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The Squad: who are the four congresswomen at the centre of Trump’s racist attack?

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Christobel Hastings
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Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley found themselves in the firing line when President Donald Trump launched a racist attack suggesting they “go back” to where they came from. But who are The Squad, and what do they stand for?

Four women are making headlines news around the world right now. Four women who are fighting for economic, racial and social justice. Four women who are taking on the political establishment and boldly speaking out on behalf of women of colour. Four women who are taking on Donald Trump in the face of unbridled racism. They are, of course, The Squad.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump sparked widespread uproar after claiming that the quartet of newly elected congresswomen of colour, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, should “go back” to where they came from.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks as Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib listen during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol

In an incendiary Twitter rant, the POTUS took aim at the progressive Democratic lawmakers, suggesting they should return to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” despite the fact that three of the women are native-born US citizens, and one came to the US as a child.

The Squad have since condemned Trump’s “blatantly racist attack” as “the agenda of white nationalists”, and urged people to pay attention to the “callous chaos and corrupt culture of this administration.” Meanwhile, in a significant congressional vote formally criticising presidential conduct, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour.”

Despite worldwide outcry, Trump has doubled down on his attacks on the congresswomen, claiming that they “aren’t capable of loving our country” and calling on them to “apologise to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said.” Elsewhere, at a campaign rally in North Carolina, he launched a vicious attack on Ilhan Omar, drawing chants of “send her back” from the seething crowd. 

As the controversy over identity politics continues to polarise the country, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Tlaib and Pressley are uniting in the face of the president’s divisive rhetoric. But who are The Squad, and what do they stand for?

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, more commonly known by her initials AOC, came to prominence in the 2018 midterms when she defeated political veteran Rep. Joe Crowley, the overwhelming favourite slated to win the Democratic primary. 

The 29-year-old, who was then running her first political campaign, went on to make history when she beat Republican candidate Anthony Pappas in the November midterms, becoming the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress.

Born in the Bronx, New York, to working class parents of Puerto Rican descent, Ocasio-Cortez, who represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, rose from obscurity as a community organiser and bartender little over a year ago, to be one of the most high-profile members of the House of Representatives.

A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive politician who has spoken out on a range of social issues including immigration, LGBT+ equality, taxation, environmental policy and healthcare. She sponsored the Green New Deal resolution, aimed at eliminating the consumption of fossil fuels and greenhouse has emissions, advocates for “Medicare for All,” and has called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ocasio-Cortez has garnered a reputation for her passionate speeches at congressional hearings, as much as for her witty and sharply worded Twitter takedowns, where she frequently takes Republicans, establishment figures and President Donald Trump to task. Recently, the congresswoman has schooled Trump on the terms of impeachment, criticised the US administration’s treatment of migrants along the Southern border, and exposed the president’s DOE policies to make it harder for sexual assault survivors to report assault. 

Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota

Ilhan Omar

Freshman lawmaker Ilhan Omar made a number of firsts last November when she won a Minnesota seat in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, becoming one of only two Muslim women in Congress.

Born in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Omar came to the US in the 1990s as a refugee after fleeing the Somalian civil war with her family. She is the only member of The Squad, therefore, who is not a native-born US citizen, but was naturalised in 2000 at the age of 17.  

Before running for office, Omar, who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, previously served in Minnesota’s state legislature as the highest elected Somali-American public official in the US. With the support of the Justice Democrats, she successfully won her campaign and became the first Somali-American to take office, the first naturalised citizen from Africa elected to the House, and the first woman of colour elected in Minnesota.

Omar is an outspoken critic of US immigration policy, and has called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. She also supports range of progressive policies, including a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and free tuition for students from low-income families.

Omar’s first term has not been without controversy. Earlier this year, the congresswoman apologised after a series of tweets which suggested that Republican support of Israel was being fuelled by donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), sparking backlash for playing into anti-Semitic tropes.

Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts

Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley became the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in the US Congress after her stunning victory in the 2018 midterms elections. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley defeated a ten-term incumbent, Democratic Rep. Mike Capuano, before winning her election unopposed to becomes congresswoman for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District.

Born in Cincinnati, Pressley was raised by a single mother, while her father was incarcerated for much of her childhood. She established herself as a rising star in politics after serving as a senior aide to Congressman Joseph P Kennedy II, and working for Senator John Kerry for 13 years. In 2009, Pressley became the first black woman elected to Boston’s City Council in its 100-year history. 

Like the rest of The Squad, Pressley is a vocal critic of the Trump administration and its treatment of migrants along the US-Mexico border after visiting detention centres in Texas, and has denounced the POTUS’ stance on immigration, as well as his “racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt” character. 

Pressley is a sexual assault survivor, and has campaigned for better legal protections for victims of sexual violence, stating that, “the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” She supports Medicare for All, abortion rights, and the “take a knee” movement in the US to protest police brutality against people of colour.

Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan

Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib made history in the 2018 midterms when she became the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress. Along with Omar, she was one of the first Muslim women ever to serve, and was sworn in on the Koran whilst wearing a traditional Palestinian garment.

The Democrat, who represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, to Palestinian immigrant parents. The first of 14 children, Tlaib was the first in her family to graduate from high school and college.

Like Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and has voiced her support for a range of progressive policies including Medicare for All, a $15 dollar minimum wage, and free tuition for college students.

Alongside The Squad, Tlaib has strongly denounced Donald Trump’s  immigration policy and called for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When she was sworn into Congress, the freshman lawmaker made headlines at a progressive event when she advocated for the impeachment of the president, stating “We’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherf****r”. 

Tlaib is also a critic of Israel, and caused controversy by voicing her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Images: Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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