//Representative-elect Iman Jodeh, the first-ever Muslim-Arab woman elected to the Colorado House of Representatives Nov. 3, 2020. Photo courtesy of Jodeh.
When lawmakers step foot inside the Colorado House of Representatives at the start of the next legislative session, they will figuratively notice shards of glass lying across the floor.
Sharp gains made by women on Election Day have left new shiny bits of glass behind them, as they are poised to take their seats in Colorado’s General Assembly come January.
Other pieces, small and dusty, have been there since the 1800s when Colorado swore in the first three women to serve in any state legislature in the United States.
“This year is the most women that the voters have ever sent to the state House,” said Michal Rosenor of Emerge Colorado, a training organization exclusively working to elect female democratic leaders. “We’ve had this many women serving only once before, but it was due to a series of appointments.”
This year, according to the Center for Women and Politics, Colorado has the second-highest percentage in the entire country of women serving in the state legislature.
On Nov. 3, Iman Jodeh smashed through more than one glass ceiling with a historic win. The lifelong educator and community activist earned 65% of the vote and defeated Republican opponent Robert Andrews. She became the state’s first-ever Muslim and Arab woman elected to the state legislature.
“I think the more diverse we can get in our representation and our views, the better,” Jodeh said.
Jodeh, a familiar face in Denver’s Muslim community of more than 70,000, will represent Denver and Aurora under House District 41, and lend a voice to a growing population that’s been left out of the state’s story until now.
The legislator wants no one left behind when lawmakers meet to piece together a recovery plan from the economic fallout of COVID-19. Her goal is to pass positive, progressive legislation that not only casts a lifeline to Coloradans struggling, but also rebuilds the American dream while living out her own.
“When I talk about the American Dream, it isn’t some trite or cliché political phrase. It is my family’s story, and it’s my mission to make sure everyone has a fair shot at the American dream,” Jodeh said.
Jodeh’s parents escaped war, violence, and oppression when they moved to Colorado from Palestine as refugees in 1974 in search of safety, freedom and the American dream.
Born in the Centennial state, Jodeh grew up in Aurora and graduated from the University of Colorado Denver. Following 9/11 she launched a non-profit organization called Meet in the Middle East.
“I started Meet the Middle East in 2008 because the need for healing and understanding between Americans and the Arab and Muslim communities still existed,” Jodeh said.
Today, she serves as a community advocate and liaison for the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, often leading her to the steps of the State Capitol to testify for or against bills.
A few years ago, Jodeh assisted in an effort to repeal Colorado’s death penalty. And, she worked on legislation to secure in-state tuition for refugees and immigrant students who have been displaced by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I have spent the last six years fighting for progressive policies and fighting against bigotry and hate, and to help make realizing the American Dream a possibility for everyone,” Jodeh said.
As another wave of COVID-19 cases rise and hospitals reach capacity, Colorado faces the possibility of a second statewide shutdown, leaving the pursuit of one’s own happiness potentially shrinking in size and spirit.
For some, the goal of college has been sidelined, the promise of a good-paying job has been furloughed, and the hope of the famed white picket fence has been evicted from many dreams.
Jodeh, one of five Muslim lawmakers elected to state legislatures across the country on Nov. 3, believes her story of struggle and survival can help bring the American dream back into focus during a pandemic and long after it ends.
“I think I’m very capable of representing all people because of my lived experience,” Jodeh said.
Some of her key areas of focus include reducing incarceration, addressing use of force by law enforcement, putting price caps on life-saving medications and raising the minimum wage.
“I think women should get paid as much as men. I think we need criminal justice reform. And I think civil rights, affordable housing, and access to health care are human rights,” she said.