With all of the attack ads of the recent election, no woman may have been more demonized than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Now, I like Nancy Pelosi. And she doesn't scare me. In fact I find it interesting the things about Speaker Pelosi that do scare people.
It goes way back to when she was elected Speaker, four years ago. My husband, Burton, and I were in Greece and watched on the computer in our motel in the evening when at midday in Washington Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be elected to this office, surrounded herself with children, took the Speaker's gavel and said, "For the all of America's children the House will be in order." What a scary thing! All those children around. Then, and now once again, I hear a few men, whom I thought understood the goal of shared power between men and women, say that they saw this image as her exerting power over men, believing it appeared she was going to treat men like children. I didn't see that at all. I didn't even see a Mama Grizzly Bear in Nancy Pelosi.
In fact, members of the house have not either. Political analyists yesterday when she announced she would be seeking re-election as House Minority Leader, said the Democratic members of the House like her. In fact, they added, the Republicans do too. She works well with people, is courteous, gets things done, builds consensus,and does not bully. So why is she so scarey? They then went on to say all that she had accomplished. The House has functioned well, often accomplishing what the Senate could not. She has been one of the most effective speakers of the house in years. So why are people afriad?
Even before she was Speaker, she knew how to use power to build consensus tenaciously, graciously. And she knew how to do it from a minority leadership postion. And when she became Speaker, serving with a Republican president, Congress was able to pass legislation to raise the minium wage, make college more affordable, promote stem cell research, repeal subsidies for big oil, and initiate strong ethics reform, legislation that would take months for the Senate to pass, but which finally did with strong bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bush. She was also a clear leader against the Iraq war. It is also simply a fact that under her wise political leadership she and a coalition going around the country were able to stop President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, an act which would have been a disaster given the great recession which was to come.
So why has Nancy Pelosi been demonized? Why is she portrayed as so scary? Because she as a woman has been a powerful, effective leader. All the while, being respectful. No scandels in her personal life. She is a well-educated, dedicated woman of faith, deeply committed to her other roles as wife, mother and grandmother. But she has not been a woman about whom others have been able to use only the adjective of "grandmother." A supporter of others, she has not sought the spotlight, but when Sala Burton, a Congresswoman from California, gathered a circle of friends around her bedside to say she was very ill, she asked Nancy to run for her seat. And so Nancy did, at 47 years of age.
Quotes from her book on working together cooperative and building and re-building partnerships: "Burning bridges us unproductive." "There is no such thing as an eternal opponent." "Once you work with someone in a postive way you have sown the seeds for cooperation in the future." "You never draw a line in the sand, regardless of how irratated you are with yout opponent." "You have to leave an opening or a means for people to find their way back." "Never fight a fight as though its your last one." "Organize, don't antagonize."
Women with power are still feared. Some should be. Those who use it to dominate, kill, ridicule or for self-aggrandizement. But women who use power to build up and to create productive partnerships for the sake of justice and peace do not need to be feared. Many women of integrity also know that they do not have to leave the room when they no longer rule the room. Partnership is about more than that.
Nancy wrote about her life in her book, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters" (Doubelday, 2008): "I didn't set out to be Speaker of the House. But throughout my life, there were openeings, opportunitites, and choices that brought me to this time and place." Nancy, so it has been for women of your and my generation. Today is my birthday. One of my best birthday presents is your saying you will not leave, but continue to be willing to serve. We need your persistent voice. The House is still your place and this is still your time!