It’s a good time to talk about Nancy Pelosi as she knows her power as Madame Speaker once again. It’s a good time to remind people of this book, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters by Nancy Pelosi. Here she tells her story of ascending to that position and shares the tools she has learned to be an effective leader, the skills she has gleaned from being in a position that requires effective negotiation and thinking “outside the beltway,” and offers the catchphrases that helped her along the way: “Organize, don’t agonize,” “Be Ready,” and “Know Your Power.”
Let’s start by naming a few firsts that can be attributed to this powerful woman.
- First Woman Speaker of the House, first sworn in in 2007, reclaimed the gavel in January 2019
- First woman to lead a U.S. political party in the House of Representatives(she became minority whip in 2002).
- First daughter to follow her father into congress.
This book, published in 2008, details experiences in her personal and professional life up until then. We look forward to her next book. So much has happened since then.
Nancy D’Alesandro was born into the Italian American neighborhood in Baltimore in 1940. Both her parents were children of Italian immigrants. Pelosi was the youngest after six sons. She credits part of her ability to get along in Washington with being the youngest after six brothers. She learned how to stand up for herself early.
Her father, Thomas D‘Alesandro Jr, served as a U.S. Congressperson (one of the earliest Italian Americans to serve there) and Mayor of Baltimore for twelve years. The house she grew up in was an open door to the people of the local community who came in and out regularly. Pelosi acknowledges her mother as partner to her father in all his work, but she also had ambitions of her own which did not come to fruition because ”my father and the times held her back”(13).
“Growing up in Little Italy impressed upon me the vitality immigrants bring to America. With their courage, optimism and determination to make the future better for their families, they fulfill the American dream. They made America stronger. That has been true throughout American history, and it is true today”(11).
Pelosi had plans to go to law school but she met Paul Pelosi and fell in love. They married in 1963 and three children quickly followed.They eventually settled in San Francisco, Paul’s hometown. Pelosi loved being a mother and ended up having five children within six years. In 1976, her political career gained momentum when she helped Jerry Brown in his campaign for President.
Shortly thereafter she became Northern Chair for the California Democratic Party and eventually Chair of California. She won a hard-fought seat for congress in 1987, using many of the tools she has watched her father use in his campaigns:
“I won because I was able to organize in a variety of ways, all of which came together on Election Day. While growing up in a political family was obviously helpful, the organizational skills I developed as a mom were equally important.
As one of my friends once said about me, ‘I knew she was going places when I would go to her house and see those little children folding their own laundry and organizing it into stacks!’”(84).
When her youngest daughter was a senior in high school, Pelosi headed to Washington to serve, flying home to San Francisco on the weekends to be with her family and constituents. Her first words as a sworn in congressperson were that she was there to fight AIDS in a climate where that harrowing epidemic was being grossly ignored. She was true to her word.
At the time of writing this book, she had been there for 21 years, now it is 31!
Becoming the Speaker is a significant accomplishment, but I have never felt it was a personal victory. Rather, I see it as a pivotal moment for all women”(1).
In the book she speaks to young women about career and family, what she has learned:
“Raising a family is challenging. I want women to know that the skills I acquired as a mother and homemaker have been invaluable to me. These same skills—so often undervalued—are transferable to many other arenas in life, including the United States Congress”(2).
She speaks to young mothers as someone who knows:
“The work ethic and, frankly, the discipline that taking care of small children forces on you make any other job possible. I used to say that I had the best life and some of the worst days of anyone I knew. Some days I didn’t even have time to wash my face. Just when you see the light at the end of the tunnel of years of diapers, you find out that the light is another train called homework, years of homework.
For the children’s sake and for your sanity, you can never let on to them that this is a struggle. But mothers know”(51).
The book is filled with anecdotes and experiences from both parts of her life and the blending of the two.
To “recreate”is to “re-create” our energy, our spirit, and our friendships. So whether it is work or play, helping around the house or entertaining the kids, focus on it.
Remember the Latin phrase “Age quod agis”—do what you are doing”(107).
Throughout the book Pelosi gives credit to the women who came before her, and the women who helped her along the way. She describes her motivation as being “the fact that one in five children in America lives in poverty”(153). She reveals her struggles and battles in the Bush years and more. It is a fun read, informative and inspiring, as is She.
May fortitude be with her!
“As long as we recognize the power within us, we will continue to have choices, and we will continue to lead.
The source of that power can be the other people who guide us. It can come from the knowledge that courageous women throughout history paved the way for us. It can come from our roots and families, which give us strength. And it must come from within ourselves—our faith, our accomplishments, and our values.
Know your power.
When you do, others will know your power, too”(174).
Nancy Pelosi is a #NastyWomanWriter, Activist and Politician.
©Theresa C. Dintino 2019
Pelosi, Nancy. Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters, Doubleday: N.Y, 2008.