DETROIT - Through the wind and rain, and longer than usual lines, casting a vote for former state lawmaker and Congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib wasn’t about making history for Detroit voter David White… it was about making a difference.
“Rashida represents everything that undermines those stereotypes,” he told VOA outside the Detroit fire station that doubles as a polling site on election days. “She doesn’t just appeal to a Muslim community. She appeals to a wide swath of individuals, and it just happens to be that she is Muslim, so I think it is important for the Muslim community, but important for other communities.. any community really… to see Rashida and her effectiveness and advocacy as an outstanding public servant as an example that your race doesn’t define you.”
It also didn’t define Somali refugee and Minnesota Congressional candidate Democrat Ilhan Omar to a diverse coalition of voters that helped her secure a victory over the Republican challenger in her Minneapolis district.
"I stand here before you tonight as your congresswoman-elect, with many firsts behind my name,” she told a crowd of supporters at her mid term election victory party. “The first woman of color to represent our state in Congress. The first woman to wear a hijab to represent our state in Congress. The first refugee ever elected to Congress. And one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress."
Riding solid gains for Democratic candidates in the U.S midterm elections, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are now set to make history when they become the first Muslim American congresswomen when the next U.S. legislative body convenes in January. Expectations are high for both women as they seek to influence U.S. policy on issues ranging from immigration reform to foreign policy at a time when their faith is under increasing hostility.
While both were elected in districts that could be considered liberal and progressive - heavily favoring their political party - voters like Allyson Brooks, who cast her ballot in the same Detroit polling location as Tlaib, says this historic moment was a long time coming. “It’s crazy that it’s 2018 and this could possibly be the first time that this is happening. We need more Muslims in the Congress, in the Senate and in the House.”
“Being Arab and being Muslim is always going to be a part of who I am,” Tlaib told VOA in between last-minute campaign activities on election day. “But just like prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, he was all about justice, so, so much of my thinking is embedded in justice.”
Tlaib, who also becomes the first Palestinian American in Congress, promises her reputation as an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and his administration’s policies isn’t going to change as she makes the transition from candidate to Congresswoman.
“It’s never going to happen. It’s just not in me. I think people say to me all the time, we wanted different and that’s why we voted for you. We need someone who’s going to go in and fight.
A fight voter David White is confident she is prepared for, even if he isn’t.
“My personal style is not Rashida’s style… standing up in the middle of a speech and shouting him down,” he explained, referencing Tlaib’s August 2016 encounter at then-candidate Donald Trump’s appearance before the Detroit Economic Club. During Trump’s speech, Tlaib spoke out from the crowd and was forcibly removed from the event by security. “We need some of that,” White insisted, “We need some of that strong resistance even though I don’t necessarily identify with that style.”
A style that will be put to the test come January, when Tlaib and Omar enter Congress as freshman lawmakers in a chamber their party will control.