U.S. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–As the shadow of war was growing larger each day, local women lawmakers at a conference here last week and elsewhere in the capital discussed openly their reservations to military retaliation and the need for strategic responses to terrorism.

“Different situations require different leadership styles,” said U.S. Rep. Helen Giddings, president of the National Order of Women Legislators, organizer of the conference. Giddings, a Democrat from Dallas, added she believed that the nation now needs what she described as the “servant-leader.”

Servant-leaders become acquainted with the problems and concerns of their constituents and act carefully, but decisively, and with the public’s will in mind, she said.

“Women tend to be that kind of leader,” she added. “This is an ideal time for women to be really involved in the decision-making process.”

She also said that she felt very confident when Madeleine K. Albright was secretary of state during the Clinton administration and is glad that Condoleezza Rice now serves as President Bush’s national security advisor.

A four-term legislator in Texas, Giddings is the first African American president of the organization and also chairs the board of the organization’s sister, the National Foundation for Women Legislators.

One Member of Congress Voted No to Bush’s Additional Powers

Of the women in the U.S. Congress, one member’s response has set her apart from the vast majority of her colleagues.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, Calif., was the sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against a resolution giving President Bush the power to use military force against anyone deemed responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. After the controversial vote, Lee said that Congress–not the President–should decide whether declaring an act of war was appropriate, and that the United States should pursue other, nonviolent, means of stopping terrorism.

“Military action is a one-dimensional reaction to a multidimensional problem,” Lee said. “We’ve got to be very deliberative and think through the implications of whatever we do,” she told the Washington Post.

Although she did not cast her vote with Lee, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat from suburban DeKalb County in Georgia, joined her in asking for a more thoughtful response.

“We must honestly ask ourselves what is the root cause of this war being waged on our people and our country. I suspect that we will need to look at altering some of our foreign policy positions in some parts of the world.

“Unless we do this, I fear that a military campaign, unsupported by sound foreign policy strategies, will only cause immeasurable civilian suffering throughout the world and may well actually lead to more terrifying attacks upon our cities and our citizenry,” McKinney said in a statement.

Women Balance Protective Emotions Against National Security Concerns

Other local women legislators at the conference said they have been examining their own feelings about the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and trying to decide what they believe would be best for the country.

Wisconsin state Senator Mary LazichThe women expressed a range of opinions about possible military action, with some saying they support a swift military strike and others calling for diplomacy and peaceful solutions.

Sharron E. Angle, a Republican state assemblywoman from Reno, Nev., said her first emotional response to the disasters was that of a mother with a son of draft age.

“No mother wants to send her son off to war,” she said. “But I support my president. I think he’s doing the right thing.” Angle said she supports military action against those found to be responsible for the terrorist acts and added, “Our country’s defense is the first responsibility of government.”

A Democrat and state legislator from Chicago, Ill., Constance Howard said that her first reaction to the tragedy was also one of fear. Her son is a Southwest Airlines pilot, and she said that she and her husband had a few “anxious moments” on Sept. 11 before they located him and knew he was safe.

While Howard also agrees that terrorism needs to be addressed by the United States to prevent similar attacks in the future, she said that she hoped President Bush did not act precipitously. “We need to be sure we’ve done all that’s necessary to make sure were doing something just and right,” Howard said.

Praying Americans Will Be Patient Enough to ‘Get the Right Villains’

Rep. Juanita Walton, a freshman in Missouri’s House of Representatives, said she hopes the country can take a more introspective approach and look at the terrorist attacks as a sign that something’s wrong in the world.

“What are the problems? Why are we so hated?” the St. Louis Democrat asked.

With a son in the military, Walton said she’s particularly concerned about the safety of American soldiers. But she said she hoped the United States could find a peaceful way of resolving the conflict between the West and militant fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden, the Muslim militant believed to be responsible for not only the attacks on Sept. 11, but also the previous attacks on U.S. embassies and a naval carrier.

Walton worried that if the U.S. did not take a peaceful route, “we could be like the United Kingdom with the Irish Republican Army,” she said. “Nobody is safe.”

For those who unreservedly support military action, the notion that men and women handle crises like the current one differently did not hold much water.

“The instinct of women may be preservation of offspring,” said Sen. Mary Lazich, a Republican state senator from New Berlin, Wis. “But when women start thinking in a detailed way, I think they realize that it’s a strong military force that will extinguish terrorism. My own feeling is that this is very difficult. It’s hard not to be reduced to tears, but I think we have to take military action.”

Sarah Stewart Taylor is a free-lance writer in Washington.

For more information:

National Foundation for Women Legislators:

National Order of Women Legislators:

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Calif.:

U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-DeKalb County, Ga.:

For more information about donations, contact Cynthia Ries at (212) 226-2220 x17 or [email protected]. For information about applying to the fund, contact Rini Banerjee at (212) 226-2220 x12 or [email protected].

WEnews Brief

Disaster Relief Fund to Help Low-Income Women and Children

(WOMENSENEWS)–In response to the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, the New York Women’s Foundation has established a disaster relief fund for those who might otherwise fall through the cracks: low-income women and their families.

“People need help and services even more than ever, and many agencies were short-staffed to begin with,” said Rini Banerjee, program director for the foundation, which is the city’s only public foundation with a sole dedication to assisting low-income women and girls.

“Many of the women we’re talking to worked in sweatshops in Chinatown. They are having problems getting into their jobs and not getting paid. We have a lot of displaced workers and new single mothers. And a big issue for these women will be the economic impact, short- and long-term,” Banerjee said.

The disaster fund will provide a safety net for women who have lost their jobs, mothers who have lost their husbands, members of the Arab American community who are experiencing racial bias and women who were otherwise traumatized by the attacks.

“At this time there is so much anxiety,” said Banerjee, adding the fund also will help hire mental health counselors for mothers and their children. “Especially if they’ve just become single, there is so much added pressure.”

So far, said Banerjee, the relief fund has received over $100,000 in donations, ranging from individual $25 checks to corporate donations. –Allison Steele