US Senate.
The United States has become increasingly polarised and politically divided, and in conversation with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show the Senator shared how to handle it:
“We have to be joyful warriors. I decided that at the end of last year, there was so much that was just creating anxiety and depression and anger. And I was like, I’m done with that. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t think any of us do. And let’s just go into 2018 and just be joyful warriors.
“There’s so many things that are happening right now where people are taking to the streets. And we have to remember, it’s not about fighting against something. It’s about fighting for something. And it is fighting with a spirit of love and country. And that’s really important to remember. We love our country. And part of being a patriot, love of country, is about fighting for the ideals of our country, fighting for the best of who we are.”
3. Ilhan Omar
Another rising star in the Democratic Pary, Ilhan Omar, a political science graduate from North Dakota State University, was elected without accepting any corporate lobbyist funds, winning a seat in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Not bad for a woman who arrived in the United States not being able to speak English. If campaigning goes well, she will become the first Somalian American and one of the first Muslim women ever elected to the United States Congress.
Omar is a “proud Democratic Socialist” and the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network which empowers “all women, and particularly first and second generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders”. She is also a mother of three and a former refugee from Somalia. She arrived in the US at the age of 12 after her family had spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing civil war.
“In my last race, I talked about what my win would have meant for that 8-year-old girl in that refugee camp,” Omar shared in her congressional victory speech. “And today, I still think about her and I think about the kind of hope and optimism all of those 8-year-olds around the country and around the world get from seeing your beautiful faces elect and believe in someone like me.”
Omar has already made history by becoming the first woman to wear a headscarf ever elected to the US Congress.
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4. Pearl Kim
Running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s Fifth District is Korean American Pearl Kim, who formerly worked as Assistant District Attorney and Chief of Human Trafficking and Senior Deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania prior to running for Congress as a representative of the Republican Party. If she wins, Kim would become the first woman of colour ever to be elected in Pennsylvania; all the more astonishing since there are no female representatives currently holding seats in the state.
Appearing on CNN’s The Van Jones Show, Kim, herself a sexual assault survivor, shares: “I was able to implement criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania and was able to secure the first human trafficking conviction in the state, working with legislators from both parties to expand protections for victims and was able to secure the first human trafficking conviction under the new legislation.”
On the show, Kim admits that she’s receiving no financial support from the Republican Party. “I put in, in essence, my life savings. I left my job with no wink-wink you can get a job when you come back. I am all in this race. I’m here to break into the establishment, shatter some glass ceilings and I am unbossed and unbought.”
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When asked about being spotted retweeting at John McCain’s funeral, the tweets of critics of her party’s leader Donald Trump, the former prosecutor replies: “This is why I’m running. I’m so frustrated with Washington, I’m frustrated with the rhetoric coming out of Washington, the inaction and that politicians can’t work across the aisle for the common good. I’ve had a history with working with both Republicans and Democrats for the common good and I’m so frustrated with our political climate right now and this is the reason I am running.”
5. Rashida Tlaib
Progressive Democrat Rashida Tlaib, ex-lawyer, politician and mother of two, is the nominee for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. She is running unopposed and is expected to become the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress — and the first Palestinian-American woman — to hold national office.
The daughter of Palestinian immigrants and the eldest of 14 children, Tlaib graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2004 and started her political career that same year when she interned for State Representative Steve Tobocman. She then went on to become the first Muslim American woman to serve in the Michigan state Legislature. This year has seen a record number of Muslims running for local, state and national office, more than 90 and mostly Democrat, according to the New York Times.
Specifically asked about running for office, Tlaib shares this during her CBS interview: “I felt a tremendous need to get into the ring rather than sit on the sidelines. I always tell people, in some ways, Trump being elected President of the United States was kind of like that bat signal for many women across the country, not just Muslim women, but women from all backgrounds and it was a call to say we have to act and that’s why so many women are running for office.”
Tlaib is a champion for the working class, aligns with the left wing of the Democratic Party and like fellow Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar identifies with being a Democratic Socialist.
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Title image of Senator Harris at Save Our Care Rally at US Capital in 2017. Credit: Flickr.