In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of attention paid to the progressive Congresswomen known as “The Squad”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. They have had some disagreements with House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi and they’ve become the target of Donald Trump and right wing extremists.
Personally I haven’t really made up my mind yet on what I think of The Squad. They’ve only been in office for 6 months and it’s too early to say whether they will become great progressive legislators. When comparing them to the great progressive legislators in the past, like Ted Kennedy, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Paul Wellstone, Ron Dellums, and others, will The Squad be able to combine their roles as spokeswoman for progressive causes with the skills to get meaningful legislation passed that will benefit both their local districts and the nation as a whole? It’s way too early to say.
I admire The Squads outspokenness and ability to focus the media’s attention on things like The Green New Deal, single-payer health insurance, and other progressive issues. Kennedy, Abzug, Chisholm and Wellstone were also combative and outspoken. But these past progressive legislators were also able to convert some of their causes into law. Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest legislators in American history, passing the Ryan White Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the Family Leave Act, the Children’s Health Insurance Act an many others. Bella Abzug passed the Sunshine Law for greater government transparency, coauthored with Shirley Chisholm the Child Development Act, and the Depository Institutions Amendments Act which allowed women to get a credit card without needing the permission of her husband. Shirley Chisholm led the creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Paul Wellstone collaborated with conservative Pete Domenici on the Mental Health Parity Act that prohibited insurance companies from discriminating against people with mental illness.
It may be unfair to compare The Squad with past progressive legislators because the Congress back then was very different. The Republican Party had a sizable group of moderate and liberal Republicans, and even conservative Republicans were willing to collaborate with liberals on areas of common ground. I just hope that The Squad is listening to older progressive legislators like John Lewis, Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters, and developing relationships across the political spectrum that can help them pass legislation. They could potentially be great progressive legislators.
Here is a video of Bella Abzug and the law that allowed women to get credit cards without needing a man’s permission.
Here is an interview of Shirley Chisholm from Visionary Project where she describes her time in Congress.