Christine Pelosi's picture
Christine Pelosi

Women Leaders Turning Passion Into Action

I had the privilege of sharing these leadership lessons at the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Women’s Network 12th Biennial Convention in Vancouver BC Canada. These are my remarks.

Turning passion into action is more than a catchphrase - it is the cause of our lives. That is why we are here together - and why I thank Rhonda Nelson and the United Food and Commercial Workers union for inviting me to join you here at the UFCW Women’s Network convention. My thanks to each of you and my prayers to everyone affected by the Canadian wildfires. Your response as a community is awe inspiring. We are all in this together.

We are here together today because fearless women before us had the courage and conviction to stand up and take their rightful places in leadership. And for many women, turning passion into action began in early childhood.

My political activism began in the stroller. In the late 1960s my mom navigated a stroller with 2 of my sisters and me thought the streets of New York City. Years later when writing my first Campaign Boot Camp book I asked her “Mom how did you get past all those ‘no solicitation’ signs in the apartment buildings?” “I was a mom with 3 babies in a stroller” she replied, “who was going to stop me?”

Now we could never have imagined then that 30 years later, elected from 3000 miles away in California, with the support of UFCW and the union movement, our mom Nancy Pelosi would become the first woman Speaker in the United States House of Representatives.

But politics isn’t about the great leap to power - it’s about that the steps that you take with your neighbors and your kids for your values, answering a call to service and turning passion into action. You never know - that working mom at a UFCW picket line fighting for 15 and a union could be leading her community in Congress. She can if more of us make an intentional effort to lift up women, lift up diversity, lift up representatives that look like and live like the people.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won and convened a 50% female cabinet, I loved his answer as to why — he said “because it’s 2015.” Well, UFCW Woman, it’s 2016 and we intend to break the ultimate gender barrier this fall with a woman President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

You know it’s not just about selecting a 50% female cabinet or electing one woman Speaker or President — it’s about electing female leaders from ALL walks of life and advancing feminist policies. Let’s be real - when we say “women” the default for far too long has been white women. We talk about this quite often in the California Democratic Party where I chair the Women’s Caucus: When we talk about feminism - equality without apology for all - we can’t be talking about for all white women or all highly educated women but all women, regardless of color, class, creed, disability, sexual orientation or sexual identity. We need to be FULLY representative in order to to have authentic leadership and actual results.

We saw this with VAWA - and as a former domestic violence prosecutor I’m so pleased that the UFCW Women’s Convention will pass a resolution about domestic violence as a workplace issue. We love that Joe Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act. But you know who got it re-authorized? Congresswoman Gwen Moore, an African American woman who spoke personally about crimes against her and insisted to the Republicans who wanted to exclude immigrants, Native Women, and LGBT women that they include ALL women under VAWA. We won because rather than having a white man tell other white men how to treat women, we centered the debate on an African American leader whose community was directly affected by the problem. THAT is what turning passion into action with authentic leadership looks like!

So how do we get to more of this authentic leadership?

Women turning passion into action answer a call to service - our message to the future. We find the North Star that guides us — the values of liberty, justice, equality, and democracy for all. And then we find concrete paths to service: public interest campaigns that grow support and give results.

Many of us remain the primary caregivers for our children and our parents, so family time is harder to let go. And public attitudes remain stereotypical, even among our close supporters.

I remember receiving a service award during my days as a deputy prosecutor. There I was, my speech all lined up, when a dear family friend we called “Mama Tina” approached my table of professional peers, announcing loudly, “I’m praying for your husband.” My response, thinking she mistook me for one of my married sisters: “It’s Christine; I don’t have a husband.” “I know,” she proclaimed, “that’s why I am praying for him!” My colleagues roared with laughter. And this was my friend!

We hear this all the time. Single? You can’t attract em. Married? You’re putting your career over them. Parent? Who’s taking care of the children? We were in college when my mom ran for Congress and people still asked her who was taking care of her children. Divorced? You couldn’t keep em. Widow? You killed em!

I have never heard a man in politics being asked who was taking care of his children. Some ask us these family care questions to protect us from ourselves. Some who did not make our choices as trailblazers repeat to us the rationalizations they made to themselves for why they didn’t try. And others just really want to know how we intend to make this work.

Now that I have found the husband Mama Tina was praying for, Peter and I are raising our family and closely connected to the fight for 15. Every boot camp - from across town to the 30 states my daughter has come with me for Pelosi Boot Camps - my first question is childcare. And everywhere we go, we find good paying quality childcare.

We parents know that entering public service means that we need to entrust our precious treasure - our children - to well-paid quality caregivers — and we in turn must fight to ensure that all of their caregivers are paid a decent wage.

And we know that the fight for 15 is just one issue at stake in this election.

You know that attacks on unions are attacks on YOUR power to have a seat at the table.

Your power is at risk. The election this fall in the US will have ripple effects around the world. Let’s review the prospects.

Last July on national television, I predicted Donald Trump could be the Republican nominee and was practically sneered off the set. But I knew - and Congressman Keith Ellison who made the same prediction on a different network last July - also knew - that Trump could exploit the working people’s dissatisfaction — even though he will perpetuate the same trickle down economics that brought us outsourcing, downsizing, and wage theft in the first place! We knew and now everyone sees that Trump’s answer is to tell workers “we’ll just get rid of the Others - deport Mexicans, ban Muslims, and clear a path for you. Make America Great Again “for whom?” you might ask. Maybe we need to have a ban on Donald Trump until we find out what’s going on.

Do you believe that healthcare is a right not a privilege or are you suing President Barack Obama and trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

Do you believe in climate change or do you deny science?

Do you believe that good government has a role in clean air and clean water or like the House Republicans do you want to roll back the nutrition standards Michelle Obama got in the Farm Bill, cut school lunch and - as the House Tea Party budget proposes - eliminate Head Start?

Do you trust the movement you built - the fight for 15 movement that was out in the streets when politicians were still “ready for 1010” in 2014 - the movement that brings fast food workers, retail workers, childcare workers, and homecare workers together? Or do you want to eliminate the federal minimum wage?

Do you want Barack Obama choosing Supreme Court Justices or do you want Donald Trump?

Do you trust veterans care for our courageous military families with Bernie Sanders or with the Republicans who want to privatize the VA and cut earned benefits?

Do you want to strengthen our American Safety Net Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or do you want to privatize and slash earned benefits?

Do you want to build bridges or walls?

Do you want military decisions and diplomatic efforts in the hands of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

As Vice President Joe Biden says, “don’t compare me to the Almighty - compare me to the alternative. Well these are the alternatives. And it’s not just about electing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump and having her appoint a diverse cabinet. It’s about electing a progressive Senate, Congress, and state leadership.

As a Hillary supporter I discuss this with my Bernie supporter friends. We will work to elect leaders and to implement the policies. We’re not just here for the primary, for the convention, for the election — we are here for the work. As a San Francisco Democrat, my values are triangulated against quite often. I push from the left side of the political spectrum all the time. I think my values should be the law of the land - as marriage equality and healthcare now are - and I intend to work with Hillary and Bernie supporters to turn our progressive policy goals into reality.

UFCW Woman, do you trust the work you are doing turning passion into action?

If you do - if you believe in a positive, progressive platform that builds on our progress - then go out of these halls and shout it from the rooftops. From the picket lines. From the phone banks. From the door knocks. From the social media. From the mainstream media. From the union halls. From the voting booths. Let them hear you as we travel that path to equality together.

And as we work together we know we do so climbing a double stair as women leaders.

We climb a double stair to ascend as professionals and as women, confronting stereotypes and breaking barriers along the way. For women of color, a triple stair. For women of color in the LBGT community, a quadruple stair. We climb and climb, inspired by the dreams of the women who dared to to be what we can be before society was ready for them. And we break barriers along the way, caring dreams with us.

Let me tell you one of those dreams I carry. After going to law school and passing the bar exam, I got a set of embossed seal invitations from the California State Bar for my swearing in ceremony. This was big. Called a girlfriend - she said “oh it’s a cattle call - you stand in the civic auditorium with thousands of people and say ‘I state your name.’ Nothing personal.”

Nevertheless I decided to send a California State Bar invitation to my grandmother Nancy D’Alesandro in Baltimore. Yes it was in a cavernous auditorium and no - in her late 80s she couldn’t come all the way out west - but like my grammar school, high school and college graduation notices I sent it anyway just to share the moment.

We had been told the family lore that my grandmother had once taken law school classes but had to stop when one of her boys got sick. She lost that boy to whooping cough before there was a vaccine - a tragedy. She raised more children, including my mom, but she never went back to school. She did go on to serve however.

She and her “moccasin army” of women activists helped my grandfather win campaigns for Maryland House of Delegates, US Congress and Baltimore Mayor. She fought the power company late into her 70s saying at one point “I’m on a limited income with unlimited time.”

My grandmother was a servant leader - but in the back of her mind she always wanted to have been a lawyer.

My grandmother wrote: “I am the second happiest person to get this invitation. How proud I am to see you accomplish what I could not finish all those years ago.

Fifty years had gone by but my grandmother had held on to her dream. She hadn’t said it much but she remembered. And I realized that I didn’t just get my degree - I got her degree. I was the first woman in my family to graduate from law school and the second woman to try.

When I went to court and saw that sometimes I was the only woman in the room - that made an impression. And when it was just me with a female court reporter or clerk or bailiff and all male lawyers or a deposition in a tall building law firm with me as the only woman in the room, I would remember my grandmother’s letter and her dream, seeing just how audacious my parents’ dream was for me and how even more audacious my grandmother’s dream was for her time. I made sure to seek allies with intersectionality and intention. When I go to even progressive events -unlike this lovely, diverse women’s convention - sometimes it’s me and 5 white guys on a panel. That’s unacceptable! So I keep pushing for more inclusion, bringing company with me. And as I continue to climb, I’m carrying my grandmother’s dream with me.

Sisters of the UFCW Women’s Network - you know this story because many of you have lived it too. You are all carrying the dreams and the unlived lives of your grandmothers, your families, your union sisters and brothers as you turn passion into action.

So when you lave this convention and return to your communities, share the UFCW Women’s convention actions with your family, friends, mentors and networks. Reach out - otherwise you may never know whose dreams you carry along with your own. But once you know, you take responsibility for those dreams, and you gain the strength you need to keep turning passion into action, turning aspirations into policies, and yes, turning progressive campaigns into winning elections, and transforming the lives of working people. Go forth, reach out, and grab a hand. If we make the effort we will open doors for women.

Go forth and speak out about your work here today - you never know whose dream you may be carrying. Let’s make sure that this union, this movement, and the leaders we elect are truly representative of our people. And we will carry their dreams together.

Follow Christine Pelosi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sfpelosi 

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