Women’s History Month:
Women of Color Make History

Meanwhile, in politics, women are making headlines. Nancy Pelosi just captured the hearts of many of us when she stood firmly, and emphatically, refusing to buckle on her stance about the border wall. And the new Freshman class in Congress is brimming with fresh faces, many of them women of color, including the first Native American and Muslim congresswomen. The New York Times reports,

“Women led the way to victory for House Democrats. They won more than 60 percent of the seats that Democrats flipped in what some termed the “Year of the Woman…. A historic number of women — from pediatricians to business executives to a former cabinet secretary — were elected to Congress.”

Here are some other notable details:

  • A few of the freshmen-elect are also the first African-American women to be elected by their states, joining others already in congress, including the ever-voluble Maxine Waters. Since 1964, when Patsy Mink of Hawaii became the first Asian-Pacific-American woman elected to Congress, over 70 women of color have been elected.
  • Shirley Chisholm of New York joined Congress in 1968 and later became to first woman to run for President, as well as the first African American.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has made the biggest splash of all the new faces in Washington. She represents a district in the Bronx  whose seat has long been held by a moderate democrat, and her primary upset of this congressman made national news. She has made no secret of the fact that she wants to challenge just the kind of complacent liberalism that Dr. King was referring to in his remarks about New York politics. Since her arrival in the capitol in January, “AOC” (as she is now called by the press) has continued to make headlines.

Last week, as a new member of the House Oversight committee, Ocasio-Cortez made news simply by doing her job. The young congressman, interviewing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, refrained from political grandstanding, unlike many other committee members. Instead, she pursued a legalistic line of questioning, asking about issues like insurance fraud and pressing for details. She was engaging in oversight, just as she was charged to do. The New York Times said she “won” the hearing:

“These questions were not random, but, rather, well thought out. Like a good prosecutor, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was establishing the factual basis for further committee investigation. She asked one question at a time, avoided long-winded speeches on why she was asking the question, and listened carefully to his answer, which gave her the basis for a follow-up inquiry. As a result, Mr. Cohen gave specific answers about Mr. Trump’s shady practices, along with a road map for how to find out more. Mr. Cohen began his testimony calling Mr. Trump a “con man and a cheat”; In just five minutes, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually helped him lay out the facts to substantiate those charges.”

Another newly elected woman of color also made a strong impression at the hearing. Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, challenged Rep. Mark Meadows, a republican, who brought an African American woman who works for, and is friendly with, the President, onto the hearing floor as evidence that Mr. Trump is not a racist. Congresswoman Tlaib, a Muslim, called it racist to “actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee.” Rep. Meadows exploded with anger accusing his colleague of calling him racist. Chairman Cummings acted quickly to diffuse the situation and the hearing continued.

Two other committee members have been praised for their probing questions, Jackie Speier and Katie Hill, both California women.  There’s no doubt, though, that female members of Congress are off to a running start and are likely to continue to make history. Women have long been given less attention and credit for their achievements, especially women of color. The New York Times has been publishing, over the course of the last year, obituaries of prominent women that didn’t make it into the paper at the time of their death. The series is entitled “Overlooked No More.” We can be certain that our new congresswomen will not let themselves be overlooked.

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