Toasting Inclusion in Congress

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 7, 2019

Amidst the hoopla over Nancy Pelosi’s return as House Speaker, it seemed totally appropriate to note that it’s been a century since women in the United States won the right to vote.

Buoyed by the Democratic “Blue Wave” from the November elections, the House now has 100 women, as representatives, including the first Native Americans, Muslims and more blacks and Latinas.

The television pictures were remarkable for the faces of diversity among the House’s newest members. But the “remarkable” part was only that the House looked a lot more like normal life than it did even a month ago. Nevertheless, it seems equally remarkable that the House even now is only 25% female and that we are still noting the number of women involved.

The idea that America thought it had been better off without counting the votes and public participation of my two daughters, my wife or any of the smart, talented, clever women in my life is frankly unthinkable. What were they thinking a century ago?

The questions we might ask ourselves concern whether we have learned anything from our troubled history about lack of inclusion, and whether we recognize that we make our public society so much stronger for pursuing policies of inclusion?

Even as pundits from all political stripe were offering televised words of praise for a nation that would send a record-number level of women to Capitol Hill, there was relative silence over the idea that our society regularly works to suppress the vote among non-whites, allows for gerrymandering along racial and class lines, and is still fighting inclusion for transgender people in the military or affirmative action in our universities or to reject equal pay legislation.

Too often, I find, Americans have lost a societal taste for pursuing the most civil of rights — for equality in vote, in jobs, in advancement, in pay, in assembly and choices of lifestyle. In their place, we see our legislators, both federal and state, looking to spend their time and effort to stay in office, to win elections and re-elections, even at the cost of suppressing the rights of others.

How else do we explain the doings in North Carolina, where we still have a congressional race that cannot be settled over misdeeds in the election, or in the states like Pennsylvania, where the gerrymandering by Republican-dominant legislatures has been so overt as to spawn court challenges, or in the White House, where the distance between policy-making and race or ethnicity or transgender status has been reduced to zero?

Certainly, my hope is that the infusion of more women to the Congress — specifically, more Democratic women — we can sharpen the focus on health care policy, on issues of equal pay and opportunity, and our place in a Climate-changing world, as well as on immigration, trade, jobs, housing, education and the military. But I do hope that the Congress first and foremost can reestablish itself as a foundational part of the government and not just the lackey of the White House, regardless of who is president.

As much as governing should remain gender-neutral, the process of decision-making is made stronger by more inclusion. That’s true in personal relationships and in business, in organizational behavior and in policy-making more generally.

I have learned that it is effective when discussing policies about Travel Bans, for example, to have Muslim representatives in the room, or that reaching a renewed understanding about a health care policy for the country, that some of those 100 women House members are involved. The picture in my head is of a committee of all Republican, white, older men as a Senate committee to decide that health care need not cover pregnancy or maternity costs, that it was okay to have health insurance offered at cut-rate prices that did not cover pre-existing conditions — campaign promises notwithstanding.

There is a lot of evidence suggesting that women in government are more likely to promote compromise, are more likely to remember that shutting down the government, for example, actually affects real federal employees, are more directed to “get the job done.” Okay, let’s hope those statements are mostly true and that we can look forward to those results on our governing styles.

But for sure, the act of electing more women, of extending the politics of inclusion, will beget more acts towards extending an attitude of inclusion.

Too much of our current societal values are being bent toward excluding — excluding non-whites, excluding non-Christians, excluding immigrants, excluding trangender people, excluding people who do not declare loyalty to the president, and on and on. Too much is made of advancing those who need little additional advancement, while turning away from those who could leap-frog ahead with a little bit of attitudinal help and support.

For me, advancing the politics of inclusion would be reason for celebration. Let’s make America include again.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer