Small Wins of 2016

Paulette Schuster (Harvard College Undergraduate)

Every day since November 9th more stories arise about Donald Trump appointing another ill-equipped advisor, acts of hate as Trump’s victory validated the prejudices from the country’s xenophobes, or some other event that demonstrates the absurdity of this man becoming president of the United States. This election has shaken me. In the spirit of positivity, I decided to find some small victories from the past few months. The 115th Congress is the most diverse in history. Don’t get me wrong; Trump’s win proves that our country still has a ways to go before we can truly say that all Americans have these unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our Declaration of Independence grants. The next for years will be an uphill battle to fight against the oppression of many communities. But don’t miss America’s little moments of progress.

1.    The Number of Women of Color will quadruple in the Senate

Tammy Duckworth, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Kamala Harris join Mazie Hariono on the senate floor. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) served two terms in the House of Representatives before moving to the Senate. She is the first congressperson born in Thailand and flew helicopters in Iraq. In November 2004, a rocket-propelled grenade struck her helicopter, resulting in the loss of both her legs. Duckworth is now a strong activist for veterans. Before joining the Senate, Duckworth inspired Americans everywhere as the first disabled women in the House of Representatives.

Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is the first woman to represent Nevada and the first Latina in history to serve in the Senate. She sits on five senate committees, including the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

Kamala Harris (D-CA) served as California’s Attorney General before becoming a senator. Harris carried all but two counties in California to win her Senate seat.  She is the first Indian-American person and the second African-American woman in the Senate. If you are a gun control advocate or a proponent of ensuring immigrants rights, Harris is your person.

Our work here is not done. The fact that having four female senators of color quadruples the amount of WoC in the senate is despicable. WoC make up almost 20% of the total population but merely 4% of the senate. But, we must also applaud these three accomplished women who persevered through many challenges to be in the 115th Congress. They are trailblazing the path for more minority women to join them in 2018.   

2.    The 115th Congress will have the most Hispanic, Asian and Black representation in history.

102 members of Congress identify as African-American, Hispanic, or Asian-American. Note that while this is incredible headway, our country still needs to make more progress to ensure that all races are represented in proportion to their population of the Unites States. If every ethnicity were represented in proportion to their US population, we would see 72 black or African-American instead of 49, 30 Asian congressmen instead of 15, and 95 Hispanic congressmen instead of 38. These numbers show that minorities receive about half their proportional representation in Congress. The minority population in the United States is only set to increase, so let’s also aim to increase their population in congress. 

3.    Adriano Espaillat, Stephanie Murphy, and Pramila Jaypal

Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), and Pramila Jaypal (WA-D) have made history this past election cycle. Espaillat is not only the first Dominican-American congressman in history, but also the first formerly undocumented immigrant. In a nation of growing anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against undocumented immigrants, Espaillat’s victory represents the strong contributions of immigrants to our country. Espaillat a strong advocate for documented and undocumented immigrants, supports making public colleges and universities free and creating tougher gun control regulations.

Stephanie Murphy is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and is the first Vietnamese-American Woman to sit in congress. Murphy works hard to support female entrepreneurship.

Pramila Jaypal (WA-D) is the first Asian American to represent Washington State in Congress, as well as the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives. Jaypal gained recognition from the White house as a “Champion of Change” for her work with OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy organization founded after September 11th.

4.    Although Congress will be majority Christian, the number of Hindu members will increase.

There are three new Hindu congressmen this year, bringing the total to four. This hits the mark of proportional representation in Congress, which is 4-5 congressmen who identify as Hindu.

In order to see proportional representation of religion in Congress, we will need to vote in more Muslim-Americans and to increase their representation from 2 to about 10 congressmen. Even as we bring Christian representation into proportion, we still need to ensure that all denominations are proportionally represented. The biggest change in religious diversity in Congress will be to add religiously non-affiliated (including atheist) congress members. Based on current population, this means having about 122 religiously non-affiliated Americans in Congress. Right now there is 1 congressperson religiously unaffiliated and 10 who do not know or refused to answer.   

Hopefully you have a fuller picture of some of the amazing new faces representing our country. I attempted to mention Republican diversity in Congress, given that they have a majority. Unfortunately, out of the two new Republican senators and the 27 new Republican Representatives none made groundbreaking advances in diversity.  Brian Mast (R-FL), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), and Liz Cheney (R-WY) should be noted, however, as newly elected Republican congressmen who break the mold of cis-straight white men. 

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