Political commentator for NPR and ABC News, author of six New York Times bestsellers, and women’s historian Cokie Roberts delivered the Ben Bradlee Distinguished Lecture on Journalism on March 8, which was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). President Tuajuanda and Dr. Maijia Harkonen, executive director of the CSD, introduced the speakers.
The lecture’s coincidence with International Women’s Day and Roberts’ background in women’s history prompted a lecture, titled “Resilience and Resistance: Coping in Hard Times,” that focused on the accomplishments of women in American history in the face of marginalization and oppression. Prompted by the pin she wore in celebration of International Women’s Day, Roberts began by detailing Abigail Adams’ role in the founding of the country.
Roberts also recounted the story of Margaret Brent, the first woman recorded to have demanded the vote. Brent, having come to the United States and settled in Maryland, is commemorated by the college with Margaret Brent Hall and Margaret Brent Way.
She continued to recount the decades-long struggle for women’s suffrage, noting that what accomplished the passing of the 19th amendment was the result of “not just resilience. It was resistance. Times had changed, sure, but mainly what had changed was tactics.” Roberts added that this breaking point in the women’s rights movement was similar to the state of activism today, calling it an “inflection point in terms of activism.”
With regard to the “Day Without a Woman” movement, in which women were called to stay home from work on March 8 as a form of protest, Roberts remarked that if all women had really stayed home, “it would’ve been an incredible shutdown of the system, but we’re too responsible for that.” Roberts also noted that International Women’s Day was celebrated in 27 countries and that “it’s still true in 2017 that women do 60% of the world’s work and own 1% of the world’s wealth.”
Another notable female historical figure Roberts celebrated in her talk was Katharine Graham, former chairwoman and chief executive officer of The Post Company and publisher of The Washington Post who led the newspaper through the Watergate scandal. Roberts recounted, “she had been resilient, and then she resisted the pressure of the entire executive branch attacking her and her paper, and she gave Bradlee and his reporters the support they needed to tell the American public the facts. And that’s where we are right now today. We have to keep doing that. We have to keep telling everyone what the facts are. The American experiment cannot continue without a free press.” On the current political climate of alternative facts and the circulation of fake news, she said, “what we can’t do is say that the basic facts are not facts.”
In the final Q&A section with Associate Professor of Philosophy Sybol Anderson as well as audience members, Roberts claimed that women tend to be more selfless in leadership, detailing a historical precedent in America of working to establish social welfare and taking up causes such as abolition.
When asked what young women can do to prepare for political office, she also advocated for nonprofits that prepare young women for leadership such as “She Should Run,” emphasizing the role of women as, “the last bastion of bipartisanship in the senate” and recounting that, “The last time the government shut down, it was the Democratic women and the Republican women in the senate who got it reopened… that sort of common-sensical [sic] view is what a lot of women… bring to the table, and so we really need you.”
Roberts is the recipient of three Emmys and was designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2008. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland and writes a weekly syndicated column with her husband, Steven Roberts. She has also served under George W. Bush on the Council on Civic Service and Participation.