State representative Melissa Sargent was walking across the mall in Washington, DC, with a group of women legislators from around the globe on Tuesday morning, shaking locked doors.
"We are walking to the Congressional offices and all the Smithsonian museums have signs up saying they are closed," Rep. Sargent said by cell phone at 9:00 this morning.
Sargent is part of a group of 100 women legislative leaders from around the United States, in Washington this week to meet with their colleagues from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, and other countries, and to discuss humane budget and national security policies and women's empowerment.
"Our trip was planned a long time ago," Sargent said, "but our message goes hand-in-glove with the message about the government shut-down."
That message is, first and foremost: "We need to govern."
The women's new motto, developed shortly after they arrived in DC, is: "Shut Down the Shutdown."
It fits right into their larger theme -- federal budget priorities that more effectively address their constituents' needs.
"In order for the United States to be a strong leader we need to put people first and look at things in a more holistic way," Sargent explains.
"The women here from other countries are just so glad to have the support," Sargent said. "They are in awe of the power of bringing a group of women together like this -- the struggles they are experiencing are so overwhelming to them on a daily basis. I don't know if it's hitting them the same way it's hitting us that our Federal government is shutting down."
But the timing is ironic, to say the least.
As the members of Women Legislators Lobby (WiLL) and Women Action and New Direction (WAND) as well as the Parliamentary Network arrived on Tuesday to lobby Congress to focus on the pressing concerns of women and families -- for health care, decent jobs, housing, and education -- they found themselves knocking on a lot of locked doors.
And they have been busy fielding phone calls from constituents worried about rumored delays in their Social Security benefits, veterans' benefits and federal employee paychecks, as well as threatened cuts to food stamps and housing subsidies.
One of the amendments Republicans put on the table over the weekend was a plan to take away the Affordable Care Act's guarantee of birth control coverage.
The Senate rejected the amendment.
"We are grateful for the strength of our Senator," Sargent said, referring to Tammy Baldwin, the first woman Senator from Wisconsin and an advocate for health care and women's rights.
"I want to make sure we get the message out about what our intent was before the shut-down happened," Sargent added.
Part of that intent was pointing out that 57 percent of our nation's discretionary budget goes to Pentagon spending. As WiLL president and Georgia state senator Nan Grogan Orrock put it: "If we stopped continuously throwing money at Cold War-era weapons ... we could rebuild our roads, invest in our educational system and provide adequate services for our returning veterans,"
For her part, Sargent is determined to celebrate the fact that the Affordable Care Act goes into effect today.
"It's happening today, regardless of the temper tantrum they're throwing," Sargent said. "And that's really exciting."
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