Tammy Duckworth: “We’re fighting for what America will be”

An Iraq War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth understands conflict and battle. After the November elections, in which Republicans won important victories in states like Virginia, the Democratic senator says, “We are fighting for what America will be, a much more diverse society. And that is the fundamental difference between the two parties. “

Duckworth, who was among the first group of Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom and lose both legs when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, spoke through the during the 7th Alan D. Solomont Lecture on Citizenship & Public Service Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

She said the Democratic Party needs to show the American people that democratic policies like the Build Back Better framework will help everyone across the political spectrum with measures such as free universal preschool and paid family vacations.

In 2018, after becoming the first U.S. Senator to serve, Duckworth worked to change the rules to allow Senators to bring their toddlers into the Senate and sent a message that all workplaces should be family-friendly. Since then, she has passed several laws that make travel easier for young mothers and people with disabilities.

Here is a replay of Duckworth’s conversation with Dayna Cunningham, Dean of Tisch College. Below you will find the key findings from the conversation, which was jointly sponsored by the Department of Political Science and JumboVote and supported by the Solomont Speaker Series at Tisch College.

America is worth the sacrifice.

Her book, Every day is a gift: a memory, was released earlier this year. She said she didn’t intend to write a book. But in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, she and her then 6-year-old daughter were at a preschool Halloween party. There were all sorts of events, including a three-legged race that Duckworth couldn’t easily take with her prosthetic leg.

“I read their story every night, and we have this sacred time when we can ask each other questions and promise to answer them. She said to me, ‘How come someone else’s mom couldn’t have gone to war? Why did you have to be the one who lost your legs, because I really wanted to take part in this race with you, ‘”Duckworth recalled, saying it was like a dagger to the heart.

Duckworth said she knew that as a mother she would have to deal with this one day and that she had always spoken openly with her daughter about being wounded in battle. She started jotting down paragraphs in the Notes app on her phone, tried to answer her daughter’s questions, and continued the exercise for months. Her chief of staff saw her writing and suggested that she make a book out of it. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Duckworth said it was the right time to put it together. She called the book “A Letter to My Daughters About Why America Is Worth the Sacrifice”.

“Every day is a day I live when I shouldn’t be alive and I have to do better and honor the men who saved my life. That means trying to understand other perspectives, even if they seem very different or even hideous. I can work with anyone as long as I think they love this country as much as I do, ”she said.

The army is worth the sacrifice.

Duckworth had no plans to join the army. Her father spent his life in the U.S. military and her family served in the American Revolution, she said. She knew she had to serve her country, but she thought she would join the Peace Corps, the Foreign Service, work in an embassy, ​​or one day become an ambassador.

But friends in the military encouraged them to get basic training, saying, “If you want to represent America in our embassies, you must learn about the military.” And so she went to basic training and fell in love with the army.

“I fell in love with performance society, with the fact that it didn’t matter that I was a poor Asian girl. It was just important that I was ready to perform and do my part with everyone else, ”she said. “Aside from my two girls, it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my life and I would do it again and again.”

Duckworth, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after two terms in the House of Representatives, sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

The fight for racial equality is worth the sacrifice.

Duckworth grew up as a multiracial child in Thailand after the Vietnam War. “I wasn’t treated very well,” she says. “The only Birracial children who existed in Southeast Asia at the time were children of American soldiers and native women. That wasn’t a positive background. “

She recognized the privilege she enjoys today as a U.S. Senator, but pointed out that racism continues to affect her family. Anti-Asian hatred and violence flared up during the pandemic, and her mother was harassed in the grocery store by clerks and shoppers alike.

“I did the only thing I could, which was to raise my voice and crack down on anti-hate legislation,” she said. “The COVID-19 Hate Crime Act is anti-hate against everyone, but especially against Asian Americans. I am really proud that we urged the Biden government to truthfully record these hate crime incidents. “

Speaking of Biden, Duckworth was pleased to have a diverse presidential cabinet appointments, but she was disappointed when he failed to appoint Asian Americans to a cabinet-level post.

“Diversity is not just a piece of the pie in which different groups fight for one piece of diversity. We should all get a piece of cake, ”she said.

A career in public service is worth the sacrifice.

Duckworth did not mince words when asked what advice she would give college students interested in pursuing careers in the civil service.

“Do it,” she said. “Apply for office or help someone run for office. It doesn’t have to be a federal office. Even as a student, you can make a difference. “

Policy decisions that affect everyone are not just made in the Washington DC Capitol. Much of these struggles begin in places like the board of trustees of local libraries and school boards – where decisions are made to ban books.

“Local communities and trustees decide what type of training your police force will go through, for example,” she said. “Cultural competence training is a tool that police officers need for their work just as much as body armor, bullets and SWAT trucks.”

She encouraged future officials not to be intimidated, calling this an ancient tool that those in power use to prevent people from participating. “You have to show up. If you just give the stage to the most aggressive, you will never get through. “

Angela Nelson can be reached at angela.nelson@tufts.edu.

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