Editor’s Note: Sayu Bhojwani served as New York’s first commissioner of immigrant affairs and is the founder and president of New American Leaders, which is based in New York. She is the author of “People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking at Democracy’s Door.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
On Thursday night, Rep. Rashida Tlaib was our honored guest at the People’s Swearing In, co-hosted by the New American Leaders Action Fund. It was an open event to celebrate the many progressive women who made the midterm elections so memorable.
When Tlaib walked into the room, guests swarmed her, congratulating, hugging and taking pictures with her. She responded to every single one, both before and after she made her infamous comment about impeaching “the motherf***er,” also known as President Donald Trump.
Though those comments have received criticism from the right – and even the left – they were raw and honest and came straight from the heart. And, frankly, her honesty is one reason she was elected. She must continue to stay true to herself as she serves in the House of Representatives, even if that sometimes means going off-script.
And, to many, her controversial remark at our event was a refreshing break from the canned comments our elected officials usually make. Tlaib spoke to the people with the fire she is known for – and the fire that so many at our event wanted to hear.
But we didn’t just cheer when she criticized the President, we cheered for nearly every remark she made. When she said she didn’t accept corporate PAC dollars, we cheered. When she explained how she ran and won in a district that is predominantly African-American and white by being who she is, we cheered. And when she said she loves her sons and wants to fight for them, we cheered.
Why? Because in that moment, every one of us felt strengthened, supported and seen.
If there is one thing I have learned about Tlaib, it is that what you see is what you get. And it is this candor that has, in part, propelled her from being a state legislator in Michigan, where I first met her in 2010, to a member of Congress in 2018.
She is a campaigner and community organizer like no other. She personally introduces me to young women interested in running for office. She checks in on the well-being of her campaign staff. And she follows up on individual constituent concerns.
Tireless, passionate, unapologetic, she never forgets where she comes from – an immigrant, working-class family in one of the most under-resourced parts of our country.
After she finished speaking, the party – comprised of a multiracial group of Americans, young, middle-aged and old – continued to celebrate the America we are seeing manifest in the halls of Congress.
And then we went home. We woke up to a news cycle that tried to make us feel bad about our moment and our movement. Instead of focusing on the real challenges we have in front of us – in a system that doesn’t work for most Americans – Tlaib became the new story.
Tlaib, and other newly sworn-in progressive congresswomen, are learning to fight against that system, even as they are part of it. There is no rulebook for that work. If we want them to succeed, we can’t expect them to play by the old rules, because the old rules don’t work for people like us.
We weren’t handed legacy admissions at universities or positioned for well-compensated summer internships or groomed at the dinner table by mothers who were mayors or fathers who were congressmen. We figured out how to get into college despite low expectations from college counselors, emerged with student debt and muddled through first, second and third jobs before finding our way.
Nobody told us we were enough. And, now, a whole new cohort of congresswomen is daring to break that norm. We can’t get enough of it.