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Wendy Davis: Nancy Pelosi is the fierce ‘mama bear’ Dreamers needed

Wendy Davis: Nancy Pelosi is the fierce ‘mama bear’ Dreamers needed
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House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiLawmakers feel pressure on guns Former Pelosi challenger: I have no 'interest in running for leadership again' Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March MORE’s 8 hour and 7 minute “DACAbuster” Wednesday was spectacular. The filibuster-style speech shattered the record for the longest speech on the House floor.

Pelosi — the 77-year-old, wealthy, long-serving member of Congress and former (and first ever female) House Speaker — for more than 8 hours pressed the need for a vote to protect Dreamers.

For approximately 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protected Dreamers, their very futures hang in the balance as they watch the clock ticking toward March 5. That is the artificially and politically imposed deadline set by President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE for their current protected status to expire. 

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Pelosi could have easily made a few “sound-bite worthy” statements and been done with it — points scored in a political column that would demonstrate that she was on the correct side of young Dreamers. Instead, in her trademark 4-inch high heels and with little more planning than the thoughts she gathered on her drive to the Capitol that morning, she turned her “magic minute” at the microphone into an 8-hour demonstration of physical stamina and political resolve.

 

What was so resonant about DACA’s threatened expiration that motivated Pelosi to speak for more than 8 hours? No sitting. No bathroom breaks. And in those heels.

In part, it’s that this issue strikes at the very core of who we — a country of immigrants — are as Americans and the values that we hold dear. The debate over DACA’s renewal prompts us to examine whether we will hold true to our deeply held ideal that if you are willing to work hard, you can become whatever it is you dream of being. The very moniker, “Dreamers,” speaks to this inherent and long-standing American value.

I have no doubt that Pelosi’s decision to speak for an extended time was motivated by this belief that the hard, honest work of the Dreamers who call America their home merits the reward of them staying here. 

But perhaps more than that (and the reason that I currently spend my days working to empower women’s voices in the political conversation) Pelosi was likely also motivated by that fact that she is a mom. And it was the mom in her, as much if not more so, than the American in her that prompted her to rise and speak for an extended time on behalf of a group of kids who’ve done all they were asked and yet, somehow, have found themselves political pawns in a Trumpian-contrived game.

In some sense, politics is always about people’s lives and the impact that policies will have on them. But there are some instances in which that reality is more acute, more immediate and more dire. And it’s in these instances when the “mama bears” among us tend to roar. These are the occasions where we find no room for compromise because there can be no compromise on the very future of a young person’s life.

Each day that Congress delays acting on the Dream Act, approximately 122 people lose their DACA protections. That’s 851 people each week and more than 7,900 since Trump terminated DACA in September of 2017. These are real people, making real contributions to our economy and to our cultural fabric.

Bringing those lives to the full center of the debate, sprinkled with biblical passages to remind her fellow-lawmakers of their own self-professed “Christianity-inspired” moral values and obligations, was at the core of Pelosi’s mission on Wednesday.

Years ago, I spent hours reading the stories of women who had chosen abortion as the right decision for themselves as we debated passage of an anti-abortion law in Texas. I truly believe that it was these very real human stories that caught the attention of much of the country, rather than the fact that I was speaking for an extended time. It shifted the conversation from one about abstract political ideology into one about the people impacted by the proposed policy, moving them into the forefront.

This week, Pelosi took a similar tact — moving the stories of young Dreamers into the context of the dialogue. I think she understood that the very real experiences of these young people had gotten lost as DACA has become more about political posturing and bargaining than the people whose futures are at stake, so she took advantage of her ability to move them to the center of the conversation. 

Theirs are the stories of leadership and a common commitment to give back to the only country they call home. 

They are Alonso, a Dreamer who lost his life saving others during Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

They are Fernanda, who was brought to the U.S. when she was 2-years-old, grew up alongside her U.S.-born brother in Alabama, graduated as an honor student of Samford University in Birmingham and helped her parents start a restaurant using her social security number.

They are Diego, who was born in Ecuador and brought here at 6-years-old and later able to become employed and contribute to the economy after President Obama enacted DACA protections that allowed him, in his words, “to come out of the shadows.”

They are Hugo, whose family moved him here when he was 15-years-old to escape the violence and fear they experienced in their home country of El Salvador, and who is now working and raising his U.S. born children along with his wife in Pearl River, New York.

These stories came to life on Wednesday through Leader Pelosi’s commitment to tell them. It took a “mama bear” with the power of her huge megaphone to force us to listen to exactly who and what this debate is about. 

This year, a record number of mama bears are running for office. They bring with them their lived experiences, the unparalleled ability to stand in the shoes of the people they will have the privilege to represent, and the capacity to set ego aside and get the job done. They bring with them the dreams they have for their own children and the priorities that those dreams motivate. And like Leader Pelosi, they bring with them the wisdom to know when to draw a line in the sand and fight, rather than compromise. Especially when there are kids’ futures at stake.

Wendy Davis was the 2014 Democratic candidate for Texas governor. She previously served in the Texas Senate, where she held a 13-hour filibuster to block abortion restrictions. Davis is the founder of women’s advocacy organization Deeds Not Words.