Why The Progressive Freshman Congresswomen Call Themselves "The Squad"

Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images.

You might wonder why, exactly, the four most visible progressive freshman congresswomen — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York, Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts, and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota — have taken to calling themselves "The Squad." Some commentators have even questioned whether the term may be infantilizing to women, while others are just asking what it means.

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Ocasio-Cortez, the unofficial "Squad Captain," explained it simply to Politico earlier this year: "It was literally a joke from that Instagram post. I just wrote 'Squad' and it stuck," she said, referring to a photo the four took together in November 2018 when they spoke on a panel at the VoteRunLead Women & Power National Town Hall, having just been elected in the midterms.

Over the past three days, "The Squad" has been tested: President Donald Trump has gone on multiple racist tirades attacking the group of women of color. They struck back in a joint press conference on Monday afternoon. "This is a disruptive distraction," said Pressley, urging the public to pay attention to Trump's anti-immigration policies instead. "Don't take the bait."

Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley, and Omar have all gained national profiles due to their bold policy agendas and refusal to fall in line with the Washington establishment. Their shared identity as young women from underrepresented communities and smart politicians pushing the Democratic party to the left has created an unbreakable bond. The women are also good friends, often rushing to defend each other from attacks and to support each other's policy proposals. The congresswomen are also all social-media savvy, and their accounts are full of group selfies and affirmations of sisterhood.

Their high profiles are why they've become favorite targets of conservatives, and why they've clashed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. Trump didn't have to mention the four by name — people knew who he was talking about when he accused them of hating the U.S. and told them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." Only Omar, a Somalian refugee, was born abroad. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx, NY; Tlaib is from Detroit, MI; and Pressley was born in Cincinnati, OH. The racist attacks — as the congresswomen themselves have pointed out — take away from issues like healthcare and immigration. They also give us insight into how Trump plans to, once again, stoke xenophobic sentiments in his attempt to regain the White House in 2020.

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"The Squad" has, so far, effectively steered the conversation back to the issues that matter. And even though the original "Squad" consists of the four congresswomen, they say anyone with a similar outlook on the world can join. "Our Squad is big," Pressley said at the press conference. "Our Squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world, and that is the work that we want to get back to, and given the size of this Squad and this great nation, we cannot, we will not be silenced."

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