Friday, July 14, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Minn. Rep. Hortman calls out white male colleagues

She wasn't speaking. Another woman legislator, Rep. Ilhan Omar, America's first Somali-American legislator, had just spoken against a public safety bill before the Minnesota state legislature.

But Rep. Melissa Hortman, the body's minority leader, had taken the measure of the room, and didn't like what she saw...or more precisely, didn't see. Most of the white male legislators had left the floor of the state House of Representatives for the cloakroom, where a card game was in progress. It's another way of silencing women speakers, by denying them an audience.

So Rep. Hortman moved to force them to come back to the chamber to listen to their fellow representatives, particularly the women of color who were speaking. And she made plain what the situation was: “I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate,” she said.

Angry, one of her male colleagues rose to brand her remarks as "inappropriate," that marvelous vague epithet so often leveled at women speakers who speak their minds. So Rep. Hortman made a little speech in reply, saying, in part:
I have no intention of apologizing. I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I’ve heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech ... and looking around, to see, where are my colleagues? And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were, and I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry.
Her refusal to apologize caused a furor of opposition from those white, male colleagues, but Rep. Hortman held her ground. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • If you see something, say something: Using even a short speech to describe what you see around you can be both simple and powerful, as speaking tactics go (and it's well suited to the fishbowl of a legislature and to extemporaneous remarks). The evidence of your eyes is testimony of a different sort.
  • Say it plain: While the reactions focused on how "inappropriate" it was to single out white men, Hortman's remarks had both accuracy and force going for them, because she said plainly what was happening.
  • Use the floor to lend visibility: Rep. Hortman didn't just use her remarks to call out the absentee legislators, but to note the speaking skills of her colleagues who are women of color, a gracious gesture that underscore her point that women speakers were being ignored.
Watch the video of her remarks below.

(Minnesota State Legislature photo)

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