These days, when Barack Obama speaks the majority of Americans perk up and listen. Since the end of his presidency, Obama’s public presence has curtailed dramatically— often to the chagrin of many citizens who not only supported his policy but also genuinely enjoyed his many charming idiosyncrasies.
After an extended period of silence from Obama’s camp, despite continued uncharacteristic historical moments during President Trump’s first year in office, this past July Obama broke his silence in a speech at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Men have been getting on my nerves lately,” Obama said, immediately sparking headlines worldwide. “Everyday I read the newspaper and just think like ‘Brothers, what’s wrong with you guys? What’s wrong with us? We’re violent, we’re bullying. Just not handling our business. I think empowering more women on the continent, that… is going to lead to some better policies.”
Just like that Obama offered his own endorsement of sorts for women to step into more leadership positions and perhaps, save the world. Throughout the summer, the country has seen a record-breaking number of women who— even before Obama’s plea—answered the call to serve their communities and country at large by running for office during the 2018 midterm elections.
According to a detailed report in the New Yorker, 472 women entered the race for the House and 57 women filed candidacies for the Senate— almost double the number of women who ran in 2012. The number of women running for governor is at a record high: 78. And many of them are winning.
Some of the marquee winners who have reinvigorated the Democratic party include three women of color who arguably shocked the nation with historic upsets: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York nominee for the House), Stacey Abrams (Georgia nominee for Governor), and Ayanna Presley (Massachusetts nominee for the House).
The nominations of these three women alone sent shock waves across the country, as many of the least politically inclined citizens found themselves reinvigorated and optimistic about the future politics— especially since these candidates appear increasingly less political and more rooted in the communities they claim to serve.
“With midterms, you have an expectation that the elected officials will actually create the change we can see with tangible effects in our community,” said Karina Quinn, a millennial Latina voter from California told HipLatina. “So you want to vote for someone you can get behind and who understands not just the big-ticket issues, but your community’s specific issues. That can be daunting for citizens who see little to no Latinx representation in elections, even though we are a huge portion of the American population. We need to keep encouraging women to represent their communities if they don’t see a candidate that looks like them.”
For many, Ocasio-Cortez, Abrams, and Pressley are exactly that— women of the community who are deeply connected to community issues. That is also, presumably, how they won their campaigns. Each of the three women ran on platforms that made it crystal clear that they were not interested in winning over the block of White Boomers— who make up 85% of high-propensity voters (or those who are most likely to cast a ballot in 2018). Instead, they focused on building up a new block of voters centered around members of their own communities with issues they understand intrinsically and intimately.
For example, in an unprecedented move for a gubernatorial candidate, Abrams penned an April op-ed in Fortune magazine in which she admitted to her six-figure debt— more than $200,000— and called out the role that race and gender play in putting many Americans at a financial disadvantage.
She noted, “in 2013, the average wealth per U.S. household was $81,000. But dig into the numbers and a clearer picture appears: White families averaged $142,000 in wealth, Latinx households came in at $13,700, and black families brought up the rear at $11,000.” She went on to point out how Black women and Latinas make only 60% of what their white male counterparts earn. Her rallying cry to those women: “fight like hell.”
Ocasio-Cortez, after winning her primary, continues to speak directly to the community from which she comes. After a series of concerning tweets in which President Donald Trump suggested the reported death toll in Puerto Rico was “fake news,” Ocasio-Cortez fired back demanding the island receive the long overdue support it deserves.
My own grandfather died in the aftermath of the storm. Uncounted.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans have similar stories. They have lost children, friends, & family members.
Instead of finger-pointing, INVEST in the Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico + just transition to renewable energy. https://t.co/ncukYyJsRu
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2018
This type of wholehearted and raw support for black and brown communities that have long been overlooked continues to drive voter involvement and galvanize a community of people who have historically been considered low-propensity, disengaged voters.
After being named the Democratic candidate in Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley explained her win and possibly the victories of those who came before her in other states throughout the country.
“People feel seen and heard for the first time in their lives, a stakehold in democracy and a promise for our future. That is the real victory, that is bigger than any electoral victory,” she said.
As women continue to press forward in pursuit of leadership roles throughout our country, we may continue to see a more connected approach that speaks directly to the issues that truly affect our communities. Because so far, that approach has been working to their advantage.