Remarks at the 2010 Power Lunch

A major highlight of my life is looking out at the beautiful crowd that has gathered for each of the last nine years of now nearly 2000 women and as always, a healthy number of very secure men.  Thank you all for coming!  I hope you feel even just a fraction of how good I feel surrounded by the warmth and solidarity that fills this room.  Of course this is a place to see and be seen, and you do look marvelous.  But I hope that an even bigger draw for this lunch is the knowledge that this is a welcoming and safe place; a place where you feel supported and encouraged and inspired by amazing women like Helen Thomas; perhaps here you can connect with someone that can help you, or maybe you will leave feeling strong enough to solve a problem, take on a new challenge, or discover a project that you can get involved in. 

This is where the old girls network gathers, right along side younger women who are raising your families and/or trying to balance a job or career, or maybe still figuring and scheming and dreaming about the right path to take; and this is where I delight in seeing the students that are here including those from the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, the “Women in History Class” at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and Zafra Lehrman’s science students.  And of course, the children who are still getting ready to launch like my grandchildren Isabel, Eve, Lucy and William. My daughter and friend Mary is here, and I do love seeing the men that are here too including my husband Bob, the love of my life, and my wonderful son Ian.  To all of you who are mothers, have mothers, know mothers, I wish you a very happy Mothers’ Day.

I know you have to get back to your lives but I want to make a short report about how much things have changed – for the better since last year – proving that elections and visionary leadership really do matter.

(As an aside, I must admit to still shaking my head in wonder about that man we used to call just plain Barack is that leader.  I was just in the embassies in Cairo and Israel, and there is his big picture on the wall.  Oh right, he’s the President!)

On his first day as President, and what a day it was, Barack Obama declared that the United States would not tolerate engaging in torture.  That week, by Executive Order, he overturned the Bush era Global Gag Rule and restored funding for international planning.  On January 20, 2009, science made a comeback.  Stem cell research is now being supported by the Federal Government.  In the last few weeks, the President issued another executive order, this time saying that GLBT partners will not be denied access to their loved ones who are in the hospital.  He established the White House Office on Women and Girls, he appointed Hilda Solis, a champion of workers’ right as Secretary of Labor and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  Yes the Bush years are over.

As the President took office, he faced the greatest economic crisis since the great depression.  The recklessness of the big Wall Street Banks had cost 8 million Americans their jobs – and millions more their pensions.  Bold action was necessary. He and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – or stimulus bill – that most economists credit with avoiding an actual repeat of the great depression.  We extended unemployment insurance and helped laid-off workers pay their COBRA health insurance costs, sent much needed financial help to the states and provided tax relief for 95% of Americans.  The economy is growing again, and despite what the Republicans say, the independent Congressional Budget Office reports that up to 2.2 jobs were created because we acted swiftly and appropriately.
In fact, this has been one of the most productive sessions of Congress in history.  On January 29, the President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 addressing wage discrimination against women.

I stood with the President and Nancy Pelosi as the President signed an expansion of SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Programs, making 6.5 million more children eligible to receive the care they need.

The Omnibus Land Management Act was signed protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in 9 states and a thousand miles of rivers – a 50% increase in the wild and scenic river system.

The Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act preventing banks from raising rates unfairly including raising interest rates on existing balances is now law.

Tobacco is now regulated as a drug and cigarette companies are forbidden to aggressively market to children.

 The House passed a far-reaching energy bill to limit carbon emissions and invest in a clean energy economy in order to free ourselves of foreign oil, assure an energy secure future, and yes, save the planet.  The Senate still needs to act, and will.

Same with the Wall Street Regulation bill which passed the House and is being debated as we meet in the Senate.  No more bailouts, no more too big to fail.  (And by the way, I have done my personal part.  I ended an abusive relationship, and broke up with my big bank – and left Bank of America for community bank in my neighborhood, the Devon Bank.  I feel so much better.)

I went to Haiti and saw the devastation, but the U.S. stepped up,  both the people and the government which passed the Haiti Debt Relief and Earthquake Recovery Act.  See Marjorie Benton if you are interested in the long term recovery of Haiti.

Last but not least, after 100 years of trying, this Congress, under the brilliant, and I mean unparalleled in history leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the determination of our new President, we passed Health Care Reform.  Many of you have heard me say that, if on my grave or urn or wherever you want to put me, that I helped bring quality, affordable health care to all Americans, I will die a happy woman.  Actually, I’d like to publicly amend that now because frankly, I’m not really ready to go yet.  Besides this law is just a beginning.

And that brings me to the end except for a mention of some unfinished business. 

The 9th Congressional District is one of the most diverse in the nation.  More than 1/3 of our residents were born outside the United States and 40% speak a language other than English at home.  They come from everywhere and they come with PhDs and they come unfamiliar with flushing toilets.  But they all come ready to work and educate their children and contribute to our great country.  It is time, past time, for us to celebrate their contributions by passing comprehensive immigration reform.  And it is definitely time for us to soundly reject the likely unconstitutional and definitely un-American law passed in Arizona and any others like it.

And for years you have heard me speak about seeing ourselves as part of an international sisterhood, using our privileged position in the world to help the 500,000 who die needlessly each year in childbirth, the millions who are victims of oppression in their own countries and homes, targets of honor killings, slavery and trafficking (and by the way, you can literally buy a girl on Craig’s List, something Attorney General Lisa Madigan is taking the lead on ending).  I saw our sisters in Afghanistan wearing burqas where their view of the world is through this tiny mesh screen.  I am a lead sponsor of the International Violence Against Women Act, and I need your help to pass it.

Yes, we have made serious progress, but our opportunities could be fleeting. This is a very, very challenging time for Democrats, for progressives, for incumbents.  Even I have a Tea Party endorsed candidate running against me and I hope you will join me in sending a clear message that Tea Party values are inconsistent with those of the 9th Congressional District.  When you get back to work or home, go to my website,, and sign up to Stand with Jan.

Finally, the Obama Administration created a progressive opening in the United States.  Our opponents have done everything they could to stop us, using fear and prejudice as weapons, and still we have made significant progress. This November 2 is a test.  Depending on the outcome, we will either go back to the catastrophic, failed policies of the 8 Bush years, or we will continue to move forward.  The Republicans are working to enflame and mobilize their base, and hoping that, like in 1994, Democrats will stay home. The election depends entirely on whether those of us who want this amazing record of accomplishment to continue and are willing to commit ourselves to the hard work of winning.  That is why once again I have to ask each and every one of you to knock on doors, get on the phone, write the checks and dust off the posters that say Yes We Can.  We did before, we can do it again.  Success is in our hands.  It would be tragic to squander the opportunities ahead of us to build a country and world that is more just, more prosperous and allows the oldest and youngest among us today to live our dreams to the fullest.  This is a call to action.