If you’re not familiar with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, you should follow her right away. A magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College, Gillibrand also received her law degree from the UCLA School of Law and served as a law clerk on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Last week, Her Campus Co-Founder Windsor Western had the opportunity to ask the senator some community submitted questions surrounding this year’s presidential election, women in politics and the future of political journalism.Read on to learn why your vote is so crucial in making change for our democracy through this election.
Alyssa at the Florida State University: What has your experience on the Hill been like as a woman? Any advice to future senators?
“I got here in 2006. I ran for congress in a 2-to-1 Republican district in Upstate New York. When I ran, I wanted to make a difference. I thought we needed to get our troops out of Iraq. I believe in global climate change and wanted a green energy policy. I wanted to have Medicare for all. So, I ran on pretty progressive issues in a red district. And what made the difference were the volunteers and the fact that we had so many amazing people knocking on doors and making phone calls. By election day we were knocking on twenty-thousand doors every weekend and making ten-thousand phone calls every night. And that worked, it was a total grassroots movement that allowed me to serve in a pretty conservative place. From there, I ran for re-election, and then I was appointed to the Senate. And then I’ve run three elections since. Getting the highest margin in the history of New York State, which is pretty exciting. To any future public servant or senator, I would just say follow your heart, follow your dreams. Run if you want to run, it doesn’t matter if it's a hard race to win. Sometimes you’re just the right person at the right moment and it works. So you’re asking everyone you know and love for help and that’s kind of why this is such an important time for all of us and the candidates we support. They need our help. And so that means we have to work very hard to make sure they get elected.”
Madeline at Hofstra University: Human Rights disparities are monumental issues in the U.S. today. What do you think should happen to make sure that basic human rights among women and people of color are addressed and equalized, especially under a Biden-Harris administration?
“So we are at a society right now where institutional racism is real, it affects communities of color and women of color, significantly. So what I focus on is how can we begin to eliminate institutional racism, and it is going to take a long time. But you can go issue-by-issue, and this is certainly something that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris believe in. First of all, as young women, the maternal mortality rates for black women in this country are four times higher than white women. In New York City it is twelve times higher and that's because there is institutional racism in our healthcare system. So when a Black woman says she doesn't feel right, something's going wrong, a caregiver or doctor or nurse might ignore her words or not believe her. And as a consequence, she's more likely to bleed out or have complications. So we have to tackle it everywhere. In access to capital, all the female graduates who are women of color, they'll have a harder time getting access to capital because they're a woman-owned business but also because they are a woman of color. And so we need more lending and one of the ideas that I know is shared by our nominee is using the SPA and other lending programs to fund communities and business ideas from communities that are often left behind. In fact I have a bill right now for the next Covid relief package to do exactly that, to make sure the smaller businesses, the women-owned businesses, the minority-owned business, rural businesses, get access to capital that they've not gotten in the last two rounds of the PPP program. So you need to dig deep and find all the places where institutional racism disproportionately harms communities of color and women. And this makes sure that we can overcome it. In criminal justice I would like to eliminate cash bail. I think we should legalize and decriminalize marijuana. I believe we need postal banking, so 30% of Americans who don’t have access to capital don’t have access to a savings account or a checking account or a microloan, can get that through a post office. Also we should shore up our post office, which will get us ready for the next election. So those are just some ideas that are supported certainly by Vice President Biden and Senator Harris.”
Emma at the University of Florida: What would you like to see in the future of American health care? How can a Biden-Harris ticket help us get there?
“So I believe health care is a right and not a privilege. I think it's important that everyone has access to healthcare. For women, I think reproductive rights is basic health care; the ability to choose when you’re having children, how many children you’re having, under what circumstances you're having children, are all basic human rights and civil rights. We should be allowed to make those decisions ourselves. And so I hope that in the next administration that we will get access to health care as a right. And there are lots of ways to get there, I like Medicare-for-all buy in, I like 50-years-old and up to be eligible for Medicare. I like Medicaid for all so anyone can access Medicaid, those are some of the ideas I like and my job for a Biden-Harris administration will be to pass legislation that they are willing to sign. And so I have to work very hard at the US Senate to get my work done, move these ideas of universal care forward and get the votes I need for them so they can then put in place.”
Ashley at the University of Central Florida: How do you feel about first-time voter turnout in this election? What do you think young voters are doing well and what advice do you have for first time voters?
“Well, we have such an opportunity for first-time voters. I think they are actually coming out to vote in record numbers. I just spoke to one of our candidates running for Senate and he said there was a disproportionate increase in college-age voters in his state. And that's great because a lot of young voters really share my values and the values of these fantastic Democrats running all across the state and certainly share the values of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. So I think if young voters turn out that we will win the election. So I think it is really important for people to vote, vote their conscience, vote their values and I think if they vote, we will win.”
Allison at Emerson College: What steps can people (especially young people) take to remain politically engaged beyond voting? How can we keep up momentum to make structural change after the election, regardless of who wins?
“I think it's really important to win, because I think a lot of structural change that I'm certainly looking for won't be possible if we don't have the Senate. For example, we need to win the Senate to be able to pass the meaningful legislation that I mentioned like postal banking, like decriminalizing marijuana, like maternal mortality protections, like healthcare as a right not a privilege. All of those big ideas, like job training, moving more kids into STEM, funding innovation in the green energy space. Like all of these big ideas, we need a new Senate and we need a new president. So I'm going to do everything I can between now and election day to make sure we flip the Senate and change the White House. To stay politically engaged, I would say tell their friends to vote. And make sure that everyone they know and love has a plan to vote. Get in arguments! If you still have relatives who are supporting the president, you might want to question them about why and provide your own views. I think it's really important that everyone that you know and love is engaged in this process because it's our country, it's your future, it’s our democracy that's at stake.”
Victoria at Adelphi University: How do you stay confident in a male-dominated field while fearlessly and unapologetically standing for women and feminism? How do you charge forward and stay true to yourself?
“The way I stay true to myself is I follow my beliefs, and I believe women have something to add. I think women have a different set of skills, we have different talents, we have different resources. I think women have far more emotional intelligence. Women are often very good at finding common ground, we are often very good at listening, and are often very good at reaching across the aisle. So in Congress, for example, the New York Times did a study a couple years ago where they found that the women of the Senate had more bills, more co-sponsors, passed more things, they were more prolific. So I think women have so much to add whether it's in public service and government and business and that we should value ourselves and value what we have to offer. If we value ourselves, eventually others will value us too. But what it means is that we have to constantly push back on misogyny, sexism, gender bias in the workplace and in all settings. We also have to hold people accountable. One of the challenges in Hollywood for example, there's not that many leading women who have decision-making roles where they are the protagonists; the hero who struggles and overcomes and succeeds. We need more scripts being written by women, we need more producers and more places that are producing films to be women-run and women-owned. So we have to set a standard long-term for what we talk about, what are the issues of the day that are reported. In politics, 70% of reporters are white male reporters. They tend to focus on things they like and things that remind them of themselves, so it doesn't allow for as much reporting and much story development about women candidates and fair reporting about issues that women care about and that women are pushing forward because they might be less interesting to young white male reporters. So again women just have to keep pushing down the barriers in all industries so we can level the playing field so more of our children can see women on television shows and women in leadership roles and read books about strong women and see women elected, these are the kinds of things we need to invest in now because without it you won't teach the next generation that women are valuable and that we should be treated with equal pay, that we shouldn't discriminate against Black women, we should listen to their words. All these things are necessary because we don't have enough positions of leadership where we can set the tone, set rules and have a fair shot.”
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