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My Mother, Madame Speaker

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Throughout March, the Democrats will present an ongoing blog series celebrating American women of distinction, both past and present. Staff members at the Democratic National Committee and several female leaders in the Democratic Party have been asked to write about influential women in our country’s history and leaders who continue making contributions today.

March has always been Women’s History Month in my family. My grandmother Nancy D’Alesandro, my mother Nancy Pelosi, and my daughter Isabella were all born in March, and each in her own way affects my past, present, and future history.

My grandmother, Nancy D’Alesandro, was a lifelong activist, who worked to make progress in her community. As the First Lady of Baltimore, Maryland in the 1940s and 50s, she and her “moccasin army” organized around family, faith, and friends and worked to elect New Deal Democrats like my grandfather, Congressman and Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr. He voted for FDR’s New Deal programs like the intergenerational compact of Social Security – measures which began as political risks but endure today as bedrocks of American society, lifting millions of workers from poverty and ensuring retirees their dignity.

My mother, Nancy Pelosi, is the Democratic Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first woman to lead a national political party in America. From the moment she won her first race for House leadership, my mother’s mantra has been “we have made history; now we must make progress.”

This was never truer than when my mother, the Speaker of the House, passed the Affordable Care Act -- this era’s intergenerational compact. Like Social Security, health reform was a tremendous political risk that challenged the status quo. And just like many New Deal Democrats of the FDR era, many members sacrificed politics for principles knowing that the personal health and security of the American people was a national priority.

My daughter Isabella inherits this history, as do millions of children born at a time when the Speaker of the House was a woman and the President was African-American. Isabella enters a world with possibilities that were dreamed by her great-grandmother’s generation and achieved by her grandmother’s generation: the right to vote, the right to unconditional health care, the ability to serve, and the responsibility to tear down barriers that stifle human potential.

This month, as we commemorate the one-year anniversary of health reform’s passage, I keep thinking of what my grandmother used to say: “when you have your health you have everything.”

Though a year has passed since that fateful night, I remember it vividly. It was almost midnight on March 21, 2010. Like millions of families across America, I gazed into the television, holding my infant daughter, and watched as the dream became reality. It was a defining moment for our family, for women, and for our country.

The late Ted Kennedy described health reform as the “great unfinished business of our country.” Until my mother took the Speaker’s gavel, it was a legislative milestone beyond history’s reach. For its first 233 years, the U.S. House of Representatives had a male Speaker. For 100 of those 233 years, health care reform had been a national ambition that eluded presidents and lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike. In recent years, patients were denied care due to medical discrimination and skyrocketing health costs bankrupted families and small businesses faster than they could say “Chapter 7.”

With Democrats in the White House and the majority in both houses, my mother knew that health reform was now or never. Following a national debate now famous for its prominence and passion, much like the Social Security debate of the New Deal era, health care’s chances were still doubtful as entrenched interests pushed back every inch of the way. Propelled by millions of grassroots activists, the House and Senate finally reached an agreement. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The barrier broken that night wasn’t a barrier limited to women – it was a barrier that limited all Americans.

As a committeewoman of the Democratic National Committee and as a granddaughter, daughter, and mother, I know that my mother and her colleagues have changed the world Isabella will come to know.

Isabella won’t know a time when sick children are discriminated against simply because they are sick. She won’t know a time when families are forced to cope with the fear of bankruptcy because health coverage is denied or rescinded. She won’t know a time when Social Security and health care aren’t cornerstones of the American dream. And Isabella won’t know a time when a woman can’t be Speaker of the House.