Good morning and thank you for the lovely welcome.
I am honored to be the kick-off speaker for this wonderful event and I welcome you to – in my unbiased view – the greatest city on earth: San Francisco. I was very fortunate to be born here and am doubly-blessed to represent San Francisco – along with my friend, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in the United States Congress.
“Turning the Page” is an apropos theme for this week. After all, America turns a page every time we inaugurate a new President. Whatever your individual political inclinations might be, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer number of our fellow citizens who traveled from so many far-off places to witness history on Tuesday.
I understand that Women In Periodical Publishing is celebrating its tenth year in 2009. Your mission to “educate, empower and support women” both in publishing and through it, is a worthy and noble pursuit.
I want to thank Linda Ruth and Thea Selby, two of WIPP’s founders, for inviting me here today.
Our two lines of work – politics and publishing – are inextricably linked. Not a day goes by that I don’t speak with someone in the print or online media.
I hope that what I have to say to you this morning is useful for all of you. Your role, as publishers, in the public discourse is crucially important. Even if your publication doesn’t, as its primary function, cover the workings of Congress, what you choose to publish – and how you choose to address it – informs, shapes and challenges the way your readers view the world.
I am impressed by the breadth of publications this rather small – but mighty – group represents. Besides the traditional “women’s” publications, your membership publishes titles as diverse as “Forbes”, “PC World”, “Travel Beyond Borders” and something I admit I was unaware of two days ago (but whose title intrigues me) – “Moo-Cow Fan Club Magazine”.
So, who here watched the Inauguration of President Obama on Tuesday?
Was anyone lucky enough attend in person?
Well, I can tell you that it was truly inspiring. From where I sat with other Members of Congress – behind the podium facing the millions gathered on the National Mall – the scene was literally jaw-dropping.
I shook my head in amazement at how many people – from students to the very oldest Americans – braved frigid temperatures and crowds so large that traffic came to a halt and roads, bridges and tunnels built to accommodate thousands of cars instead became thoroughfares for millions of pedestrians.
Looking out on the sea of humanity stretching from the steps of the U.S. Capitol to the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, I saw what could have been a guerilla-theater interpretation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Only on this day, no one was dreaming.
Black stood with white, who stood with Asian and Hispanic. Walking through the crowd, I heard languages that I couldn’t even place on the globe and saw complete strangers helping each other to cross barriers or navigate through crushing crowds.
Witnessing all this, it struck me that rather than a collection of diverse races, what we were seeing was an enormous American family reunion. We’ve all been to reunions where we don’t know everyone there, we just know that we’re related – that despite not being able to recognize the face of the person next to you, there is an unspoken understanding they have your back. And you, theirs.
On Monday, the day before the Inauguration, I hosted an open house in my office and met hundreds of constituents and other visitors, each with their own touching story of how and why they came to Washington, DC to be part of history. One gentleman, Les Williams, was a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the decorated World War II fighter squadron made up entirely of African Americans.
Mr. Williams was born in San Francisco and attended high school and junior college in San Mateo. After the war, he went to Stanford University on the G.I. Bill and at 55, enrolled at Stanford Law School and practiced law for more than 30 years.
While he was in the service, protecting our nation from its enemies, Les Williams was unable to eat in many restaurants in Alabama where he was stationed. If he wanted a sip of water on a hot afternoon, he had to find a drinking fountain marked “colored.”
At 89 years old, he made the trip to Washington for Barack Obama’s inauguration because, as he told a member of my staff, “I have to see it with my own eyes to know that it’s really true.”For Les Williams, on Tuesday, America turned a page.
In President Obama’s address, he said:
“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”
That is a message that should resonate with all of us, inside politics and out. It is well past the time to raise the public discourse in this country. In your hands – the hands of publishers, you hold great power and an awesome responsibility. While you might not tell your readers what to think, you do teach them how to think. So your role is absolutely essential in our national transformation to begin embracing what unites us as much as we like to complain about what divides us.
No longer should we be content with easy stories defining people by how they are different. The talk of Republican and Democrat, red and blue, black and white, young and old, tech savvy and out-of-touch – only serve to further split us into our separate groups. As I do with my own staff, I implore all of you here to give real thought to how we frame our communications. A good writer can get as much mileage from informing us how diverse people are accomplishing great things by working together as they can by separating each point of view into warring camps.
This doesn’t just apply to public affairs publications. Whether you write about computers or video games or what color of drapes works with a blue couch, you all know that HOW we choose to communicate is at least equally as important as WHAT we have to say.
And nowhere is this more important than in the world of the Moo-Cow Fan Club.
I was sworn into Congress last April. This month, I took the oath of office for my first full term. I have an ambitious legislative agenda set for the next 24 months – covering issues as diverse as healthcare, the banking industry, education and reforming the way Congress does its business – but the whole package is tied together under a common theme of fairness. In fact, we call it our F.A.I.R. Plan: Fighting for Accountability, Innovation and Reform.
Those last three words are important: Accountability, Innovation and Reform. But none of them mean a thing without the first word: Fighting.
Because if you’re not willing to fight, then all the good ideas in the world don’t mean a thing.
In eighteen years in the California State Legislature, I had many triumphs, but my crowning achievement was passing a sweeping financial privacy bill that took four years and was opposed by the most powerful political organizations in the state: Banks, insurance companies, supermarket chains and credit card companies all opposed the bill and put extreme pressure on other members of the legislature.
Many of my colleagues came to me in private and told me that, while they agreed with me that the bill was necessary, they were told in no uncertain terms that if they supported it, these powerful groups would see to it that they had a well-funded opponent in the next election.
What was a girl to do?
I’ll tell you what a girl did: Fight like hell.
Session after session, I reintroduced my bill, and with each introduction, more and more media covered it. Soon, voters across the state started to become aware of what happens when financial institutions sell our personal information. Eventually, those legislators who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to lobbyists found that they now had restless voters back home to deal with.
That’s when the bill was passed.
After my first few weeks in Congress, I was appointed to the Financial Services Committee. My first meeting was at a subcommittee that was considering a bill that I felt could potentially weaken California’s consumer-friendly insurance laws – many of which I wrote while in the legislature.
I told the Chairman that I had problems with the bill and was going to bring them up in committee and I was quickly informed that I was new here and had a lot to learn before speaking out in committee.
My staff, who are all very smart and dedicated and have many years of experience on the hill, assumed that was the end of it. After all, the ways of Congress are simple: Seniority rules. If the Chairman is from your party, you do what he says.
But, like our new President, I’ve never been enamored by the way everyone has done things before me.
Old rules are nice, but progress is fueled by new ideas.
So, I spoke up in the sub-committee. I politely expressed my concerns with the legislation and – since I was a freshman Congressperson at her first sub-committee meeting, figured that was as far as it would go.
But questions have a way of provoking other questions. Soon, the press picked up the story and started wondering if the Chairman’s bill was good for consumers or was just a boon for the insurance industry – and by the way, isn’t he in a tough re-election race?
Two months later, the bill was slated to be voted on by the whole Congress. I requested time to speak in opposition. Suddenly, the bill was pulled. Reporters called my office and asked how a freshman got a Chairman’s bill pulled.
Of course, I didn’t get it pulled. “I’m new here.” Remember? The Chairman himself pulled the bill because he didn’t want it discussed in the light of day. He – with all his power and seniority – wasn’t willing to fight.
Two years ago, I wrote a book along with three of my friends called “This is Not the Life I Ordered.” I should say, it was published two years ago. As you all know, the path between writing and publishing can be long, indeed.
Our original title was “Chocolate is a Vegetable”. We sent the manuscript to the best publishers in New York along with a box of See’s candy, then sat back and waited for the offers to start rolling in.
Instead, we received only rejection notices.
Well, we didn’t let that stop us. Since there were four of us, we all agreed to keep talking about the book – to anyone who would listen – and see what happened.
Then, at a meeting of the Professional Business Women of California (or PBWC) I told the story of the book and was approached by a small publisher, Conari Press, who specializes in women’s books.
After some talks, we settled on a new title and before we knew it, our book was on bookstore shelves all over America. Now, it’s in its fifth printing and a paper-back edition is being released in March.
Another testament to the simple power of women not willing to shut up when they have something worthwhile to say.
Now, who here is up for a good fight?
I mean a real fight. One that seems impossibly uphill at first, but if we’re in it together, the wind will be at our back in no time at all.
Who wants to take on the cosmetics industry with me?
In the last two decades, women’s health has come a long way. We’ve targeted breast cancer and osteoporosis, have made birthing practices safer and encouraged young girls to be vaccinated for the HPV virus. And all the while, we’ve continued rubbing toxic poisons directly into our body’s largest organ – our skin.
The average American woman uses between 10 and 25 personal care products a day. Yet, one third of all cosmetic products contain one or more ingredients known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. These include such glamorous substances as coal tar, formaldehyde, lead acetate, dibutyl phthalate and toluene.
And it’s not just their names that are scary. These poisons aren’t allowed in our food, but are perfectly legal to apply directly to our lips, skin and hair.
The good news is, the European Union has banned 1,100 different ingredients for use in cosmetics.
The bad news is, most of us can’t afford to fly to Europe to buy our makeup.
Here in the United States, we’ve banned just nine.
Last year, the American Association of University Women partnered with Teens for Safe Cosmetics to sponsor a bill in California to ban lead in lipstick.
Taking lead out of lipstick – that’s a no-brainer, right? How can that fail?
I’ll tell you: Through the fierce opposition of companies that you and I help keep in business – companies like Mary Kay, Estee Lauder, Neutrogena and Proctor & Gamble.
Lead is a powerful neurotoxin, causing brain damage, learning problems, infertility and miscarriage. It has been eliminated – by law – from paint, drinking water, ceramics and jewelry. Not too long ago, I voted for a bill in Congress that banned lead in toys.
I have never eaten a piece of jewelry and it has been fifty years since I put a toy in my mouth. But researchers tell us that an average woman consumes four pounds of lipstick in her lifetime.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I assure you, if lead was found in a traditionally male product – like beer – there would be a new Manhattan Project to solve that problem.
So how about it? Who’s up for a fight?
I’m currently looking into legislation to bring American cosmetics up to European standards. But nothing will happen in Congress until the public demands it. Here, in this room, are the women that can make that happen. There are a thousand stories in this fight. The readers of your publications would, no doubt, be fascinated by the topic and a little scared, too.
Who wants to take it on with me?
This is a historic week. On Tuesday, the son of an African immigrant, raised by a single mother, with an unusual name and a fraction of the experience owned by his impressive opponents, was elevated to the highest post in our land.
If Barack Obama’s inauguration does nothing else for you, it should at least prove that, in America, anything is possible.
And anything is possible because we love in a land where are allowed to communicate freely.
But just because we have a free press, does not mean that we are free to back away from its awesome power.
Embrace it. Use it to inspire your readers to stand up and fight. Inspire them to seize their destiny – whether you publish the New York Times or the Moo-Cow Fan Club Magazine.