Even at seven years old, Kirsten Gillibrand knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I wanted to be senator,” Gillibrand told the crowd in the Reiss auditorium. “I did not know what a senator was. I just knew it was somebody who made decisions, somebody who could be an advocate, somebody who could make a difference.”
Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY) shared this anecdote and more with Georgetown students at an event on Oct. 30 hosted by the Women and Gender Studies Program (WGST) in conjunction with the Institute of Politics and Public Service, Georgetown University Women in Leadership, and Georgetown University College Democrats. The event was co-moderated by Donna Brazile and You-Me Park, professors in the WGST. Brazile is also the former chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Gillibrand traced her journey in politics, from working on political campaigns in her native Albany to getting involved with the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum. She cited a line from a speech that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton gave to the Forum as what compelled her to run for office.
“‘Decisions are being made every day in Washington. If you’re not part of those decisions, and you don’t like what they decide, you have no one to blame but yourself,’” Gillibrand recounted Clinton saying.
“I thought, oh my gosh, she’s talking about me,” Gillibrand said. “She’s telling me I have to run for office, and I’m not ready!”
Gillibrand made her first congressional run in 2006 in a Republican-leaning district. Despite this, she handily defeated her opponent and joined the House of Representatives. Only three years later, she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s former Senate seat, which was to be vacant after Clinton was named Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.
After 10 years as a senator, Gillibrand decided to run to be the Democratic nominee in the 2020 presidential election. While she suspended her campaign this past August, she expressed her gratitude for the opportunity and shared her biggest takeaway from running for president.
“What I learned is, there is far more that defines us than what divides us,” Gillibrand shared. “In fact, a lot of issues in New York are very true around the country.”
Gillibrand then took questions from the moderators and students, addressing topics such as encouraging women to participate in politics, and her thoughts on legislation. She discussed the Equality Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY) Act, which she sponsored with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn).
The FAMILY Act, which would create a universal, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave program, targets an issue of concern for Gillibrand.
“We in this country are the only industrialized country in the whole world that doesn’t have access to paid leave,” Gillibrand said. “It’s common sense, it helps the economy grow, and helps workers thrive in the workplace.”
Gillibrand also had an opportunity to ask the students some questions, asking the crowd what they would say to Congress if they could, what they believe is the most important issue to the 2020 presidential election, and where they see themselves in 20 years.
Several students stressed the importance of issues like climate change, bipartisanship, and healthcare reform, both as issues Congress needs to address and as defining issues for the upcoming election.
Audience member and GUSA Senator Daniella Sanchez (COL ’22) shared with Gillibrand that she wanted to see more bipartisanship and civility in Congress and believed that immigration reform, especially when it comes to asylum seekers, refugees, and those with temporary protected status, will be the most important issue to the upcoming election.
“On top of that,” wrote Sanchez in an email to the Voice, “I told the Senator that I had ambitions to run for Congress in 20 years, and she replied by asking why was I waiting for so long? She encouraged me to run at age 25!”
Later that night, Sanchez tweeted what Gillibrand had told her, and Gillibrand quoted her on her own Twitter account.
And I meant it! Why wait? https://t.co/8ho0EZNzRM
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) October 31, 2019
Sanchez was very impressed with both the event and Gillibrand. “Her supportive comments and follow up on Twitter demonstrated the benefits of the personal setting of the event,” Sanchez wrote.
“I am so incredibly impressed by Senator Gillibrand’s humility, feminism, and initiative.”
Photos courtesy of Bushra Shaikh.