The United States has colored the last five years with dysfunctional politics, partisan bickering, civil rights upheaval, and marginalized groups’ demand for better representation. America is more diverse than ever, and people want to see someone who looks and sounds like them enacting laws and acting as their voice when it counts. However, most politicians are still older, rich, white, and male, even today.
If one looks at the demographic makeup of the United States and then looks at who is elected to represent the populace, the dissonance is apparent. Per the US Census Bureau, 31.9% of people in the United States are relatively young, between the ages of 21 and 44. However, the average age of Senators in the United States is 64. Even though America’s Congress is growing more diverse, most senators, representatives, and members of Congress are white. The racial makeup of America’s communities is still not well reflected on Capitol Hill or in smaller community political races.
Boots on the Ground to Promote Representation
The political hands-on operations organization, Sole Strategies, female-founded and primarily female-run, has made getting representation for underrepresented communities their mission. The need for an organization that seeks to get the working-class, women, people of color, and other disenfranchised people noticed and supported is evident. Communities cry out for options that look and sound like them, candidates that can relate to their particular struggles and lifestyles.
“I think our current issue is that many of the people in governmental leadership positions do not represent the people they say they do,” says Amani Wells-Onyioha from Sole Strategies, “Whether it’s due to them being out of touch because of the wage gap between them and who they claim to represent, or because they do not share the same lived experiences as their constituents.”
Lack of diversity in candidate options puts the more status quo candidates, usually white, male, and wealthy, at an obvious disadvantage eventually. Soon, as their issues are not addressed, constituents lose faith in their candidate. Then, they will stop voting.
“It’s difficult to represent a district of people who face issues you cannot connect with as a leader,” Wells-Onyioha explains.
Elect From Within the Communities
Many people in under-represented communities know change needs to come, but feel unable to address the need due to a lack of financial support, time, or political acumen.
However, change will never permanently occur until people from within the communities step forward to lead.
An underdog success story can be found with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former waitress who saw a need for someone in the community to run against a white male incumbent who was not indicative of the demographic makeup of the community he was representing. Discounted repeatedly, AOC (as she is affectionately called) triumphed in her race. She has become a formidable force in the House of Representatives, calling attention to the plight of the poor, the oft-forgotten, and young people like herself struggling to make ends meet in a capitalist economy.
They Look Like Me
The United States government has slowly embraced change in terms of diversity in the past few decades. The country elected its first black president, the first female Vice President is currently serving, and people from the LGBTQ community have found a place in Congress. Even more underrepresented people choose to step up and throw their proverbial hats in the ring every election cycle.
Communities respond when the candidates “look like them.”
“The reason why we have so many citizens who are not pleased with their government officials is because they are continually faced with empty promises and milquetoast solutions to their very real promises,” says Wells-Onyioha, “representation must change in order to actually deliver for our citizens.”
When working-class and minority candidates do deliver, the results can be game-changing. Think of Stacy Abrams nearly single-handedly leading the charge to flip Georgia “blue”.
While change is happening from the halls of Congress to local races, the United States still has a long way to go in terms of truly representing our diverse populace. Like the ones spurred by organizations like Sole Strategies, Grassroots operations help gather forces to demand better representation across the board. It is not a fight that can be given up or addressed haphazardly, but one that is integral to the continued political strength of our country as a whole.