US Politics

The women working to shake up US politics


Rashida Tlaib wants to be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. Sharice Davids and Lupe Valdez want to be their state’s first Indigenous and Latina representatives. SBS News asks them, why now?

Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory is said to have turned a new wave of women on to politics in the US.

It got serious after the historic women’s march in 2017 and the potent #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, and last month it was revealed more than 40,000 Democratic women have expressed interest in running for office.

Women are filing their candidacies at congressional level and state-governor level, as well as other elected offices and seats, and more than a dozen states are still accepting new candidates for the US midterm elections in November.

While there are women from diverse backgrounds running for the Republicans - including native Hawaiian state governor hopeful Andria Tupola and Utah’s first black female Republican elected to Congress, Mia Love - the majority are running for the Democratic Party.

“I think it’s harder for Republican women to stand up,” Dr Dora Kingsley Vertenten, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California, told SBS News.

“It’s particularly hard for a woman to voice her opinion on issues that are very controversial today without also having to defend whether they support the party leadership.”  

Here are just some of the women running.

Rashida Tlaib

Race: House of Representatives (Democrat)

Rashida Tlaib
While there are two Muslim men in Congress, no Muslim woman has ever been elected federally. Former state representative Rashida Tlaib broke that ground in Michigan already, and will now try to do so in the House of Representatives.

The 42-year-old said Mr Trump’s election was like a “bat signal” for women everywhere.

“I want every young woman out there to know that you shouldn't be sitting around waiting for permission to run - men don't ask for permission - and instead you should be planting the seeds and building the relationships you need to win.”

You shouldn't be sitting around waiting for permission to run.

- Rashida Tlaib

She said the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the president’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries in June shows how “rigged” the current government is against people of colour and religious minorities.

“If Trump thinks his Muslim ban can keep me out of Congress, he’s got another thing coming … I’ll introduce legislation immediately and fight tirelessly to overturn the Muslim ban,” she told SBS News.

“The Trump administration will not wield its license to discriminate against immigrants at our borders on my watch.”

Ms Tlaib is vying to win the current race in Michigan’s 13th congressional district replacing Democrat John Conyers who recently resigned after more than 50 years.

“I want to show people of underrepresented races, religions, and identities that they belong here, that their voices are powerful, and that we can all impact our politics for the better.”

Sharice Davids

Race: House of Representatives (Democrat)

Sharice Davids
Kansas candidate Sharice Davids is hoping to become the first native woman elected to Congress.

The lawyer is a member of the Ho-Chunk nation - a Native American people - and if she wins Kansas's 3rd congressional district, would become the state’s first openly gay representative.

Ms Davids, 37, served as a White House fellow in Obama’s administration and says 2018 should be called “the year of the empowered woman”.

“I definitely feel a sense of pride that I’m a part of this movement. The idea that we might go from zero over the entire course of our country’s history, to multiple native women in office at the congressional level is overwhelming,” she told SBS News.

“There are a lot of people from diverse backgrounds … some identify as women and some don’t, and I think the more we embrace that … and we have all of those experiences at the table when decisions are being made, that to me is the part I’m most excited about.”

We’re ready ... and you’re not going to be able to tell us we’re not qualified.

- Sharice Davids

Ms Davids said a lot of the rhetoric in the 2016 election was rooted in sexism and this year’s election cycle is one of the key ways of addressing it.

“We’re ready. There’s so many of us that are lawyers and doctors and business women and you’re not going to be able to tell us that we’re not qualified, or that we are not experienced enough, or that we don’t understand issues deeply enough anymore,” she said.

Lupe Valdez

Race: Texas Governor (Democrat)

Lupe Valdez
Lupe Valdez, a four-term Dallas County sheriff, clinched the Democratic nomination for Texas Governor in May. If she wins in November she will be the state’s first Latina governor and first openly gay governor.

Ms Valdez, 70, said she keeps campaigning in the Latina neighbourhoods because she knows how hard it has been for the community:

“The Latina were so disrespected in the last session … if we don’t vote it’s going to continue to be like this. We’ve got to make a change and the change comes through to the vote.”

We’ve got to make a change.

- Lupe Valdez

“If somebody who is LGBT and Latina breaks the glass ceiling, all that says is ‘everybody welcome, it’s time for everybody’.”

Ms Valdez says she moved into state politics because she was frustrated that nothing was being done for the everyday Texan.

“Our current governor [Greg Abbott], I call him the Trump puppet, because whatever Trump wants he does … I think when we have more of the Democratic women in office his actions won’t be as strong because we will find a way to mellow them,” she said.

She says while many more women are running for office, it doesn’t mean it’s an easy road ahead.

“I’m hoping that a lot of the women will win but I don’t know that they will,” she said.

“But here’s what I do know; we will have pushed the attitude so far, whether we win or lose, that someone is going to have to start paying attention.”

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