By Alison Manca and Malcolm Cox
Nancy Pelosi has captivated political and public attention for decades. She is the first woman to have reached the highest office in the United States Congress and has led congressional Democrats in resisting former President Trump’s policies. After a tumultuous election and a violent capitol insurrection during which invaders occupied Pelosi’s office, it is evident why the Alan D. Solomont lecture, featuring Pelosi would be popular to the Tufts community. The Alan D Solomont Lecture series was inaugurated to connect the Tufts community with civic leaders to model pathways to action. Thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members logged on to the webinar in late February eager for Pelosi’s insights. One would assume that such a prestigious speaker with personal insight into the national political landscape would provoke questions and answers pertinent to the concerns of students. However, as questions were posed throughout the interview, I found myself wanting to hear more about her opinions than what I could otherwise hear from a press conference. It seemed to me that Speaker Pelosi had already answered these questions in previous interviews, and the lecture lacked a tufts-specific character.
The first two questions asked to Speaker Pelosi related to her role as a woman in the high annals of politics. “How do you balance motherhood with politics?” “How does it feel to be a woman in a space dominated by men?” While Pelosi offered some colorful anecdotes, such as the lack of women’s restrooms near the congressional chamber, the idea that she would face sexism and have overcome it is evident in the persistence of sexism in society and Pelosi’s political success. I also got the sense that in the face of these questions, Pelosi hoped to address other topics that could have lent a unique character to the interview such as the Capitol insurrection which she briefly mentioned before answering the first question. While it is important to reflect on the history and present state of female leadership, Pelosi has doubtless given many interviews on the same topic throughout her decades in politics. These questions assumed that discussion of feminism in politics only examines sexism in the workplace. However, Pelosi could have engaged with the topic of feminism through her discussion of the Capitol insurrection and the equality bill passed earlier that same day. We must not only respect women in politics because they have managed to get elected against odds. We must recognize that women are often the hardest working politicians and we must hold them accountable because we believe in their ability. A powerful discussion of Feminist politics can be found in Beverly Udegbe’s question about what congressional bills were being passed to support women of color and their communities at large.
The student-led questions, on the other hand, required more extemporaneous responses from Speaker Pelosi. One student question asked where Pelosi finds hope in these troubling political times, alluding to the insurrection and lasting legacy of Trumpism. Pelosi responded by highlighting the increasing diversity of executive and congressional politics, including Deb Haaland, the first native American woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. She also confessed that she believes in “faith and charity.” Despite weathering targeted verbal attacks and threats to her physical safety, I was surprised to learn that Pelosi still believes in the fundamental goodness of human beings. Finally, Pelosi praised the young people who challenge her generation of leaders to protect civil rights and preserve the environment, a comment appropriate for an audience of civically-minded college students.
The difference between the anticipatory questions posed by Tisch College and the confronting questions of Tufts students is that the lecture series is a formality for Tisch, but a lifeline for students. For Tufts students interested in politics, civic action, social justice, and futures in leadership, Pelosi’s wisdom offers inspiration in a time when entering politics seems increasingly daunting. I felt pride for Tufts students doing groundbreaking and necessary work toward political justice and the strengthening of our democracy for all.