Women of Color Mark the Silver Lining in Bleak 2016 U.S. Election

Catherine Cortez Masto

Four women of color make their mark representing Democrats in the national and state legislatures. They are Kamala Harris from California and Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada, elected to the Senate; Pramila Jayapal from Seattle, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Each of these women have a remarkable background. Kamala Harris, born of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father grew up in the working class neighborhood of Oakland. Pramila Jayapal emigrated to the U.S. from India and has traveled globally to widen her activist foundational knowledge. Ilhan Omar, who lived in a Kenyan refugee camp as a young girl, has her ear to the ground regarding immigrant concerns. Cortez Masto, third generation Mexican-American, is conscious of the immigrant journeys of her grandparents.

What special issues do these women bring to the floor? Both Harris and Cortez Masto, as Attorneys General, have done much work with citizen rights in relation to law enforcement. Harris, especially, was unafraid of taking unorthodox positions to support citizen rights but at the same time negotiating better relations with police. She will also be strengthening her work on anti sex-trafficking legislation. Cortez Masto, outspoken about Donald Trump’s rhetoric of divisiveness and misogyny, can be counted on to work for equal pay for women, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, and against human trafficking: “My grandmother was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and my grandfather came from Chihuahua, Mexico. They came to this country and brought their young family here for the same reason many families do: to have a good job, work hard, have every opportunity to succeed, make sure your children get a good education, and you can’t forget that. If I forgot everything that my grandparents went through so that my sister and I could be the first ones in our family to graduate from college, that wouldn’t be right. We don’t close the door behind us.” Ilhan Omar, a community organizer, brings her awareness of social and environmental justice that affects many people, including immigrants, Native Americans and African Americans. Upon winning, Omar said, “I hope our story is an inspirational story to many people.” Along with ensuring that minority women entrepreneurs receive the help they need to succeed, Omar said her priorities would be “closing the opportunity gap in our educational system, working on criminal justice reform, taking on policing reform.” Pramila Jayapal, a child of India’s process of decolonization, has paid close attention to immigrant rights, refugee rights, the fight for fair wages, LGBT rights, women’s healthcare and equal pay. Having built ties with many groups in Seattle, she is in touch with the pulse of different communities’ concerns.

While many voters have been dispirited by the 2016 election results, reading about the backgrounds, issues, and policy concerns of these four women can prove energizing for many of us who want the country to move in the direction of peace and justice.

(Photo Credit: NBC News / Ethan Miller) (Video Credit: YouTube / Buzzfeed)

The work of mourning and struggle continue, and that work demands light

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar

“Mourning always follows a trauma . . . The work of mourning is not one kind of work among others. It is work itself, work in general.”
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: the State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International

“I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night …

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.”
Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem

We are in mourning today for the revelation of the chasm that has been there, been here, all along: white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, all held together by lies, hatred and violence. We are in mourning because the illusion of a just nation has been shown to be just that, an illusion. We are mourning because mourning always follows trauma, and we are each of us carrying bags of cement, not on our shoulders, but in our hearts and lungs and souls. And we are refusing to stay in bed. We are calling on the collective courage it takes to climb into the day.

So the news was bad yesterday, but the work continues, and that work demands light, and there is light, flickering, and not only that of millions of people already on the move because they have always been on the move. There is light coming from the very elections that have traumatized us.

Tammy Duckworth, an Asian American woman, was elected to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Kamala Harris, who identifies as both black and Indian-American, was elected to represent California in the United States Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is Latina, was elected to represent Nevada in the United States Senate. These three women of color will join Mazie Hirono, a Japanese American who represents Hawaii and was, until yesterday, the only woman of color in the Senate. When elected in 2006, Mazie Hirono was the first and only Asian-American woman senator and the first woman senator from Hawaii. Where there was one, now there are four.

And there’s more. The people of Washington’s 7th Congressional District elected Pramila Jayapal to the United States House of Representatives. Pramila Jayapal will be the first Indian-American will be the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. And in Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won a Minnesota House seat, making her the first Somali-American legislator in the history of the United States.

Yes, the news was bad, terrible even, yesterday, and dark clouds threaten intimate and structural violence, but they did not block out the sun. Candles continue to flicker, and good people continue to cast both rays of light and moving shadows. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” And Mary Harris Jones roars in response, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!”

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal


(Photo 1 Credit: Minnesota Public Radio) (Photo Credit 2: KUOW)