This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the constitutional right to vote. Thanks to suffragists who tirelessly fought for equality, more than 68 million women vote in elections today, with college women being a crucial part of that number. As we approach the presidential election on November 3rd (which also happens to be my birthday), I’m reminded of the privilege we have as young women to make our voices heard.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in 2020, it’s that history can be made at any moment. This year, women are making waves in politics, from young changemakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Abby Finkenauer, and Ilhan Omar to Kamala Harris’ historic nomination for VP. Women of color are running for Congress at an all-time high, and even Barbie is encouraging young women to get involved in politics.
From advocating for LGBTQ+ rights to challenging the status quo in their hometowns, here are six powerhouse female candidates who are breaking barriers in the political realm. These young women will inspire you to cast your vote this November, or better yet, run for office someday.
- Nida Allam
First Muslim woman to hold public office in North Carolina
While studying at NC State University in 2015, tragedy struck Nida Allam’s community when her best friend Yusor Abu-Salha (along with Yusor’s sister Razan and husband Deah) were murdered in a hate crime that shook the world. Allam began organizing, and has been working to protect marginalized communities and fight injustice ever since.
Allam served as political director for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, was the first Muslim woman to be elected to Executive Council in North Carolina, and currently leads the Mayor’s Council for Women. This year, Allam is running for Durham County Commissioner to continue advocating for safe and healthy communities. As a fellow NC State alum and someone who grew up close to Durham, it’s exciting to see how candidates like Allam are inspiring positive change for the community.
- Francesca Hong
Could become the first Asian American member of Wisconsin legislature
As a mom, restaurateur, business owner, and community organizer, Francesca Hong does it all. The Korean-American candidate started working in the service industry as a dishwasher, and eventually worked her way up to server, executive chef, and finally, restaurant owner. She’s the founder of the Culinary Ladies Collective and Cook it Forward, an initiative to help tackle food insecurity in Madison, WI.
Hong felt driven to action after witnessing the harsh impacts of the pandemic on family businesses and service workers. This year, she’s running for Wisconsin State Assembly where she aims to address racial equity, labor rights, and a long-term COVID-19 recovery plan. If elected, she’ll become the first Asian American member of the Wisconsin legislature.
- Desiree Tims
Could become the first Black woman elected to Ohio’s 10th Congressional District
On May 25, 2019, white supremacists gathered in Desiree Tims’ hometown in Dayton, Ohio. Days after the rally, 15 tornadoes swept through the town. Later that summer, a mass shooting took place at a Dayton nightclub, not far from where Tims was celebrating her decision to run for Congress.
Shocked by the tragedies of that summer in Dayton, Tims felt called to action. She won the Democratic primary in April 2020, and will compete against longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Turner in November. Her district has never elected a Black member or a woman to Congress, and if Tims wins in November, she’ll make history as the first. She recently told Forbes, “People are ready for women. People are ready for Black women, and people are ready for change.”
- Mari Manoogian
First Armenian-American woman to serve in Michigan House of Representatives
You may recognize this candidate from the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where she was invited to help deliver the keynote address alongside 16 other rising stars. A graduate of George Washington University, Mari Manoogian is the first Armenian woman and youngest member to serve in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Manoogian felt inspired to run for office after discovering that Michigan was lacking in female representation at the state level. Prior to launching her political career, she assisted former Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations and worked alongside foreign and civil servants at the U.S. State Department. This year, she’s on a mission to fight maternal mortality, protect the environment, and advocate for safe, inclusive communities.
- Jessica Cisneros
Made history after challenging 15-year incumbent in South Texas
Earlier this year, Jessica Cisneros stepped into the political arena to challenge Congressman Henry Cuellar, a longtime incumbent in South Texas, posing a historic political challenge and earning her a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. After a close race, the immigration lawyer and daughter of Mexican immigrants came shockingly close to being the youngest woman elected to Congress in American history.
Although she wasn’t elected this time around, the University of Texas at Austin law graduate inspired hope in thousands of South Texans, rallying voters of all ages and inspiring fellow fronterizas — people who grew up near the border — to fight for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. With support from big names like Senator Elizabeth Warren and AOC (who said she’d be thrilled to hand off the “youngest woman in Congress” title to Cisneros), I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of her very soon.
- Mauree Turner
Could become the first Muslim member to serve in Oklahoma legislature
With the motto “Nothing About Us Without Us,” Mauree Turner (she/they) is a Black, queer, Muslim community organizer running for Oklahoma State House of Representatives. If elected, they’ll be the first Muslim person to serve in Oklahoma’s state legislature.
Passionate about LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom, and cultural sensitivity, Turner grew up going to advocacy conferences with their mom, believing they had the power to change the world for the better. Turner notes on their campaign website, “There has never been a more important time for the next generation to see themselves in our government. I’m running to fight for criminal justice reform, healthcare access, and public education. Not just in an election year, but every day.”
The women above are just a few of the remarkable candidates making history this year. There’s Jackie Fielder, the Native American, Latina, queer educator and organizer running for California state senate. And Yassamin Ansari, the 28-year-old climate activist and advisor to the UN running for election in Phoenix, Arizona.
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, your vote matters now more than ever, in the presidential election and beyond. Whether you’re brand new to politics or want to learn how to spark important conversations among family and friends, look no further than the young female candidates of today. They inspire us to think bigger, dream bigger, and believe in our ability to raise our voices for a more just society, country, and world.