Ladies First

I’d never seen Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom the Fair Pay Act was named; but on Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to watch her on TV, speaking at the Democratic Convention. My first thought was, “Oh, she’s just like me.” The first piece of legislation Pres. Obama signed after he was sworn in was for me, and every woman and girl in this country. Ladies first, he showed us, ladies first.

Women are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. At our local headquarters, I see it. On the street, when I bump into volunteers registering people to vote, I see it. When I meet with directors and organizers in the campaign, I see it. In the Democratic Party, women have a voice….we are heard. Pres. Obama, as leader of our party as well as our nation, hears us.

It was fitting the first night of the Convention focused like a laser on qualities every decent woman knows well: love, contribution, respect, and family first.

Many speakers put their unique flavor in the gumbo of American values. Tammy Duckworth made me tear up, as she always does, when she told her story about being in combat in Iraq and having her legs blown off. The emphasis in the narrative isn’t her sacrifice or suffering, but the commitment her comrades made to save her; and how she has paid this kindness forward with her service to vets.

Stacy Lihn, a mother of a special needs child, spoke movingly about the relief her family felt when they received a letter in the mail from her insurance company, saying there was no more life-time limit on coverage for her daughter’s medical care. Remembering the agony of facing a mountain of medical bills after one of my older son’s hospitalizations, I understood exactly how she felt.

“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition,” implored HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and I thought of the day I called my insurance company to see how much a service would cost, and they told me the service was covered. Several years ago, it hadn’t been.

In a truly gutsy move, the DNC invited Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL, to speak adamantly on reproductive rights, and our president’s commitment to protecting a woman’s privacy. She implored the audience that “Rape is rape,” and everyone cheered with gratitude to hear this spoken at a political event.

Another recurrent theme was of marriage equality and our president’s ending of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Embracing the LGBT community, the DNC went where no other political party has gone at a Convention: to call for equal rights for gay people….end of story.

There were many wonderful men orators this evening as well, and they punctuating our president’s legislative achievements and spoke of his integrity and toughness. A high point was Gov. Deval Patrick of Mass., saying of GOP obstructionism, “I will not stand by and let him (Obama) be bullied out of office and neither should you.”

The mood was elevated as the guest of honor walked out, with her usual calm and confident demeanor. The First Lady’s speech was the biggest success of the evening. Strong, heart-felt, and profoundly motherly, Michelle Obama talked about her husband and family. She spoke of unconditional love, dignity, and decency. “That’s who we are,” she repeated. That is who they are.

Coming clean about her concerns with Pres. Obama running four years ago, she assured us, “I love the life we’ve built for our girls.” Being the first family, she assured us, is something she believes in.

“Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” she said, and told the audience she loves her husband now more than she did four years ago.

What was most moving to me about her speech, and all the speeches as a whole, was the tone of sacrifice, hard work, and commitment. “The American dream is a relay,” said San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. “Opportunity today, prosperity tomorrow.”

Underscoring the very qualities much of America has lost sight of over the last generation or two, the first night of the Democratic Convention boldly stated what must happen next to move forward. America needs an attitude adjustment.

Working not towards our own glory, or selfish desires, but for a brighter future for our kids and grand kids was the foundation of the American Dream for hundreds of years. Consumerism, greed, and, frankly, stupidity, clouded the Dream for a while. But it’s not too late to get it back. With smart leadership, hard work, and education, we can create for our kids the prosperity we’ve seen slowly stolen from us.

“I’m proud of the work I do because I’m proud of the people I do it for,” the First Lady said.

This could be the call to action we’ve been waiting for.