Commentary: Sandra Lee Fewer

Looking for the Next Speier

As I started to think about what I should write about this month, I began to reflect on this past year. This was the first time in 12 years that I was not an elected official. 

My year has been filled with gardening, seeing friends and relatives, finally clearing out my garage, canning tomatoes and learning how to sleep again. But, again and again, I am reminded that this year has also been filled with many troubling, deep issues that made me say “Stop the world, I wanna get off!” more than once. 

And then I heard that Jackie Speier is retiring.

When I think of Congresswoman Speier, I think of courage. For those that don’t know, Speier risked her life in 1978 to bring others to safety when she bravely accompanied Congressman Leo Ryan (at the time she was his legislative aide) to Guyana to visit Jonestown, the cult compound created by leader Jim Jones. As she attempted to board the plane back to the U.S. with members of the cult who wanted to leave, she, Ryan and others were gunned down. Ryan did not survive, but she did, after being shot five times at point-blank range by an assault rifle and waiting 22 hours for help. 

This is indeed a remarkable woman. 

Her bravery shone through every day she served in elected office. When she was three months pregnant with her second child, her husband was killed in a tragic car accident. Still, this woman had the fortitude to go on, to be the leader in fighting for the reproductive rights of women, protections and laws against sexual harassment, secured justice for women and children in court-ordered child support payments, and much, much more. 

I will never forget when, in 2011, during a debate in Congress about Planned Parenthood, she boldly shared that she had had an abortion. I remember my daughter, who was in her 20s, calling me and telling me, “Mom, Jackie Speier just shared that she had an abortion. Man, that was courageous.” 

Yes, it was. And her willingness to speak truth to power – whether it be the real-life experiences of women being sexually harassed, stopping the discrimination of transgendered military servicemembers, holding the government accountable for waste and fraud – is the type of courage that we have been missing. It’s the type of courage that puts what is right and what is needed for others above politics. And I find myself desperately wanting more of it, for this country, for this state and for this city. 

This month I could have written about the political happenings at City Hall, but all of that seemed like so much “inside baseball” when we consider events in the wider world.  

When we don’t hold people accountable when they choose to bring loaded militarized weapons to protests and shoot people dead because they are afraid, we have lost our way.  

When we are no longer safe at rallies, concerts, sporting events, peaceful marches, churches, schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, movies, preschools and daycare centers, we have lost our way.  

When we record our neighbors and post that they may be “criminals” and tell people to “lookout for them,” we have lost our way.  

When we proudly put up signs that say Black Lives Matter and then in the next breath say, “Lock them up and throw away the key” and we are “not locking enough of them up,” we have lost our way.  

I am looking for the next Jackie Speier. I am looking for leadership, vision and courage to speak truth to power. I am looking for the moral compass that will protect the most vulnerable, render aid to those who need it most and deliver justice with a compassionate, firm and even hand. 

I am looking for those willing to put themselves out there so we can be better to each other and to our future. What we are doing is not working, but how we change will reveal the real truth of who we are, what we believe and what and whom we care about.

I wish Congresswoman Speier a retirement filled with love, joy, good health and good luck.  She certainly deserves it.

I normally say this phrase as a proclamation or an announcement. This year I say it as a prayer, a hope, a wish: “Peace on earth. Good will toward all.” 

Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.

1 reply »

  1. Hello Sandra,

    I recently read your commentary on Jackie Speier retiring from public office. Outstanding tribute you wrote about her.

    I was a freshman in high school here in SF when the Jonestown massacre took place. I was too young and uninterested at the time about the local events going on in SF, but this story shook up me and my family. Especially given the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk just weeks later. Indeed it was a very volatile time in San Francisco for so many natives.

    Reading your tribute to Ms. Speier really took me back to that period in 1978 and although it was not a good period, it did make me proud to be a native San Franciscan.

    Thank you Sandra.


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