After two years of divisive political rhetoric and policies that have hurt the very Americans that so many women ran this year to protect, it comes as a refreshing surprise that our government can, and is, changing.
The resounding narrative that emerged from Tuesday night’s election was women. Women ran and won in historic numbers and will fundamentally change our government at all levels. At the federal level, women led the way for Democrats to take back the U.S. House of Representatives. For the first time in history, more than 100 women have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. And in 2019, there will be more women serving in Congress than ever before. Women will also be entering our state legislatures in 2019 by the hundreds and local office by the thousands, helping to shape our country’s policies at all levels of government.
But it’s not just the outcome of last Tuesday’s election that will fundamentally change the way we conduct politics in this country. Women running this year also changed the way that we are campaigning in this country. Earlier this year, the Federal Elections Commission ruled that federal candidates could use campaign funds to pay for child care expenses due to time spent running for office. This decision was made after a woman running for Congress in New York petitioned the FEC for a ruling. That decision was followed by a string of others at the state and local level. For women candidates, many of whom are the primary caregivers for their children, this decision eliminated a huge barrier.
This trend of women supporting each other on the campaign trail was on clear display from the women who flipped seats in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 and continued into this year. Some of the women who won in Virginia last year hosted joint election night parties to celebrate their wins, then worked very closely to pass historic Medicaid expansion in the state. This year, several Emerge alums running for the Pennsylvania State Legislature in nearby districts shared office space and others worked together on a field plan that allowed them to cover more ground, share volunteers and pool resources. Most of those women won on Nov. 6, which could lay out a blueprint for others to do the same in the future.
Another visible change that Americans will see in their decision-making bodies all the way from the halls of Congress to the state capitals and city halls is the rise of women of color as candidates. This year, one-third of the women nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives were women of color, the highest it’s ever been. Voters elected the first ever Muslim women and the first Native American women to Congress. Texas will have its very first Latina Members of Congress. And Arizona and Tennessee will have their first women Senators. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finkenauer will become the youngest women ever elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley will be Massachusetts’ first Black Congresswoman and Jahana Hayes will be Connecticut’s first Black Congresswoman. Maine and South Dakota also elected their first women governors. Record-breaking numbers of women also faced off against women opponents, and there were a number of high-profile races featuring two women candidates in places like Washington, Nebraska, Arizona and Wisconsin. Soon, two women running against each other may not be an anomaly, but the norm.
The lessons of this year will better inform how we can recruit women of all backgrounds in rural areas, cities, suburbs and in every region of our nation. This election is the motivating force we need to keep our movement going strong. As we continue to invest in women candidates at the top and bottom of the ticket, we’ll do so knowing that these women are our chance for change.
Gender parity in our government will not happen overnight—one election can bring us significantly closer, but it won’t fix centuries of the deck being stacked against women and people of color. We have a challenge ahead, that of rebuilding a democracy that so many have lost faith in, of reimagining what leaders can look like and how they should act.
This week, we proved ourselves. In the next election, we’ll surpass the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Why? Because that’s just what women do.