News reports on the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are rightly pointing to the incident as yet another consequence of the rising tide of hate-fueled political speech from the far right.
But these stories largely miss the big “M” in the room. Misogyny.
The attacker’s goal was to kidnap and assault Speaker Pelosi, to make an example of her in her role as a powerful woman. In this way, he was following up on the intentions of the January 6 insurrectionists, who specifically targeted Speaker Pelosi and defiled her office when they broke into the Capitol building.
At Futures Without Violence, we have long known that violence against women is linked to many other forms of violence. Mass shooters, primarily male, more often than not have histories of domestic violence. Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League have lifted up “the woman problem” of far right extremism, whose membership is primarily white and male. And more recently, experts have been sounding alarm bells about how the January 6 storming of the Capitol was rooted in white supremacy and violence against women.
Is it any wonder that even as Americans are electing more and more female politicians, women in office are also increasingly under attack? Axios reported last year about the growing number of death and rape threats, by phone and online, against female elected officials, especially those who are recognizably Black, women of color, Muslim or Jewish.
What happened to Paul Pelosi is also personal to me. Speaker Pelosi has long been a champion of our work in California and nationally to prevent and respond to violence, in all forms.
I’m not surprised by this incident but I’m saddened nonetheless. My heart goes out to the Pelosis, who need all our support as they recover, as do all victims of violent crimes. Reports are that he will have a long recovery process and convalescence, and we are keeping him in our thoughts.
Despite this incident, I still believe that violence is not inevitable, and that there are actions we can take to prevent and confront this rising tide of hate.
What can be done?
Every institution – including the U.S. Congress – should do more to recognize and respond to threats and incidents of violence against women. We’ve come a long way since 1984, when a former Congressman called the first federal legislation to address domestic violence the “take the fun out of marriage” bill. But not nearly far enough.
Just look at some of the responses trying to minimize the Pelosi attack or deflect attention. Whenever there is a hate crime, there should be a unified voice of condemnation. We need to take out the politics and put humanity back at the center of our response.
We also need to do more to recognize how the links between racism, anti-Semitism, and violence against women are a threat to our communities and our nation.
For too long, those of us who work across these issues have worked in silos. But we are doing better.
At Futures Without Violence, for example, we just issued over $1 million in Community IMPACT awards from a federal contract to 11 organizations across the country working to respond to hate crimes in all forms. From Oakland, California to Colorado Springs to Martinsburg, West Virginia, these organizations are connecting with men, women, and young people where they are – in nail salons, workplaces, and in their homes – to prevent and respond to hate. And we are going to take what they’ve learned and share it out to be replicated elsewhere.
But you don’t need to work at an organization like ours to be part of the response.
Each one of us can reflect on what happened in the Pelosi home, and to women in many homes, or in the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, or the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
We can decide that what happens to one community affects us all, even if the families directly targeted don’t look like us or worship like us or share our party affiliation.
And we can take one small step to reach out with compassion, and speak out against the hate targeting our neighbors.