No more Politics as Usual

Photo credit: Tony Webster

Celebrate, then hate. That’s been the cycle for the most outspoken newly elected Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar — all of them are women of color refusing to be silenced or to do what they are told. Widely celebrated by the media and House Democratic leadership for their record-breaking wins, they are now under constant scrutiny and stand one tweet away from being slapped on the hand and publicly reprimanded.

Neither of the three need an introduction, but as a reminder, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest Congress member and a widely followed social media star whose first weeks in Congress have shown her to be brilliant, engaging and calm in the face of constant attacks. Rep. Tlaib, elected from Michigan and one of two Muslim Americans elected to Congress in 2018, created controversy on the first day of her term by calling to impeach the motherf***er (Donald Trump) and is now being questioned for what some believe to be a hasty introduction of an impeachment resolution. But most recently, Rep. Omar has been the most vilified for comments deemed by some to be anti-Semitic.

On Thursday, March 7, after public statements and private conversations by and among Democratic congress members, the House passed a resolution that condemns anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy. In announcing a resolution that would go beyond addressing anti-Semitism, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Rep. Omar didn’t “understand the full weight of her words.”

At a press conference, Rep. Pelosi implied that Rep. Omar’s “enthusiasm” as an advocate is not appropriate for a Congressperson. The Speaker goes on to cite her time carrying signs and pushing a stroller during marches and rallies as a thing of the past, and again implies that her activist behavior had to change when she became a Congresswoman. For a leader like Pelosi, who has had her share of battles with the status quo, calling out her newer colleagues seems tone deaf and out of step with the growing number of voters who are tired of elected officials’ speaking in pre-approved sound bites.

I am not alone in being grateful for advocates like Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib who come in to Congress with their “full enthusiasm.” We should hope that never changes. We don’t need our leaders to become watered down versions of themselves in order to keep getting elected. We don’t need our leaders to make compromises from Day 1 to ensure that they don’t ruffle feathers and are seen as deferential. We don’t need leaders who lack the moral courage to stand up for injustices today because of potential gain tomorrow. We’ve seen the results, or lack thereof, that brings and the status quo it creates. No thanks.

Whoever they were before they became Congresswomen, today they have the same status as any other Congressperson. The people they are and the values and ideas they represent got them elected into Congress. To dress one of them down, because she is an easier target than a white male (looking at you Steve King) is not only insulting to the individual but to the communities who identify with her and trust her to represent them and their values on the issues she is fighting for.

We’re in a unique moment in our political history, in which the Democratic party is struggling to embrace new voices while it attempts to hold on to old practices. New leaders like Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib are not asking for a seat at the table. They are taking it. They’re not raising their hand and asking to speak. They’re just calling like it is. They’re not playing the game by the old rules, but reminding us that it’s time for the rules to change.