In last week’s midterm elections, Americans voted for change. More women than ever before will serve in the next Congress—over 120—as well as many groundbreaking progressive women of color.
Representation matters. Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household, I never imagined a world in which I would be represented by someone who looked like me. That might be because just over 50 years ago, Native Americans in New Mexico couldn’t vote. It also might be because when I was young, people didn’t even think girls could play sports, let alone run for office.
In electing so many women to Congress, Americans said no to the erosion of our democracy, to tyranny, and to the policies that hold us back by dividing us. We said yes to a government that actually reflects the beautiful diversity of our nation. We said yes to hearing from women, people of color, LBGTQ people, disabled people, and American Indian tribes.
Now, I hope little girls across America will be inspired by women like me and Sharice Davids—the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress, and women who understand struggle and are fiercer for it—and realize that they too can run for Congress.
With more diverse voices like mine and Sharice’s at the table, Congress will be more attuned to the problems so many Americans face.
I hear a great deal from fellow New Mexicans who face the same struggles we did: working full time but unable make ends meet, kids with fewer opportunities than their parents had, and striving for dignity in a world where the income gap is widening each day.
I think of my mother, a veteran and disabled, who is in danger of losing her access to Meals on Wheels, a service that delivers meals to people unable to obtain them on their own. I walk down the street in Albuquerque and see people who are homeless, often suffering from mental illness, and aren’t getting ahead despite what the Republicans say about our booming economy. Many Americans may have jobs, but often they don’t pay enough to cover rent, utilities, and groceries. Far too many New Mexicans—and Americans—are fighting to survive right now.
As someone who has dealt with economic hardship, I am committed to making the changes necessary for our country to become more equitable. And to do so, I believe we need to think big.
It starts with putting people before profits. We need a national universal paid family leave program that allows families to be together in the most important moments of our lives—from having a baby to caring for a dying parent.
We need early childhood education and child care provided to every child. Too many parents can’t afford daycare and pre-kindergarten. That can negatively impact parents’ ability to work and make it difficult for kids to catch up once they start kindergarten. That’s why I propose a universal federally funded, and state implemented, early childhood education program.
When my daughter Somah was young, I didn’t have much money. But I was fortunate to find a preschool where I could volunteer in exchange for lower tuition. I saw firsthand how an early childhood education shaped my daughter’s success.
Many members of Congress support American investment in and development of renewable energy. As a Native American woman, this fight is personal to me: My ancestral homelands are in danger of being destroyed by the fossil fuel industry. I have proudly stood with the water protectors at Standing Rock for a safer environment. One of my first priorities in Congress will be to fight for a Green New Deal, a congressional climate commission, and 100% renewable energy.
Medicare for All and a debt-free college education have already been rallying cries for Democrats. But we will now have a freshman class in Congress with members who understand what it means to face hunger or near-homelessness because of a medical emergency, student loans, or just not making enough money.
My struggle has made me fierce, and we all need to be a little fierce to get things done. Congress has never heard a voice like mine, but come 2019, it certainly will—and often.
Deb Haaland is the representative-elect for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District.