January 6, 2017

With the ballots counted on Election Day, there were several election results that gave me hope. The winners in these particular races were Tammy Duckworth, Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto and Ilhan Omar.

You may not have heard of any of them — I hadn’t either, until recently.

The first three are quadrupling the number of women of color in the U.S. Senate. And Omar is the first Somali-American lawmaker elected in the U.S.

Since I’m not great at math, I had to think for a second about that U.S. Senate statistic. If three additional women quadruple the number of women of color in the Senate, that means there was only one before — one woman of color in a group of 100 lawmakers representing the United States.

“This is inarguably a positive and long-overdue development for the Senate, which has been mostly a bunch of white guys talking among themselves for centuries,” states a recent Slate article.

I did some reading and learned a bit about each of these three women, and hearing their stories has made me incredibly hopeful.

Duckworth, representing Illinois in the Senate, is one of my new heroes. An Asian-American veteran, she was in a helicopter in Iraq in 2004 that was hit by a grenade.

She lost both legs and part of the use of one arm. Rather than retiring from the military, she continued to serve and since has fought for veterans — advocating for better PTSD resources and traumatic brain injury screening, and seeking to reduce homelessness among veterans, according to her campaign website.

She jokes about hiding Sour Patch Kids, her “secret vice,” in her two prosthetic legs. She wears a T-shirt reading, “Lucky for me he’s an ass man,” according to a Q-and-A with GQ.

During her swearing-in ceremony this week, Duckworth stood up on two artificial legs to take her oath. One of the legs was printed with a camouflage design. The other was decked out in red, white and blue.

And now, as a member of the U.S. Senate, she gives a voice to women, people of color, veterans and people with disabilities.

Harris, who is African-American and Indian-American, represents California in the Senate.

She previously worked as California’s attorney general and has worked to keep low-level offenders out of jail, to make sure kids aren’t skipping school and to reduce the number of untested rape kits in California. She’s also well-known for her support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lateefah Simon, who worked with Harris when the latter was a young lawyer, later described the attorney as follows: “If you hurt a woman, she wants you in jail,” according to The Economist.

Cortez Masto is the first Latina woman to serve on the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to represent Nevada in the Senate. She is a granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, according to the New York Times.

She advocated immigration reform, vowing to protect “young people who have names, who have voices, who are fighting for their future,” according to The Washington Post.

She tweeted after the election, “I’m proud to be Nevada’s 1st female and our nation’s 1st Latina senator. It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation.”

The three join Mazie Hirono, a Japanese-American woman who has represented Hawaii on the Senate for four years and who previously was the only woman of color in the U.S. Senate.

The last race that inspired me on Nov. 8 wasn’t for a national seat, but it was still significant. Ilhan Omar, elected to a seat on the Minnesota House of Representatives, became the first Somali-American lawmaker in the U.S.

Born in the African country of Somalia, Omar, who is in her mid-30s, is a former refugee and a Muslim.

“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” she said on the night of the election, according to NPR.

“This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”

She brings so many vital perspectives to the House — that of young people, and of young parents; that of immigrants, and of refugees, and of Muslims.

On that election night, Omar’s victory was a triumph for more than just her, said Habon Abdulle, executive director of the Minneapolis group Women Organizing Women Network, according to NPR.

“Minneapolis said no tonight, said no to hatred,” Abdulle said. “Minneapolis said no to the narrative of making America hate again. Minneapolis tonight said yes to diversity.”

I’m inspired by these four women. Their stories, and those of so many others, are reinforcing my goal to focus on reading books this year written by women and people of color, and of listening to their stories as much as possible, because I think their voices aren’t heard enough.

Why women? Because when I spoke out about sexual assault last year, a problem that overwhelmingly affects women, I was told I was being dramatic. Because in just the last two months, just in Carroll, five different men have grabbed me or put their hands on me without waiting to hear if I wanted them to. Because I still run into people who think a man can do my job better.

Why people of color? Because they’re a vital part of our country. Because I run into too many people here who don’t bat an eye at racist comments. Because the U.S. was built on the idea that everyone is welcome here, and we seem to have forgotten that.

Like Duckworth, like Harris, like Cortez Masto and like Omar, women and people of color have stories to tell, and I’m committing myself to spend this year listening.

Got a story? Let’s talk.