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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talks Election 2020 and Women in Politics

With less than a week to Election Day 2020, I had the pleasure of participating in a virtual press conference with New York’s Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and co-founder of Her Campus, Windsor Hanger Western. In a challenging year riddled with a deadly pandemic, economic anxiety, and racial injustice, Senator Gillibrand discusses what is at stake in this presidential election.


Born and raised in New York, Senator Gillibrand was elected as a U.S House Representative in 2006 in a primarily Republican district and has gone on to retain her Senate seat since 2009. Senator Gillibrand details her first election campaign by stating that she ran on progressive climate change policy, Medicare for All, and getting American troops out of Iraq. Senator Gillibrand shared that the volunteers on her campaign were the basis of her grassroots campaign, and by election day, her team was “knocking on 20,000 doors every weekend and making 10,000 phone calls every night”.  


She made national headlines in 2019 when she decided to run for president. Like many Americans, Senator Gillibrand expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, so she had never considered running for president before. In fact, when asked why she ran for president she said she wanted to be “a real voice of opposition to him [President Donald Trump]”. Senator Gillibrand notes that she was glad that she decided to run for president because she met tons of people and got to know her fellow candidates. She even feels that she made the other Democratic candidates stronger by throwing out progressive ideas, which they eventually adopted. In the months leading up to November 3rd, Senator Gillibrand has been actively campaigning for the Biden-Harris ticket.


Western moderated the interview as Senator Gillibrand began with the importance of voter turnout. “Voting is one of the best ways to be heard…if young college-aged women don’t vote, then those who get elected will not actually represent our values,” stated Senator Gillibrand. This statement holds true for millions of young people across America. As students, we have witnessed our universities grapple with a complete transition to remote learning, along with no strategic guidance on how and when to reopen. Outbreaks have occurred from campus to campus, and students are struggling to get the most out of their online education. Senator Gillibrand notes later in the interview that one of the main deciding factors in this election is Trump’s inadequate response to managing COVID-19.


Senator Gillibrand was asked how the Biden-Harris administration would address fundamental human rights issues that predominantly affect women and people of color. “We are in a society right now where institutional racism is real [and it] affects communities of color [and] women of color significantly,” said Senator Gillibrand. She discussed the sectors in our government, in which institutional racism is prolific. For instance, in the healthcare system, “the maternal mortality rates for Black women in this country are four times higher than white women. In New York City, [the maternal mortality rate] is twelve times higher [for Black women].” 


Gillibrand explains further that women of color have a harder time gaining access to capital. For instance, financial capital comes in the form of loans, which is critical for small business owners. Senator Gillibrand shares that she and Vice President Biden support “using the Small Business Administration (SBA) and other lending programs to fund business ideas from communities that are often left behind.” She states that in order to achieve the goal of eliminating institutional racism in our society, we need to “dig deep and find all the places where institutional racism disproportionately harms communities of color and women, and make sure that we can overcome it.” In conjunction with criminal justice reform, Senator Gillibrand supports legalizing marijuana, eliminating cash bail and introducing postal banking to aid minority communities.


Furthermore, Senator Gillibrand says that another deciding factor in this election is access to healthcare. She discusses the implications of the Supreme Court case California v. Texas, which will soon decide the fate of 20 million Americans protected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The Republican party has been seeking to undermine and dismantle the ACA. If they prove successful, millions will lose their health insurance, and those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be protected. “I believe healthcare is a right and not a privilege,” Senator Gillibrand said. “For women, reproductive rights is basic healthcare. The ability to choose when you are having children, how many children you are having [and] under what circumstances you are having children, are all basic human rights and civil rights,” says Gillibrand. 


A large part of the conversation revolved around her advice to women who want to run for Congress and other leadership positions. Senator Gillibrand stressed the importance of believing in yourself, speaking from the heart, figuring out what exactly you want to impact, utilizing your life experience and asking for help from others. She emphasized that “it does not matter if it is a hard race to win, sometimes you are just the right person at the right moment.” Senator Gillibrand also said not to sell yourself short because “you are smart enough, tough enough and capable enough for any job you want to do.” When asked if aspiring politicians should start at the local level and build their way up, Senator Gillibrand said that “whatever you want to do, should decide your race…I mean, President Trump never ran for anything, and he ran for president.” Simply put, it does not matter if you want to run for a city council position or a congressional office; you just need to believe in yourself and make it happen. 


Hateful comments and personal attacks are expected to occur during political campaigns. However, Senator Gillibrand states that it is best to ignore those smears because you cannot control them. “I am never going to be [everyone’s] cup of tea–and that’s okay. It’s not a popularity contest — you don’t have to win over everybody; you have to win fifty percent of the vote plus one in the area you’re running to serve them,” she said. “It’s not about you…you are there to help…and don’t worry about the people who are angry or don’t like you because it doesn’t matter–it’s just noise,” says Senator Gillibrand. Her main piece of advice is to focus on serving your constituents and to ignore the haters.


Senator Gillibrand was specifically asked how she stays confident in a male-dominated field. She explains that she remains true to herself by following her beliefs. Senator Gillibrand goes on to say that women have a lot to bring to the table–whether it be reaching across the aisle, passing more legislation, pushing back on misogyny or holding others accountable for their actions. After dropping out of the presidential election, Senator Gillibrand set her sights on raising $1 million for Congressional races through her Political Action Committee (PAC), Off the Sidelines, which empowers and financially supports women to run for public office. Her organization started in 2011 and has raised $7 million since its initial launch.


Senator Gillibrand highlights that women in leadership roles, no matter the industry is vital. “In Hollywood, for example, there’s not that many women who have decision-making roles. We need more scripts being written by women, more producers and more [studios] to be women-ran and women-owned,” said Gillibrand. In addition, she draws attention to the importance of female political reporters. According to a 2017 Pew Research study, 61% of newsroom employees are men. Senator Gillibrand states that when she was running for president, the best stories written about her were more often than not by young female reporters. Senator Gillibrand explains that the core issues pertaining to women would often be neglected without the presence of female reporters. No matter the career, Senator Gillibrand emphasizes that increased representation of women across the board will help “push down the barriers to level the playing field.”


Despite the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, we have already seen record-high numbers in youth voter turnout. Senator Gillibrand says that to bring about the structural change many have been advocating for, Democrats must flip the Senate and win the White House. Gillibrand proclaims that “if young voters turn out, then [Democrats] will win the election.” She also states that besides casting your own ballot, you should also encourage your friends and family to make a plan to vote. Senator Gillibrand has made it crystal clear — access to healthcare, jobs, an economy that works for everyone and how we recover from the pandemic and current economic crisis are the issues on the ballot.


Throughout the thirty-minute discussion, Senator Gillibrand indicates that this election will determine whether or not America will progress towards a better future. She stressed that the Biden-Harris plans would help America recover from the current health and economic crises and move our society forward regarding social-justice issues. Regardless of your political views, it is true that young women have immense political power, but we must claim that responsibility as a collective. 


As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says, this is probably the most important election of our lifetime. If you haven’t already done so, make your voice heard by casting your vote by November 3rd, 2020. Use the link iwillvote.com to find the answers to any of your voting-related concerns. The future is at stake, so do your part to uphold democracy in our country.  

Juhi Doshi is a freshman at Chapman University studying Political Science and Journalism. Juhi also currently writes for her university’s newspaper, The Panther, as the assistant news editor. Juhi is the assistant editor of the Her Campus Chapman chapter. Additionally, her work has appeared in Now Simplified, The Cramm, 60 Seconds Magazine, and Brown Girl Magazine. She has experience working in a District Office for a California Assemblyman, counseling high-school students with mental health issues, and teaching young girls a classical Indian dance form known as “Bharatanatyam.” Juhi has a passion for all forms of journalism—-broadcast, print, digital, and photojournalism. She is profoundly interested in political science and hopes to eventually work as a national political correspondent for a major news outlet.
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