Freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill tends to get "big-idea moments" when she's shuttling back and forth between her home state of California and D.C., and at one point during one of these long flights, the 31-year-old found herself writing out a 30-year plan for her future. Her conclusion after several hours of thinking and writing? "Once we get to the point where Gen Z, you guys, make up the biggest voting bloc, then that's when we know our world is heading in the right place," she told a group of Girl Scouts on Wednesday.
The discussion, held in the Rayburn House Office Building, was a rare chance for Girl Scout Gold Award winners, many of them in their teens, to meet female members of Congress and learn what it's like to run for office and be a lawmaker. It was also a rare chance for the congresswomen to take a break from votes and markups to reflect on the bigger picture: how they got there and where they are going, why it's crucial for more women to step up and run for office, and what their goals are for fixing the many broken parts of this country. For a group that basically feeds into the U.S. Congress — around 60% of current congresswomen are Girl Scout alums — it was an exciting opportunity to meet their mentors.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Congresswoman from Michigan, as well as Reps. Robin Kelly, Carol Miller, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were also in attendance.
Some men kind of wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to run for president.'
Hill began the talk by discussing the importance of representation. As much of a major accomplishment as it is that there are more women in Congress than ever, she said, they still only comprise about one-quarter of the body. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women make up 23.7% of the 535 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 25% of the U.S. Senate.
"I believe our policies will be better when our representation looks more like those we represent on both sides of the aisle," said Hill, who was the executive director of a nonprofit working to end homelessness in California before running what Vice called the "most millennial campaign ever" for Congress. "So hopefully, you guys are going to run for Congress, and you're all going to win, and we'll have your backs."
Tlaib, who on the same afternoon submitted a resolution urging Trump's impeachment, told the girls not to be afraid to let their life experiences lead them into politics. One of the first two Muslim women in Congress, Tlaib grew up as the oldest of 14 children of working-class Palestinian immigrants. Her father worked in a Ford Motor Company plant and suffered from cancer. As a Michigan state representative, she helped expose cancer-causing "petroleum coke" on the Detroit riverfront as a threat to residents' health.
"I think if anything, not my law degree, not my education, as much as that real-life experience of having to take care of so many of my brothers and sisters, and the challenges that came with it, being the child of immigrants...those, I think, are the most authentic ways of finding that root of why you want to be in a space like this," Tlaib said. "Some of those real-life experiences you might think are weaknesses; you should never see it that way. [It's a way to] actually be more genuine and passionate about something that you believe in, if you want to get into policy-making."
As a former Girl Scout, I was so excited to meet with the Gold Award winners of @GSCNC, along with my colleagues @RepRashida, @RepRobinKelly, @RepDWStweets, and @RepCarolMiller!— Rep. Katie Hill (@RepKatieHill) March 27, 2019
These @girlscouts are our future — can’t wait to call them colleagues one day! pic.twitter.com/23UGahEM7i
“It’s scary to be out there,” admitted @RashidaTlaib. “But then you realize people need you to lead, to talk about positions from a personal level. Some men kind of wake up in the morning and say, I’m going to run for president.” <— yes, this 🙄 pic.twitter.com/wclxfq7His— natalie g (@nataliereports) March 28, 2019
Tlaib admitted to sometimes experiencing impostor syndrome, but said knowing that her voice is needed has helped her overcome it. "It's scary to be out there," she said. "You care about something but you're like, 'I'll just stay behind the scenes, I'll do it from there.' And then, you realize people need you to lead."
"Some men kind of wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to run for president,'" Tlaib added, something worthwhile for young women to remember anytime they're wondering whether they're qualified enough. With so many examples of just that recently, especially with the dizzying number of candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, many in the room nodded and laughed in recognition.
"It's this crazy moment in politics when I feel like so many people think our political system is broken, but I feel like we're here to try and put it back together in a lot of ways," Hill said. "We've got a lot of work to do, which means you're going to be attacked from every single side, but you power through."
Maya Woods-Arthur, a 17-year-old Girl Scout from Washington, D.C., said Hill's speech inspired her to consider to run for office even though she hadn't before. "Katie Hill said today that you can't have equal rights for women until you have equal representation, and that was just really powerful to me," she told Refinery29. "Even though I may not consider running for office in the near future, if I truly want to see equal rights for women in this country, it's something I have to consider."