The White House Project is happy to welcome Deborah Larkin, WHP Board Member and Founder of The Margaret Fund, as our guest blogger today.
A Front-Row Seat to History
No one minded the cold weather Thursday morning while we waited in the security line to get into the White House for the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The mood was joyous. People were congratulating each other with hugs and laughter. We talked about the excitement of being back in the White House. We took our time getting settled; looking into rooms, admiring the artwork, taking in the history, watching how this new administration worked – not taking anything for granted as for many of us it had been eight years since our last invitation to one of these historic events. We were excited and terribly proud to witness President Obama’s first bill signing.
As we passed the Rose Garden, people reminisced about President Clinton’s first bill signing in 1993 – the Family Medical Leave Act. Implicit was the memory of the enormous effort to get that Bill passed by so many of the same women who were here today, and the comparison of those two Presidents who made important pieces of legislation benefiting women and families their first priority.
While waiting for the ceremony to begin, I looked around at this esteemed group of women (and men) – many of whom have been doing civil rights and other important work for 20, 30 and 40 years. Getting this bill signed had become a truly a monumental achievement for women – and all workers. It took the dedicated commitment of time and resources from advocate organizations and individuals across the country to pressure Congress to get it passed. Marcia Greenberger, co-President of the National Women’s Law Center got it right when she said, “The Supreme Court stripped workers of their ability to fight wage discrimination but now a new President and Congress have stepped in and restored their basic legal rights. Today this President has demonstrated that women and families matter and that made the difference”.
There were more than a few tears of happiness shed today with this sweet victory. It energized the advocates and the public into believing that we do, in fact, have what it takes to win. But it’s also bitter sweet as this win only got us back to where we were two years ago. With a different Supreme Court (e.g., Sandra Day O’Connor versus Justice Alito), the 5-4 decision could have gone the other way and we wouldn’t have had to fight this battle at all.
So what is wining, really? Systemic change requires more than the passage of one bill or one election. But we’ll know it’s here when enough women – not one or a few – but a critical mass of women are in the leadership pipeline whose voices are strong and powerful enough to impact the economic, security, health and cultural values that we hold so dear. Then, we’ll know that Lilly Ledbetter’s fight will not be turned back and our daughters and granddaughters will have the opportunities they deserve.