Illustration by Ruby Aitken.

It cannot be overstated. The 2018 midterms will arguably be the most important midterms in our lifetime, if not in the history of the United States. It is a chance to not only check Trump’s power but also to safeguard and build on the rights people fought for long before he took office. Fortunately, there has already been watershed momentum in the Democratic party, with Broadly reporting that in Democratic races, 180 House nominees are women, 133 are people of color, and 158 are first time candidates. Democratic primaries also hinted at upheavals in the status quo with younger candidates, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, unseating longtime incumbents. But despite all this excitement, none of these prospects for America’s future will come to fruition unless people vote on Nov 6th, and the following three candidates—Ayanna Pressley (candidate for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives), Sarah Smith (candidate for Washington’s 9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives), and Deb Haaland (candidate for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives)—are three great reasons to do just that. As they stand at the forefront of this exciting moment in history, the candidates spoke to Rookie about their vision for America and the issues that are holding us back as a country.

SOPHIE HAYSSEN: In your primary, you beat 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano, in what you’ve described as a “people-powered grassroots campaign.” What do you think it was about your campaign that resonated with people so much?
AYANNA PRESSLEY: The disparities that exist in the 7th Congressional district–in health care access, educational outcomes, and economic opportunity–while they have worsened under the Trump administration, existed long before he took office. I believe people responded to a message of bold, activist leadership, of having a committed partner and advocate in Congress to address these entrenched inequities. People also responded to our campaign’s concerted effort to engage new voters and those who are too often overlooked. We took no one for granted and were present in every community in the 7th District. Ultimately, I see our victory not as a referendum on hate, but as a mandate for hope–I believe we inspired people to think about how bold, committed leadership in Congress can improve their lives and make real progress on the challenges we face.

What advice would you give a young woman who’s considering running for office in the future?
I recently met a young woman named Ariella, who is running for vice president of her 9th grade class. Ariella told me that she was thinking about dropping out of the race because she’s worried it’s just a popularity contest. What I told Ariella is what I would tell every young woman who is considering running for office: the world needs your vision and your leadership. Don’t be discouraged by those who would make you doubt yourself–run boldly and authentically as yourself. I am especially hopeful about our future because of the promise of young, female leaders like Ariella and all of the young women who choose to run or work on campaigns.

SOPHIE HAYSSEN: What do you think the future of the Democratic Party should look like?
SARAH SMITH: I think the future of the Democratic Party will not be easy to grow into, but that’s what happens with two large groups of people. You get these fractures and division. My hope is that we have a more equitable system in the future that allows these factions to split off and start a third party that’s legitimately viable because there’s a lot more political ideologies out there than just Republican and Democrat. You can even see it when we talk about the Tea Party vs. Republicans vs. Conservatives vs. The GOP, but they’re all under the umbrella of Republican. I think people’s views are changing no matter what, and so the reality is, if we never fix that system, the Democratic Party has to come back to the left. It has to come back to the message that it had for so long about fighting for working families and working class votes and elevating them over their corporate donors. They have to come back to that message because people are dying and disenfranchised. This is the moment where the Democratic Party can step up to the plate and swing and fight back for them. I think that’s gonna be the future of this party no matter what direction our political system goes.

Do you think people expect different things from politicians in 2018 than they did in the past?
I think so. I think right now we’re all looking for politicians that will represent us and our experiences and politicians that are willing to put themselves on the line. This is the kind of in-the-mud activism that we expect from people who are supposed to be serving the people. We expect them to be willing to take a chance and dig their heels in and stand up for us. When we have representatives that talk about remaining in the center and compromising, these are not the things that are going to get us when we need to be, and people are seeing that now. People are also demanding honesty and accountability from their politicians. I think that 93% of Americans on both sides of the aisle believe that corporate money is bad in our political system. Representatives who continue to take in and refuse to eschew it are losing races because people are like, “You’re bought and paid for, and I can’t trust you,” and they’re not wrong. They’re tired of hearing promises on a campaign trail that never come to fruition once the candidate gets to the House or Senate. I think people are ready for a new era of politics where politicians actually follow through, and aren’t afraid to fight, and aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and be at risk for the people they’re trying to protect.

SOPHIE HAYSSEN: You’ve previously volunteered on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign and on Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. What did you learn from those experiences and how did they shape your thinking about politics?
DEB HAALAND: Volunteering on the Kerry campaign changed the trajectory of my career. I graduated from law school in 2006 and intended to become a lawyer. Instead, I found my passion in organizing, which led me to positions on the Obama campaign and other campaigns here in New Mexico. I began organizing in Indian country because I felt that it was important to get more Native Americans involved in elections. Representation matters deeply to me, and the ’04 Kerry campaign helped me find my passion for politics. Since then, I have run for Lt. Governor, served a term as the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and am now the Democratic nominee for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st District.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, you spoke about advocating for Congress to “embrace the fact that the U.S. government has a trust responsibility to tribes.” What steps do you think need to be taken for the U.S. to establish and maintain that trust with Native tribes?
Our current president is causing irreparable harm to the U.S. government’s relationship with Native American tribes. The U.S. government needs to simultaneously respect tribal autonomy while providing the support tribes were promised long ago, in exchange for land that was taken from them. The U.S. government needs to fully observe government-to-government consultations. They need to fully fund the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, and other tribal programs throughout the federal government. They need to shine a light on the crisis of missing and murdered Native American women and provide protection for our sacred lands, water, and air. Tribal self-governance must be respected and observed. That is just the tip of the iceberg as so many of our indigenous people lack basic necessities: running water, well-built and maintained schools, internet access, law enforcement presence, and healthy foods to eat. When I get to Congress, I will fight to ensure that tribal sovereignty is respected and promises are kept. ♦