Today Congress witnesses its newest member Jackie Speier sworn into service. She's a survivor whose story took the world to the edge of horror as it took her to the edge of death.
When religion reared its fanatic head in Guyana's jungle 30 years ago, followers assassinated a Congressman, four members of his party, and left Jackie Speier for dead.
Leo J. Ryan, journalists, and his small group were investigating claims by Bay Area constituents that Jim Jones was abusing family members at his "People's Temple" church-camp in Guyana. After visiting the cult's megalomaniacal encampment and interviewing some of its frightened members, Ryan and his party left without haste. As they were boarding their small airplane on the jungle airstrip, a group of Jones' assassins on a flatbed tractor-trailer opened fire on the defenseless group. Congressman Ryan was shot 45 times. After taking five rounds, 28-year old Jackie Speier left for dead. She survived on an asphalt runway for 22 hours until an airlift arrived. Throughout her ordeal, she silently promised to adopt a new urgency for life and a deeper appreciation for every breath. After two months Speier healed physically with a new determination to make her positive imprint on the world.
After getting her political knocks, she became a County Supervisor, a member of the California State Assembly and the State Senate. She also co-authored the book aptly titled This Is Not the Life I Ordered. With many diverse endorsements, Jackie easily won the special election held on April 8th to fill Tom Lantos seat when he died.
Tom Lantos himself had been a survivor. He was a very young man born of Jewish blood living in Hungary when the Nazis raped and murdered their way across Europe. Lantos joined the resistance. He fought fascism while surviving in a safe house established by Raoul Wallenberg. Lantos served the Bay area as a 13-term Congressman.
Strengthened by ordeal, and tempered in conviction, Jackie's views are tough, direct, idealistic, and -- most importantly -- make sense. She's an environmentalist, supporting legislation that will lead the way for alternatives to finite, filthy fossil fuel. She will call for an end to the ridiculous "No Child Left Behind' Act and support prioritizing America's tax dollars towards a strong America. She's a mom who supports equal rights for all Americans, believing our nation should evolve -- not dissolve in hate and fear.
Her human rights stance is clear and true to America's highest standards. She says: "I believe in the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Universal Human Rights adopted by the United Nations 60 years ago in its historic meeting in San Francisco. But I also believe that America has a broader responsibility....We Americans, living in the richest nation on earth, have a responsibility to help protect the powerless and persecuted everywhere on this small planet -- whether in Darfur or Bosnia. Indeed, wherever there are children dying of starvation or women abused, American foreign policy should not turn a blind eye."
She's against the war in Iraq, insisting we order our troops home, engage in Mideast diplomacy, and hold the administration accountable and open to oversight.
She's the Barack Obama of moms with a lot of Bette Davis-school-of-hard-knocks thrown in. Jackie Speier is expected to be a leader for change in America starting today. Her strength, individuality, and conviction will be a burst of fresh air for Congress and for all of us whose hopelessness for America's bright tomorrow has become a federal case.