With Donald Trump’s misogyny under the microscope, Democrats could have a secret weapon on their side between now and November: not “the woman’s card,” as Trump has called it, but the actual progressive women who will appear on ballots nationwide.
Hillary Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president has gotten far more attention in the media, but there are hundreds of female candidates running for office in 2016. And although Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is rightly credited for calling attention to the fundamental unfairness of our rigged economic and political systems, inspiring women such as Zephyr Teachout, Pramila Jayapal and Lucy Flores are carrying the mantle of progressive populism in congressional races across the country. Notably, Sanders has endorsed and fundraised for all three women in their upcoming primaries, recognizing them as important allies in the battle to create progressive change.
Teachout, who is seeking an open House seat in New York’s Hudson Valley, shares a similar background to another progressive champion, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Like Warren, Teachout was a respected academic and progressive activist long before she entered politics. A law professor at Fordham University, Teachout is a widely recognized authority on political corruption and antitrust issues who gained visibility as a digital strategist for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004. She is also a longtime advocate of publicly financed elections, and her scholarly work was cited in former justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.
In 2014, Teachout made her first foray into electoral politics as a candidate with an audacious primary campaign against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Taking on the Democratic Party establishment — Cuomo received support from, among others, Hillary Clinton — Teachout joined forces with grassroots movements in the state on her way to winning more than a third of the vote. Two years later, she is building on that success. In a district that has been represented by a Republican since 2011, Teachout is running as an unapologetic progressive populist in the mold of Warren and Sanders. So far, Teachout has attracted thousands of small donors and has won support from a roster that includes the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), Emily’s List and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Similarly, in Washington state, Pramila Jayapal has been one of Seattle’s leading progressive activists for more than a decade. Following the September 11 attacks, she founded the group Hate Free Zone (now called OneAmerica) to combat the backlash against Muslims and immigrants. A passionate advocate of comprehensive immigration reform dating to the Bush administration — and an Indian-born immigrant herself — Jayapal has also been deeply involved in the fight for environmental and economic justice throughout her career. Since being elected to the state senate in 2014, Jayapal has sponsored legislation to raise the state minimum wage, to provide for two free years of community college tuition and to pre-register teenagers who are receiving their driver licenses to vote. Running to replace retiring Rep. Jim McDermott, Jayapal’s notable backers include Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison and an array of labor, women’s and progressive organizations.
And in Nevada, congressional candidate Lucy Flores overcame incredible odds on her unlikely path into politics. As a poor teenager in Las Vegas, Flores was on parole, had an abortion, and dropped out of high school. Yet, remarkably, she went on to earn her GED, became a lawyer and won a seat in the state legislature by the time she was 31 years old. Inspired in part by her own experience, Flores fought for victims of domestic violence as an assemblywoman, passing a law that permits domestic abuse victims to break their leases without penalty. She then mounted an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2014. In a primary race against multiple opponents with establishment support, Flores has been endorsed by leading progressive groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and PCCC.
These women, in short, are the anti-Trump. In stark contrast with Trump’s contemptible blend of ignorance and intolerant bullying, they are serious thinkers and determined activists who have spent their careers defending the poor, religious and ethnic minorities, and vulnerable members of society who are too often shut out of the political process. They are also proud members of the ascendant “Warren wing” of the Democratic Party, part of a new generation of leaders who understand the need to build a progressive infrastructure at the local and national level in order to make durable change. And while they are just a few of the many women — including women of color — fighting to change the face of Congress, their candidacies should serve as a reminder that, as important as the presidency is, the White House is not the only thing at stake in 2016.
As much as any election in recent memory, this election is about who we are as a country. That is why it’s so important for Democrats and progressives to organize and mobilize over the next five months. After all, defeating Trump is not just about keeping one person out of the Oval Office. It’s also about electing leaders like Teachout, Jayapal and Flores who will fight fearlessly to defeat everything that he represents.