Nancy Pelosi

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–The score: 11,000-185.

If we were keeping score (and we are!) that’s what the record was for men versus women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. As for leadership positions, we were getting skunked 117-0–until today.

Now the score is 117-1:one woman in power.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was elected House minority whip, the second most powerful leadership position the Democrats hold in the House.

“We made history. Now we have to make progress,” Pelosi said after the secret ballot in which she won 118-95, defeating Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Pelosi, a staunch pro-choice and women’s rights vote, replaces as whip Michigan Rep. David Bonior, who has an anti-choice voting record. She takes over on Jan. 15, 2002.

She is the first woman to rise through the political ranks to a top leadership role in Congress. And as Rep. Pelosi becomes the most powerful woman on the House floor, the sound we heard is the crash of the glass ceiling of the Capitol.

While this race hasn’t really registered beyond the Beltway, or the halls of Congress for that matter, this election will have an enormous impact on women and politics. Having a woman in a key leadership role will help change the public’s widespread misperception that women cannot be strong, decisive leaders.

The whips are major players in the Congressional caucuses of each party, they weigh in on which bills hit the floor, on who takes a leading role in floor debates and on how far to take the backroom negotiations which lead to front-page headlines.

The Whip Must Be Both Disciplinarian and Gentle Persuader

One need look no further than current House Democratic Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan to see just how powerful an effective whip can be. Bonior, who endorsed Pelosi to succeed him, said the whip sometimes has to enforce party discipline and at times be gently persuasive. Bonior asserted, “Nancy Pelosi can do both.”

Often, when decisions get made in a room where everyone looks alike and has a common life experience and political outlook, other viewpoints never even come into play. Women, and the issues we care about, are often lost in intricate power struggles that turn on parliamentary maneuvering and political favors. Bills are privately killed without ever being publicly debated. As a progressive woman, Pelosi will change that equation.

The whip must also keep track of the daily schedule on the floor of the House. The minority whip is especially concerned with making sure that the rules and procedures that are used to debate each piece of legislation are fair and that different points of view can be expressed. In Congress, rules and procedures dictate the course of bills and are a critical component of the legislative process, placing the whip in a very powerful position.

Pelosi is well equipped for this challenge. In her 14 years in Congress, Rep. Pelosi has already proven herself to be a strong leader. A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, she is also the ranking Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. And by the way, she is a successful fundraiser as well.

Strong Record on Promoting Reproductive Rights, Economic Justice

Pelosi has a strong record on promoting women’s rights and the rights of poor and working women and their families. Since 1994 she consistently has criticized the Republican-led Congress for creating a “hostile environment” for women’s rights.

Over the years, she has voted to uphold full reproductive rights, to fund related women’s health services, to support abortion services at military hospitals for U.S. servicewomen, and to reject the so-called “Global Gag Rule” limiting international family planning.

Pelosi also has strongly supported the Violence Against Women Act and its reauthorization, numerous programs to improve women’s health and programs to enhance educational gender equity.

Congresswoman Pelosi will take these leadership skills to the floor of the House, where she will be responsible for “whipping” the Democratic Caucus into line and gaining agreements on key issues.

And, according to a two-year study released in March by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, voters of both genders believe that women are better than men at working with other people and building consensus in the decision-making process. Women are also viewed as being more inclusive than men are, and as valuing collaboration over political interests. Rep. Pelosi will capitalize on these sentiments and assert herself as a true leader, both in Congress and in the eyes of the electorate. She will bring fresh insight and a proven commitment to issues and the winning strategies to implement them.

Women Are 52 Percent of the Population, but 14 Percent of the House

The historic importance of this race transcends partisan lines and speaks to the larger mission of advancing women into leadership. We are not looking for a Democratic or Republican takeover of the House–we’re looking for a women’s takeover. Women make up 52 percent of the population, but only 14 percent of the House of Representatives. Having a woman in leadership will amplify the voices of the current 60 female members of the House.

Rep. Pelosi’s election could also have a tremendous impact on the Democratic Party. If Minority Leader Richard Gephardt runs for president in 2004, Rep. Pelosi will be poised to either take on his role, or if Democrats win control, become speaker of the House.

Viewed either way, Pelosi’s assuming this leadership post will forever change the face of politics.

Roselyn O’Connell is the president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a multipartisan grassroots organization dedicated to electing progressive women to all levels of government.

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WEnews Brief

Free Rentals of Women-Made Videos to Educate on Arab Culture, Islam

(WOMENSENEWS)–The people at Women Make Movies are waging their own war against racial violence. In hopes of educating people and preventing backlash against Arab Americans, Muslims and those who look Middle Eastern, the New York-based organization is offering free rentals of movies–all of them made by women–about the Middle East, Arab and Islamic culture.

“We just felt like we really wanted to do something to help, and we want to let people know we have these resources, but we don’t want to capitalize on it,” said Debra Zimmerman, executive director. “It wouldn’t feel right.”

From now until Dec. 31, anyone can rent one of 16 movies dealing with subjects such as discussions of the conflicts between Palestine and Israel, or issues faced by Afghan women living in the United States. The rentals are free, and anyone can rent up to four at once, but Women Make Movies ask that people pay shipping charges.

Zimmerman said that so far Women Make Movies has received requests and thanks from all over the world.

“We rent films anyway, the only difference is we’re doing it for free,” she said. “It is my hope that these will help to humanize Arab Americans and Muslims.” –Allison Steele

To find out more about the films, call (212) 925-0606 or go to