If Only More Senators Were Like Kirsten Gillibrand
“If there were a chutzpah caucus in the United States Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would be its natural leader,” wrote the New York Times last week in a profile of the senator.Gillibrand aggressively fights for what she thinks is right, even if it means defying her party and bucking its leadership. As a fairly new and junior senator, she’s expected to play by the Senate’s Good Old Boy rules, adhering to its protocols and keeping a low profile. But she refuses to do so when she believes important progressive principles are at stake. She says that if her approach “makes a colleague uncomfortable, that’s a price worth paying.”According to the Times, she corners her colleagues on the Senate floor and doesn’t stop talking until they understand what she’s up to and why it’s important. For example, she took on a cause few were aware of — ending sexual abuse in the military. She made sure that everyone in Congress knew that enlisted women have a higher chance of being sexually assaulted than of dying in combat and gave her colleagues copies of a documentary film, “The Invisible War,” chronicling stories of sexual abuse in the military and showing how they were covered up.She introduced legislation that would take these cases out of the chain of command and give independent military lawyers, not commanders, the right to decide which sexual assault cases to try. Undaunted by the Democratic leadership’s desire for a more moderate approach, she has continued to campaign relentlessly for her bill. She even engaged in the highly unconventional tactic of appealing to donors in Illinois and voters in Missouri to pressure their Democratic Senators to support her legislation.Senator Gillibrand has often used real-life stories to make the case for legislation she is working to advance. She did this to win health coverage for the first responders who cleaned up after the September 11 attacks and to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so gays could openly serve in the military.Most recently, Senator Gillibrand has been working to block any cuts in funding for food stamps, once again challenging her party’s position to accept a compromise on this issue.Yale Law School professor Eugene R. Fidell summed up Senator Gillibrand’s character when he told The New York Times, “She is unwilling to knuckle under to demands for deference. It is very rare that you see a relatively junior member of the Senate staking out a position and sticking by it.”I am inspired by Senator Gillibrand’s willingness to embrace her power and use it fearlessly. Think of what Congress might accomplish if more of its members were as hell bent on getting things done as Senator Gillibrand.I am also inspired by Senators Gillibrand’s commitment to forwarding the power of other women. She’s taken on the critical role of not only raising funds for women who are seeking elective office but also serving as a mentor to them.For example, starting with the 2010 election, Senator Gillibrand began holding $800 a head dinners on behalf of female Democrats in tight races. Her efforts helped Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota become the first women to represent their states in the Senate. According to The New York Times, she has raised nearly $30 million since 2009 and, as the New Yorker article notes, when she helps a candidate, the only thing she asks in return is for that candidate to help another woman run for office.Senator Gillibrand has also launched an organization called Off the Sidelines, aimed at empowering women and calling them to action. Its mission is to make women know that their voices matter and to get them involved in the political and policy decisions that affect their lives. Its top priorities are increasing the minimum wage, winning paid family and medical leave, establishing universal pre-kindergarten, providing quality affordable child care, and ensuring that women get equal pay for equal work. It urges women to support candidates, especially female candidates, who support this agenda. Senator Gillibrand has also created a companion Off the Sidelines PAC to elect more women to Congress; it raised $900,000 in the 2014 election. The Senator’s goal is to have at least half the seats in Congress held by women – and given her track record, there’s no stopping her until this happens.Ready to do more in your career and life in 2014? Join us and 1 million other participants on February 19th for the Take The Lead Challenge Launch Event, designed to inspire you and show you how to embrace your power and fulfill your potential. Learn more about the event and sign up for the free livestream.