Lauren Underwood Is Doing Her 30s Better Than Just About Anyone We Know

Lauren Underwood Is Doing Her 30s Better Than Just About Anyone We Know

June 12, 2019 Off By readly

This story is part of the Healthyish Guide to Your 30s, our best advice for how to cook, shop, date, and generally survive your best (or maybe worst?) decade yet.

This year, at 32, Lauren Underwood became the youngest black woman ever elected to congress. Since the 116th Congress convened on January 3rd, she’s been kicking ass and taking names as Representative for Illinois’s 14th congressional district, co-sponsoring acts in favor of wage equality, net neutrality, universal background checks for firearms possession, and amending the Violence Against Women Act to protect transgender rights and survivors of domestic violence. She’s also been a consistent champion for healthcare as a human right—an issue that’s personal to her as someone with a pre-existing heart condition. We chatted with Lauren Underwood about what it’s like entering the big leagues early, her “millennial cohort”, and what self-care looks like for a time-strapped politician.

Did you ever see yourself reaching this position so early in life?

I did not imagine that I would be running for congress at 30 or getting elected at 32. But it’s pretty awesome, because I’m not the youngest overall. There are five of us who are my age or younger. Obviously Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s 29. Abby Finkenauer‘s 30. Katie Hill, who’s my roommate, is 31. Josh Harder, from California, is 32. Then there’s me. Plus a few others under 35. There’s actually a millennial cohort! We live our best lives together, and do the work on behalf of young people who have not had a voice in this chamber—not in this way with such large numbers—ever.

I’m really excited because we all come from different backgrounds in terms of geography, upbringing, lived experience, race, ethnicity, but we’re united based on our experiences in the same generation. What’s also great is that there are a lot of Republicans who are also millennials. It’s a wonderful time to be able to do bipartisan work on issues that are so important to folks in our generation.

Is it easier to do bipartisan work with younger people, thanks to that shared millennialism?

Well, we all recognize that younger people are very often an afterthought in these policy conversations. It’s not that it’s necessarily easier to work with [millennial Republicans], but there’s less fighting over partisan nonsense. We all agree that top-of-mind issues like the student loan crisis and climate change are a problem, and now we can jump over that argumentative phase and go toward a solution.

Was getting elected to congress at 32 a lightswitch moment for you? Did it make you feel instantly more adult?

There’s something about getting your name on a ballot and going around talking about social security or Medicare solvency or real issues of national security and national defense every day that makes things serious, and not just theoretical. So I would say it’s less about “adulting” and more just like, “Okay, this is the big leagues.”

Thanks to all the newly elected millennials—including yourself—the average age of a U.S. congressperson dropped by a decade this year, but it’s still hovering around 50. How do you deal with insecurities about your age in that environment?

They give us these pins—member pins—but I wasn’t into having holes in all my stuff. So I wear it around my neck as a pendant, sort of like a Jesus piece. [Laughs.] I’m always so conscious of having my pin on because the capitol police often think I’m a staffer and are very quick to tell me I can’t go into certain places. So it’s like, I have to make eye contact with this person and make sure they see me walking in so we don’t have a problem. I think that is very much a function of being a young, black woman in a space where there hasn’t been someone like me—as young as I am and probably look—ever. Every week I get stopped and told I’m not supposed to be where I am.

What happens when you then say, “I’m a congresswoman”?

Then it’s, “Oh I’m so sorry ma’am.” This whole ma’am thing. That’s weird. But yeah, you have to be firm about it, and then they realize.

You’ve got a lot of factors setting you apart from the stereotypical congressperson: not only your age, but also your race and gender.

We have the most women serving in this 116th Congress than ever before. It’s pretty awesome. Fifteen years ago there wasn’t even a women’s restroom close to the chamber. Now we have a little ladies’ hideaway where we can have a snack and catch up before we go do an interview. I appreciate that a space that was not designed for us, has now… I mean, we run it! We run the capitol! The loudest voices, the boldest ideas are coming from women—from Speaker Pelosi down to my millennial congressional colleagues. We are setting the agenda, and we are getting things done. I am over-the-moon excited.

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