Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the internet by storm last week with an Instagram photo captioned with just one word: “Squad.” The post went viral, receiving nearly 190,000 likes and appearing in countless post-election stories, tweets and posts.
They used to say a picture is worth 1,000 words. But in today’s 24/7 news cycle, it’s worth hundreds of thousands. Ocasio-Cortez’s caption summed up the future we’ve been fighting for: a government made up of diverse women, who reflect the communities they represent. Women who have run as they are, and women who won as they are.
I’m thrilled that this photo is being recognized as #SquadGoals because that is exactly what women bring to democracy. They band together to lift each other up, break barriers and get things done. Figuratively and literally, this diverse squad–Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley–finally has seat at the table. These women represent the future of women’s leadership and a new era for women in politics and government. They give us hope that gender, age, religion and race are no longer barriers to holding a position of power in our democracy.
But the story behind that viral photo goes much deeper. These women did not come together to sit at this table by chance; they gathered to share their expertise and inspire more women from all backgrounds to run for office as part of a national town hall hosted by VoteRunLead on November 12. These women were part of a radical conversation at the Women and Power town hall, stepping out of their first day of orientation in Washington, D.C., to join us. They covered everything from voting rights and immigration to environmental justice, income inequality and health care, and shared what they have in common, how they each feel about being labeled “one of the first” and the change they hope to create. (You can watch the entire event here.)
This squad is part of a rising wave for change. Three thousand women ran for office this year, and one-third of the female nominees for the House were women of color–the highest number ever. History-makers include Kyrsten Sinema, who became the first openly bisexual senator; Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women elected to Congress; and Lauren Underwood, the youngest Black woman elected to Congress and a VoteRunLead alumna. They also celebrated historic victories in down-ballot races across the country, including alumnae Gerri Cannon and Brianna Titon, two of the three openly transgender women elected to State Houses this year, and 12 VoteRunLead alumnae taking over the Colorado House and Senate.
Even our losses show just have far we’ve come. Game-changers like Stacey Abrams, who was robbed of becoming the first Black governor of any state in the country; or veteran alums Kim Olson, who ran to be the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, and Eve Hurwitz, who ran for the Maryland State Senate.
Member-elect Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and a VoteRunLead alumna, said it best during the Town Hall: “This election has been about us fully creating an unapologetic invitation for people to participate in our democracy.”
For 15 years, VoteRunLead has empowered women to run for office as they are and build a campaign based on their own passion, ideas and values. We remain committed to turning this historical moment into a long-term political movement.
Whether you are young or old; gay, bisexual or transgender; Black, LatinX, Native American, Muslim or Asian; Republican or Democrat–we’re more determined than ever before to empower women to run for office, win and lead. Because those are #SquadGoals we all should have.
Watch the Ms. LIVE Q&A with Erin Vilardi of VoteRunLead to hear more about the impact of women in politics, the energy on the ground leading into the midterms and her very own Ms. story. (And follow Ms. on Facebook to get a notification next time we go live!)