This week in our empowerment series we meet three phenomenal women – U.S. Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA-18), U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA-14), and Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon.
Together they exemplify what it means to be a strong leader blazing trails, empowering women, all while supporting the Armenian American community.
Rep. Anna Eshoo
First, we meet Representative Anna Eshoo. Born in New Britain, Connecticut, Rep. Eshoo is both Assyrian and Armenian and has represented California’s 18th congressional district since 1993.
The first woman elected to serve as Chair of the Health Subcommittee, Rep. Eshoo also serves as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. During her time in office, she has fought for consumers, access to health care for families, advocated for the development of clean energy technology and protected the environment. In order to provide citizens with affordable health insurance, she has drafted parts of the Affordable Care Act and continues to strengthen this law.
Rep. Eshoo has left an indelible mark on US policy – from her work on the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 to her work in helping fund “Next Generation” 911 technology following the tragic events of September 11. Recognized as one of the 10 most powerful women in Silicon Valley, she has also been awarded the Statesmanship Award for her commitment to improving the lives of others.
As the only Armenian-Assyrian in Congress, Rep. Eshoo who has served as a co-sponsor of the Armenian Genocide Resolution since 1993, took pride in leading the bipartisan effort to move the Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res.296, to the House floor for a vote in 2019. The bipartisan resolution which passed with an overwhelming vote of 405 to 11 fights denial of the Armenian Genocide and encourages truth and justice.
In response to the passage of the resolution, Rep. Eshoo stated, “Between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Armenians, and hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, Greeks, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians were systematically slaughtered at the hands of the Ottoman Empire… There is an historic parallel today as Turkey is once again engaging in ethnic cleansing, this time against the Kurds in Syria. This resolution not only honors and commemorates my ancestors and all those who perished in the first genocide of the 20th century but serves as a timely reminder that we must remain vigilant to prevent similar atrocities today.”
A proud mother of two children, Rep. Eshoo received her degree from Canada College and the CORO Foundation. In 1982, she was voted to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors where she went on to serve the County Board for 10 years before she became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Jackie Speier
Another powerhouse in the halls of Congress is Rep. Jackie Speier – an Armenian American politician who has served as a US Representative for California’s 14th congressional district since 2008.
A staunch supporter for women’s equality, LGBTQ rights and cleaning up government corruption, she was named in Newsweek’s top 150 “Fearless Women” in the world, as well as one of the most influential people in American politics in “Politico’s 50.”
She serves on the Subcommittees on Environment and Government Operations and is also Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Congressional Armenian Caucus, Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, and the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
A staunch advocate against sexual assault in the military as well as on college campuses, she had over 300 bi-partisan bills signed into law that have helped achieve justice for women and children. Rep. Speier introduced the “Me Too” movement in the halls of Congress in October 2017, later becoming the basis of the bipartisan “Congressional Accountability Act” and “Reform Act” that was signed into law in December 2018.
Although she’s had several wins, she’s also faced her fair share of challenges. For instance, when Rep. Speier started working on implementing sexual harassment training in Congress in 2014, she was told that anti-harassment training would never take place. However, the CAA Reform Act made sure that anti-harassment training was mandatory.
She tells the story of one of her most tragic and challenging encounters in her book, Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back. In it, she shares her traumatic experience in Jonestown, Guyana, where she joined the late Congressman Leo Ryan’s delegation in rescuing defectors from Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple. Congressman Ryan was murdered, and Rep. Speier was shot five times.
Recovering from this traumatizing experience, she decided that she wanted to show her strength rather than her weakness and fight against inequality and injustice in the U.S. Congress. Her experience highlights her strong leadership and character as she fought her hardest to stay alive and use her voice to help others.
She brings that same passion to the Armenian cause. As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues and one of three Armenian American members of Congress, she was a relentless advocate for passage of H.Res.296, the Armenian Genocide resolution.
On the heels of the passage of the resolution, she said, “The House’s resounding 405-11 vote to recognize the Armenian Genocide is a great victory for millions of Armenians around the world. Congress has failed to affirm the truth for far too long and I’m heartened that we have joined our allies around the globe, and 49 U.S. states, in acknowledging that the Ottoman Empire perpetrated a genocide upon the Armenian people.” She went on to say, “This vote also sent a critically important message to the world in light of Turkey’s modern-day ethnic cleansing campaign of the Kurds in Syria. Today, we sent a message that history can’t be rewritten, that America will no longer abandon Armenians with feeble excuses for a so-called ally, and that we will never forget the atrocities of the past and present. Today we affirmed the Armenian Genocide was real and we stand against it and those who seek to perpetuate such evil again.”
Speier received her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Davis and her J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law.
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon
Lastly, we meet Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. Speaker Gideon, who is of Indian and Armenian descent, is running for US Senate in Maine with a focus on public interest. Speaker Gideon recently won the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat in Maine challenging the seat held by Senator Susan Collins.
During her time in the Maine House of Representatives, she passed a landmark bill in order to provide tax refunds to homeowners in Maine and has focused on opening up more educational opportunities for the people of Maine to have a chance at financial independence.
Additionally, she has addressed delivering resources to battle Maine’s opioid epidemic. Former Governor Paul Lepage went against Sara’s opioid legislation, however, that did not result in her giving up. Instead, she brought both political parties together to overturn the veto.
She’s exhibited passion and dedication in her work for the people of Maine, and she brings that same conviction to the campaign trail.
She’s had opportunities to connect with Armenian Americans throughout the region. This past April 24, 2020, she stood by the Armenian American community of Maine in commemorating the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. “… As the granddaughter of Armenian refugees, I hold this day as a solemn reminder that we must continue our work to protect human rights,” Gideon said.
Outside of her advocacy work, she also helped secure recognition of Artsakh’s independence for the state of Maine.
A wife, mother and graduate from George Washington University in International Affairs, Speaker Gideon is poised for a seat in the US Senate.
Whether they are in the halls of Congress, on a trip to Armenia or a stop on the campaign trail, these women have made incredible strides in advancing issues that are paramount to the marginalized. They have used their platforms to advance matters that are not only central to their beliefs and the broader communities they serve, but they have also continuously advocated for the Armenian American communities they represent and the Armenian cause.
We look forward to a day in which the next generation of leaders ascends into the ranks that these women have achieved. They are truly making a difference on the inside – in the halls of Congress even – and that helps us advance the cause.