Women in Washington & How They Inspire Us

I was recently asked to name a few words that come to mind when I hear the word “politics.” Almost immediately, the words I thought of included “conflict”, “media”, “bureaucracy”, and “pantsuits”. As you can see, these words are not necessarily positive nor inspiring; however, I am sure yours weren’t far off. They don’t represent what politics is intended to be, nor do they recognize all the good that can come from it. In our current political climate, however, it seems almost impossible to associate politics with positive thoughts, and I think that’s quite a shame. The truth is we all need a break from the slander and negativity we see across our screens all day. Therefore, I think it’d be beneficial to take a moment and reflect on the lives and careers of some of the most iconic women in Washington as an inspiring reminder of their relatability, strength, and resiliency and to acknowledge that their traits are those we too possess as women. Maybe, this reflection can give us the courage to recognize and access our capabilities to the fullest extent; anything less would surely be doing ourselves a great disservice. Therefore, I compiled a list of three of my favorite women in Washington, their stories, and how other young women around the country can learn from them.

  1. 1. Eleanor Roosevelt

    “When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

     

    Eleanor Roosevelt was a shy girl. Her childhood was characterized by tragedy, as she lost her mother at age 8 and her father at age 10, having been left to be raised by her grandmother. However, Eleanor’s life as a whole was characterized by much more than her loss. Her proactive enthusiasm for equity and peace was woven throughout her words and actions, and today she’s often regarded as one of the best First Ladies the United States has ever had. When her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, took office as president in 1933, Eleanor decided that she’d transform the role of First Lady into more than simply planning dinner parties. She refused to remain submissive in her new-found role, realizing all she had to bring to the table and her ability to effect change. Throughout her husband’s presidency, Eleanor was an ardent advocate for international human rights, racial equality, and humanitarian public policy. She refused to sit back and seek contentment with the moral pitfalls of the world. After her husband’s death in 1902, Eleanor remained active in public service and was even appointed by President Harry Truman to the United Nations General Assembly. Eventually, Eleanor became chair of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission and was largely involved in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is just one example of the large impact Eleanor was able to make on international public policy regardless of the back-seat role the First Lady of the United States traditionally adheres to. It’s disheartening to know that Eleanor’s accomplishments go largely unrecognized in this country today. In classrooms, we study chapters upon chapters of her husband’s undeniably remarkable accomplishments during his presidency, but not much about her own. This is also what is so great about her: Eleanor’s resilience, intelligence, compassion and motivations didn’t seek approval nor praise. Instead, she found contentment knowing that she was utilizing her gifts to make the world a better place, and that’s all the more satisfying.

  2. 2. Elizabeth Warren

    “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.  And so it is important that we have women in the United States Senate—strong women, women who are there to help advance an agenda that is important to women.” – Elizabeth Warren

     

    Elizabeth Warren has recently been dubbed by TIME magazine as a “New Sheriff of Wall Street.” While this title seems intimidating, Elizabeth actually comes from quite humble beginnings. Growing up as the daughter of a maintenance man and a catalog-order worker, Elizabeth’s family didn’t make much money. This economic burden caused Elizabeth to have to take a job as a server at the age of 13. However, the weight of her family’s financial burden didn’t stop her from aiming high in her pursuit of a quality education. In her mid-60s, Elizabeth earned a debate scholarship to George Washington University and ended up graduating from the University of Houston in 1970. She then worked as a special education teacher before earning a law degree from Rutgers University and eventually working as a law professor at Harvard University. As one can tell, Warren was a major proponent for women’s education, and she refused to let the inequities of society and her economic circumstances deter her from receiving multiple degrees as a woman in the 60’s. For much of her career, Warren committed to solving the fragile financial problems that Americans face, especially regarding women and children. She even wrote several books and testified before several congressional committees regarding the matter. In 2012, Elizabeth successfully ran for the U.S. Senate and became the first female senator from Massachusetts. She soon developed a reputation for aggressively questioning cabinet nominees and refusing to swallow the arguments she knew were worthy of attention and respect. In 2017, Elizabeth read a letter written by civil rights activist Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor in opposition to Jeff Sessions’ nomination to federal judgeship. The letter included concerns regarding voter suppression of African Americans in the South and was also read on the Senate floor by King herself in 1986. In the middle of Warren’s opposition, she was silenced for violating a rarely used rule prohibiting the impugning of other senator’s motives. Despite the unfairness or embarrassment she may have felt, Warren refused to be silenced. Instead, she re-read this letter right outside the Senate chambers during a Facebook live video, later stating, “They can shut me up, but they can’t change the truth.” Despite the painfully real expectation that women should accept timidity and refrain from conflict, Warren refuses to let anyone strip her of her passion, speech and convictions. She has proven to be fiercely committed to her strides for economic and social equity, and ferociously unapologetic in herself.

  3. 3. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    “Mentors of mine were under a big pressure to minimize their femininity to make it.  I’m not going to do that. That takes away my power.  I’m not going to compromise who I am.” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

     

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a.k.a. AOC) is a young, fiery senior Congresswoman known for her quick-witted remarks, lively social media presence, and ability to rock a red lip better than anyone in the game. Ocasio-Cortez currently represents New York’s 14th congressional district in the House of Representatives; however, just 3 years ago, she was a waitress and bartender at a restaurant in New York’s Union Square. Born into a Puerto Rican family, Ocasio-Cortez grew up with her mother, father and younger brother in an apartment in the Bronx. She graduated from Boston University cum laude with a double major in International Relations and Economics. Her father tragically passed away from lung cancer her sophomore year of college. Upon graduating, Ocasio-Cortez took a job as a waitress and bartender to help her mother avoid foreclosure of their home. Despite the financial stress she was under, Ocasio-Cortez made time to work as a political organizer, travelling around the country and learning first-hand of national tragedies such as the Flint Michigan water crisis and the Dakota Access pipeline. In 2018, she decided to jump at the opportunity to effect change in the country and began her campaign for the House of Representatives against 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley. Her campaign was characterized by its fully grassroots methods and refusal to take donations from corporations, resulting in a victory over Crowley by almost 15 points. While there was significant national light shed on this election, a large portion of it was negative, thus beginning Ocasio-Cortez’s constant battle with unprecedented amounts of criticism that continues today. Despite these obstacles, she went right to work. (Not without first posting a video of her dancing outside her new office in the Capitol, of course). Ocasio-Cortez utilized her national spotlight by bringing attention to issues such as the unaffordability of college, climate change, immigration policy, and health insurance pitfalls, and became extremely popular among young progressive voters. Yet as she became a rising political icon, she became prone to a great deal of criticism on social media, broadcast television, and even in face-to-face interactions. In July of 2020, Ocasio-Cortez was even called a “fucking bitch” and told that she was “out of [her] freaking mind” on Capitol Hill by her colleague, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida. In response to her accost, she tweeted, “But hey, bitches get stuff done.” This is just one example of the excessive scrutiny Ocasio-Cortez has experienced, yet instances such as this are experienced by powerful women every day in this country. She handles her “haters” with grace and a stark sassiness that inspires women all over the country to remain focused and strong during moments of sexist-fueled remarks and behaviors. Regardless of the amount of negative attention she receives, she remains confident in her convictions and fights for what she believes is to be the greater good. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t sit down and shut up when she is told to. Instead, she dances in the Capitol hallways and speaks her truth sedulously.

These women’s stories are just a few of many examples of the power we, as women, possess. They grant us the hope that we may someday access our full potential. Despite having the odds seemingly stacked against us as women, we are capable of tackling the inequities we notice in the world around us and effecting change. As young women, it is now our time to learn from these inspiring women and create new stories for future generations. So, to the girl who feels like she never received recognition for her contributions—you are seen. To the girl who has been told to shut up or to bite your tongue in the face of injustice—we hear you. And to the girls who feel defeated, incapable or simply not enough—your worth and resiliency doesn’t go unnoticed. You have every right to demand the respect and attention of others, so go shatter the ground if you must. In the words of Amanda Gorman, “There has always been light / If only we are brave enough to see it / If only we are brave enough to be it.”

 

Sources: Buzzfeed News, Insider, CNN, Britannica, National Women’s Hall of Fame, Goalcast, Biography, CNN Politics