February 8, 2017
My dear girls,
Last night in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Senator Elizabeth Warren to stop speaking as she was reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. The letter, written in 1986, denounced Jeff Sessions, the senator currently nominated to be the Attorney General of the United States, as unfit for a federal judgeship. When Warren continued, McConnell pulled a move called “extraordinary” by the New York Times: he evoked a little-known rule to silence her. He said:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Shut up and sit down. How many times have I heard that in my life? Unfortunately, more times than I can count.
In my anger and frustration, I spent a good amount of time this morning feeling helpless. I wanted to share with you two some advice about how to react when people tell you to shut up and sit down. And so I’m writing this letter not only to encourage you to speak out and to stand up, but to give you guidelines for how and why to use your voices. I have high expectations for you, and I am holding myself to those expectations as well. Perhaps if we all structure our resistance with some good, old-fashioned “mom rules” we can accomplish more together.
My advice? Be kind, speak out, tell the truth, and to fight to win.
I still believe in kindness, even in this very unkind season. Be kind when you stand up. Be kind when you protest. Be kind when you disagree. Kindness doesn’t mean to be passive, or to be weak, or to be compliant. It doesn’t mean to speak softly. It is to pull from your deep empathy to attempt to understand others. It means that instead of name calling, you use language that constructs rather than demolishes. Your empathy is a light that shines in all that you do. It forms connections and builds bridges between different ideas. It it what makes you human. Active kindness is a choice. When you don’t know how else to react to something rude or unexpected or provoking, choose to be kind.
Speak out. Your voice is powerful.
Speak up for those without a voice. Stand up for those whose rights have been stripped. March for those who cannot march. Do not listen to those who may tell you that your voice doesn’t matter, that you don’t count. You are valuable beyond measure, and you were created with purpose. I’m not merely encouraging you to speak out: I am expecting it. Speak, even when you and I might disagree. Speak when you’re told to shut up. You cannot be silent when others are persecuted. This goes for both bullies in your school and bullies in the White House. Your voice is your birthright and your responsibility. And you have far more power than you may know.
Believe that truth matters.
We are living in a world swirling with propaganda. When the man in the highest office in the land not only lies every single day, he lies about his lies, supports the lies of his employees and followers, and spreads fake news with wild abandon in order to create fear and chaos, you must hold firm to what is true. You are smart young women with gifts for discernment. I’ve watched you both as you’ve stood up for truth. You’ve each demonstrated strength when you’ve followed your hearts, when you listen to your intuition. Back up your feelings with facts. Research. Find confidence and solace in what is true. When you’re unsure, go to the root of the problem and seek the truth. Then speak it.
When it’s time to fight, remember that winning matters.
When the times come in your lives when you are seeking a promotion, or running for public office, or building a case for what you believe, don’t listen if someone tells you “it’s not worth the fight.” Don’t back down when faced with challenges. Hold firm to your principles and to truth, but fight to win. Winning is important. Winning gives you a platform and a responsibility. Winning gives you power. (And there’s nothing–by the way–wrong with women who have power.) And with power, a platform, and responsibility, you become leaders who stand for good. That’s when the real work begins. Those who lose go home. Those who win get to work.
And when, in your fight for what you believe in, you are told to shut up and to sit down? Remember these words from me: Speak out. Stand up. Remember the women who’ve gone before you who’ve paved the way. “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I hope, at the end of my life, that you will count me as one of those women. And I hope that you will count yourselves.
I love you both more than you will ever know,