The Squad: Who they are and why are they significant following the US 2020 Election?
Last Tuesday, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib secured their seats in the US House of Representatives for a second term. ‘The Squad’, as they’ve come to be known in Washington, are a crucial part of the US Democratic Party. The four women of colour have become prominent political figures as they represent and have rallied for marginalised and under-represented communities, while drawing the ire of the GOP and President Donald Trump for their progressive views. Trump and the Squad have clashed after racist tweets sent from the President in July 2019, telling the four women to “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.” They have clashed with Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi over racial division and criticised President Donald Trump for his administration’s immigration, climate change and criminal justice policies. The Squad represent a bold and progressive future for the Democratic Party, and have contributed to a revival of its progressive spirit.
Introducing The Squad
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made waves in the Democratic Party in 2019 when she became the youngest ever US congresswoman for New York. She was born in the Bronx to Puerto-Rican parents and worked as a community organiser and bartender before running for office. AOC has earned a reputation for her impassioned testimonies at congressional hearings and social media ‘clap-backs’ against Republicans on immigration, poverty and systemic racism. The Congresswoman has also been an instrumental sponsor of the Green New Deal, advocating for net-zero emissions targets for the US.
Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American legislator and one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress in the US, having previously served in Minnesota’s state legislature. Following her election, she drew praise for fighting to change a 181-year ban on headwear in the House, enabling her to wear a hijab for her oath of office. She has called for President Trump’s impeachment and passionately advocated for the rights of Palestinians, breaking with the more tactically conservative approach of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, on both matters. Since her tenure, she has been known for her progressive views on climate change, affordable healthcare, greater education accessibility and being an advocate for the protection of immigrants.
Rashida Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American woman and the other of the first two Muslim women, ever elected to serve in Congress. Since assuming office, Tlaib has been an outspoken critic of the President, supporting his impeachment and tweeting, unapologetically, to hold elected officials accountable. She has been an advocate for climate change and introduced the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, along with Pressley, to assist displaced individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Her Lift + Act bill also exemplifies the principle of universal guaranteed income that Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for 50 years ago.
Ayanna Pressley is the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Since assuming office, Pressley has been a strong advocate for abortion rights, protections for sexual assault victims and pushing to repeal an amendment that prevented Medicaid from covering abortions for low-income citizens. Pressley, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Barbara Lee of California’s 13th Congressional District, announced the Anti-racism in Public Health Act Bill in September, which aims to create a National Centre for Anti-Racism at the CDC to formally declare racism as a public health crisis. Pressley broke with mainstream diversity politics in 2019 when she said at a conference, “we don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.” Instead, “we need you to represent that voice.”
The squad understands that ‘diversity’ is meaningless if the measure of success is ‘sameness’. The congresswomen are choosing to do politics a different way because they recognise that Congress has never worked for their communities. These congresswomen represent the demands of a new generation of young activists who are immersed in their communities, and who are not afraid to speak truth to power. The Squad have pushed the limits of what diversity means in the Democratic Party, bringing the concerns of historically marginalised communities into the rooms where decisions are made and acting as the representatives for the political majority that their generation will become.
Erica Bell is a recent Bachelor of International Studies Honours graduate at the University of Wollongong, specialising in Asia-Pacific geoeconomics. Her interests include Asia-Pacific engagement, digital diplomacy and Australian foreign policy