The senator tells InStyle why progressive women are the key to a just future in the United States of America.

By Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as told to Alyssa Hardy
Aug 17, 2020 @ 7:00 am
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Eman Mohammed. Design by Jenna Brillhart

When Kamala Harris joined Joe Biden on the presidential ticket, she made history. When they win in November, she will change the face of power in America. We need to make sure that change is seen at every level of government by electing more progressive women to office across the country.

When you elect women, the conversation changes. The women I work with tend to be the consensus builders. They can reach across the aisle to find common ground

These women put issues forward that others won’t address. They make sure we fight for those who don't have power and aren't being listened to: marginalized groups, women, women of color, the disability community, and the LGBTQ+ community. Those are all communities that aren't currently being heard in Washington, but it's often the ambition of many women who seek public service to have those voices heard. 

Eman Mohammed. Design by Jenna Brillhart

This is why 2010 was a huge wake-up call for me. It was the first year that the percentage of women in Congress decreased. As a result, I decided to put together a nationwide call-to-action through my political action committee, Off the Sidelines. We began by asking women to get out, vote, and become advocates. Then we asked them to run for office or help us support a woman candidate who would make the changes they want to see. 

In the 2018 election, Off the Sidelines supported 90 of the 100 women that ran and won. As we head into the general election, we are striving for even more, especially in purple and even red states. We are backing women like Barbara Bollier, running in Kansas, Sara Gideon in Maine, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, MJ Hegar in Texas, and Amy McGrath in Kentucky, all women that we need to uplift because once they get to Congress, they make a huge difference. They shake things up. They represent a different set of priorities and values, and, with their leadership, we’ll be able to actually get things done.

Electing more women, especially more Black women and women of color to all levels of office, from the White House to the statehouse, is critical. It will help create a government that can properly address the systemic issues that have people out in the streets fighting for justice. 

We need candidates who prioritize issues like postal banking, which can bring resources to the unbanked, most of whom are people of color and those in rural communities. We need those who will address maternal mortality, because if you're a Black woman in New York City, you're 12 times more likely to die in childbirth or within a year of giving birth due to institutional racism in our health care system. We need people who are ready to fight for solutions to our childcare crisis.  Before the pandemic, for every four kids in New York that needed a slot in daycare, there was one slot available — and without adequate federal assistance, post-COVID-19, it will be eight to one. 

One of the things that I was most proud of in my own presidential run was the Family Bill of Rights, which sought to address issues specifically around parenting and being able to provide our kids a bright future. These are fundamental rights that are at the root of justice in this country, and they include making sure that everybody who wants a child can have one, delivering postnatal care packages, and implementing paid leave, universal pre-K, and affordable childcare. These are issues that Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Kamala Harris, and many candidates have backed and plan to push forward with me. 

Eman Mohammed. Design by Jenna Brillhart

As a white woman, it is my role to be an ally in fighting for these problems. There have been so many times when the whiteness of my skin has protected me — that’s the truth of white privilege. My job as an ally is to work on rectifying institutional and systemic racism. When we’re voting, the same idea rings true: we all have an impact when we cast our vote. The injustices in this country are real and we are all part of the conversation. It cannot just be the problem for Black people to solve or work for Black people to do. 

Our choice in 2020 is very clear. There is a vision for America that's so fundamentally different from what we see right now. There are so many women candidates that have what it takes to make sure that our economy can thrive, that every person who wants to be working can do so. We have an opportunity to ensure that people will not be left behind because of their gender, sexual orientation, or race. That is what is on the ballot this November and these are the changes that women will make happen. 

Photographs by Eman Mohammed. Retouching by Kevin Lee. Production by Kelly Chiello.