Inside Nancy Pelosi’s Sisterhood With Delta Sigma Theta

Members of the African-American sorority say the House minority leader’s motto, “When women succeed, America succeeds,” is nothing new to their organization.

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She's the most powerful woman in Congress, and they call themselves the "largest black female organization in the universe." They agree on progressive issues from voting rights to fair wage legislation and on the national implications of what are often dismissed as women's concerns. It's no surprise that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. hit it off. 

On Tuesday, DST National President Paulette Walker, along with members of the sorority's executive committee and representatives of California chapters, met with Pelosi in her Washington, D.C., office. The event was among the last of the group's annual Delta Days in the Nation's Capital, a legislative conference designed to increase members' involvement in national politics. 

Pelosi used the meeting primarily to tout the House Democrats' economic agenda for women and families, a set of policy priorities that includes increase in minimum wage, equal pay for women, affordable child care and paid leave, asking her guests to be part of the "drumbeat" of public support for it. It didn't take much convincing. After all, Walker told The Root, the beliefs behind the agenda's motto, "When women succeeds, America succeeds," are nothing new to the members of the 101-year-old, service-based organization.

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Nancy Pelosi speaks to meeting attendees.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

"Unless we address issues related to education and the women's economic agenda, we'll be perpetuating a disparity," Pelosi told the 23 members of Delta Sigma Theta gathered in her Capitol office. She reminded the group that "When women succeed, America succeeds" was the biggest applause line of the night at President Obama's recent State of Union address. (It got another round from the women sitting around the conference table.)

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Members of DST clap as Nancy Pelosi speaks about President Obama's recent State of the Union address.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

"We're so proud of the Deltas in the Congress," Pelosi said, adding, "I was told not to wear red today because I'm not a Delta."

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Nancy Pelosi looks on as DST President Paulette Walker speaks during the meeting.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

She may not have worn the group's signature color, but a light moment came when Pelosi addressed Walker as "Soror Walker," embracing an honorific that's typically used only among members. If rules were violated, the minority leader got a pass—and more applause.

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Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), second from left, speaks to meeting attendees.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

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Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio)

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Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), also members of Delta Sigma Theta, joined the group. "This is to the heart of who we are as Deltas," Clarke said of the women's economic agenda. "Part of what we're trying to do here in the House of Representatives is to raise the stature of women to counteracting and counterbalance the negative imagery that is being portrayed by the other side of the aisle." 

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DST National Social Action Commissioner Leona Bridges speaks to meeting attendees.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

DST National Social Action Commissioner Leona Bridges listed additional legislative interests of the organization, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the passage of the Voting Rights Amendment of 2014 and efforts to reduce gun violence.

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Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

On the importance of protecting voting rights, Pelosi agreed, emphasizing, "Voter ID is nonmenacing to the public so people don't think that's a big deal, but it's a very big deal. But the speaker of the House in Texas is 90 years old; he was turned away at the polls because his driver's license expired."

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Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

"It's significant that we're sitting at the table. This means we've come together to join forces to say our ideas, vision and mission are the same. We are so pleased that you [Pelosi] also recognize, acknowledge and affirm our work," Walker said.

When it comes to legislation, "Public sentiment is everything," said Pelosi. "So we need your help with that drumbeat."

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Members of DST

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

"We're going to answer your calls. Social action is our agenda," said Walker. Later, she told The Root, "The very next step is to go back home, look at all the notes, and put together a strategic plan. This wasn't just a feel-good moment. Now we're about to roll up our sleeves and do the real work. We will mobilize to help pass key legislation. We will be heard in the right places."

"We'll be strategically thinking about the midterm elections," Leona Bridges added. "Making sure people get out and vote, don't go to sleep. Making sure people know how important it is to vote."

"The meeting was monumental, it was historic. This country will go as women go. If anyone's going to lead the women, it might as well be us," said Walker. "All leader Pelosi needs to do is make a phone call, and we can mobilize and do what we need to do."

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Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

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Members of DST share a laugh following the meeting.

Nicole L. Cvetnic/The Root

With what appears to be a wide swath of shared priorities and an abundance of grown-up girl power synergy, there's little question Pelosi's has DST's support.

The only outstanding question: Have they identified their next honorary member? Maybe at one meeting in the future, she'll be allowed to wear red.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at a news conference, April 2, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.