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Presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand talks policy, inspiration for public service

Kevia McComb/Stanford Women in Business

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd in Cubberley Auditorium on Friday, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) shared personal stories and lessons from public service in an Executive Leadership Series event hosted by Stanford Women in Business (SWIB).

Moderated by SWIB President Tashrima Hossain ’19, the discussion covered a range of topics, from Gillibrand’s experience studying abroad in China to whether “Big Tech” should be subject to harsher anti-trust regulations. Gillibrand spoke most extensively about her conviction to empower women and the need to confront global challenges like climate change.

“We need a solution as bold and big as the problem [we’re] trying to address,” Gillibrand said.

Reflecting on her journey in government, Gillibrand said that she was initially inspired by the strength and tenacity of female role models in her family to pursue a career in public service.

“[They] really taught me that women’s voices matter, that what you do with their time matters, that grassroot activism matters, that you have to dare to be different and that you shouldn’t be afraid to do anything,” Gillibrand said.

A Dartmouth and University of California, Los Angeles-educated lawyer, Gillibrand worked at private law firms before successfully running for the congressional seat in New York’s 20th district in 2006. Gillibrand was re-elected in 2008 to serve a second term before being selected by Governor David Paterson to fill the senate seat left by Hillary Clinton, then nominee for Secretary of State.

Gillibrand said that global climate change is “the greatest threat to humanity” and voiced her support for the Green New Deal, an economic and environmental reform bill proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).

“Green jobs are the greatest economic opportunity of this generation,” Gillibrand said. “[I would] use the bully pulpit of the presidency to generate nationwide, worldwide call to action and to be the one that figures it out.”

In addition to her commitment to global issues, Gillibrand noted her determination to address gender inequality and determination to encourage women to participate more in politics.

“We need more diverse voices in Washington because without them a lot of issues that are absolutely crucial won’t even be raised,” Gillibrand said. “Until we have 51 percent women in Congress, the solutions and the experiences of women won’t be well-represented.”

Gillibrand also discussed her concern for privacy rights and election intervention by foreign entities through social media platforms, noting that she would study those issues to make sure “our democracy is not for sale.”

In her senate tenure, Gillibrand sponsored bills that addressed issues from sexual assault and paid family leave to healthcare for 9/11 first responders. She served an important role in the passage of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Act, a policy that allowed LGBT individuals to serve openly in the military.

Gillibrand announced on Jan. 16 that she would launch an exploratory committee for president in “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and officially joined the 2020 presidential race on March 17, claiming that she would make “big, bold, brave choices” if elected. Gillibrand said that her motivation for service comes from the stories she heard about issues that impact people’s lives.

“Every issue that I’ve ever taken up, there is a constituent who is desperate for someone to fight for them,” Gillibrand said. “I was inspired to lift up their voice and make a difference.”

As one of the 23 Democrats running for president, Gillibrand highlighted her electoral victories in a traditionally conservative district and her leadership in Congress as proof that she can succeed in the primary election and “bring the country together.”

“I know that as president I can represent all of America, listen to everyone regardless of where they live and find the common ground necessary for progress,” Gillibrand said.

Ana Clara Martins ’21, SWIB’s vice president, said after the event that the organization invited Gillibrand because her inspiring presence as a woman in politics represents the values SWIB hopes to embody. Similarly inspired by Gillibrand’s strength and charisma, Kevia McComb ’22 also praised Gillibrand’s ability to appeal to the college audience.

At the end, Gillibrand summarized the lessons she learned from life and career and encouraged students to pursue their goals.

“Believe in yourself, don’t wait and just do what you dream of,” Gillibrand said.

Contact Daniel Yang at danieljy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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