Women of Color: Running for Office and Breaking New Ground

All over the country, women with no previous interest in politics are stepping into the ring. Roused by the 2016 election and the #MeToo movement, an unprecedented number of women have filed to compete in this year’s congressional and gubernatorial races.

Deb Haaland, 57, is one of these women. On June 5th, the Native American community activist defeated two opponents in a primary bid to represent her New Mexico district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her upset rattled the political establishment of Anglo and Hispanic politicians that have long held sway in New Mexico.

If Haaland wins (which she is poised to do), she will be the first Native American woman ever to serve in Congress. A member of Laguna Pueblo, Haaland is a lawyer who has been a longtime activist in the tribal community as well as in local Democratic politics. She chaired the state Democratic Party for two years and was the Native American vote director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

When she was 34, Haaland became a single mother, raising her daughter at times with the assistance of food stamps and government aid. While in high school, Haaland’s daughter came out to her. She became an advocate for LGBTQ rights, helping to pass a ban on conversion therapy in New Mexico. “As the mother of a lesbian daughter,” she has said, “I am thrilled to know that her future is free from barriers to marry whomever she wishes.”

As a member of Congress, Haaland would be a champion for the environment. Stewardship of the land is key for the Pueblo as it is for all Native Americans. Haaland opposes the current policy of whittling away national parks and monuments. In Congress, Haaland would promote renewable energies and battle fracking. “It scares me that climate change is ruining our planet, that ice sheets are breaking off of Antarctica, that permafrost is melting in Alaska,” she says.

Haaland is among a cadre of women breaking new ground. Across the United States, more than 300 women are running for U.S. House seats in 2018 — a record number.

Many other “firsts” abound. Another dynamic woman of color, the political neophyte Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, is considered almost certain to win her district in New York City. If she does, she will be the youngest person ever elected to Congress. Ocasio-Cortez emerged from obscurity, commanding national attention when she overturned the powerful New York Democratic machine by ending the career of Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), a 20-year veteran in Congress. Crowley would have been fourth in line for the Speakership, if the Democrats won the House majority in November.

The new political rockstar Ocasio-Cortez benefitted from the demographic changes in her district, but her astounding win is attributed to her personal charisma and embrace of progressive causes. Ocasio-Cortez told “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert she believes that “In a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live,” and “No person should be homeless.” Healthcare is a human right, she said, and “Every child, regardless of birthplace, should have access to college or trade school education.”

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