By Maureen Cowhey '19
On February 18, the new Scripps Presents speaker series hosted a conversation with House of Representatives Minority Leader and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The event welcomed Scripps students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the Claremont Colleges and the community to hear Pelosi address issues such as women in politics, reaching across the aisle and immigration policies. Moderated by Scripps Assistant Professor of Politics, Vanessa Tyson, the highly anticipated talk had mixed reviews across the Scripps and greater Claremont community.
Holding the highest political position of any woman in American history, Pelosi is an advocate for gender equality. When addressed with a question regarding the sexism that female candidates encounter, Pelosi recounted her own experience in fighting comments such as, “who said she could run?” Pelosi further stated her support for eliminating big money in politics in order to increase the involvement of “women and minorities.”
Pelosi mainly addressed her push for paid sick leave, increased involvement of women in the economy, environmental justice, and immigration reform. Her policies and comments were geared towards her predominantly liberal, female audience.
Addressing the anti-immigration protesters outside of the venue, Pelosi reaffirmed her position on the good of sanctuary cities and confirmed that “there is not any reason to undo the sense of community of the sanctuary city.”
As speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011, Pelosi was faced with the task of reaching across the aisle to work with a Republicans on many issues. However, when moderator Professor Tyson asked Pelosi to address the pushback of policies by the Republican Party, she merely concluded that there are fundamental differences in the party’s beliefs and “it is what it is.”
Speaking on the topic of women and children below the poverty line, Pelosi elicited applause when she stated, “When women succeed, America succeeds.” Not everyone in the crowd, however, was enthusiastic about this response.
“[Pelosi] spoke on how America would succeed if women succeeded,” Bemnet Gebrechirstos ‘19 said. Gebrechirstos said, “but there was no critical analysis that acknowledged the ways in which different identities and communities are and her role within that.” she said.
Krithika Rao ‘19 had the opportunity to introduce Pelosi. She described the experience as “unreal.” “As a young female millennial from the Bay Area and as an immigrant, I really did feel like I could relate to her policies,” Rao explained. Rao said, “she is a strong proponent for helping immigrant families settle into this new country and for building equality regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.”
Rao further explained how struck she was by Pelosi’s genuine attitude towards both herself and her fellow audience. Staying to take pictures after the event and asking Rao about her life, Rao said “[Pelosi] really seemed to care.” Gebrechirstos, on the other hand, was less impressed. “Her answers to a lot of the thoughtful questions asked by Professor Tyson and the audience,” Gebrechirstos said, “seemed superficial and carefully crafted answers to appeal to the crowd.”
Pelosi seem to elicit positive responses from students on the other side of the political spectrum as well. Claremont McKenna first-year and political writer, Zach Wong expressed his appreciation for Pelosi’s talk despite disagreeing with her policies. Wong stated, “I appreciated her focus on our generation and the imperative she placed on us to address the biggest issues facing us.” Wong also spoke highly of her ability to address the generational gap that existed between herself and her audience.
Despite many positive reviews, Gebrechirstos challenged students to ask themselves what the reality of the situation is.
“I think when people see her as paving the way for women, I also want them to ask themselves who Pelosi has paved the way for,” Gebrechirstos stated. Gebrechirstos further explained, “With her successful career in her field, if she had truly been working for “all women” that would mean centering who is most vulnerable to the systems of violence that the US government perpetuates.”