Episode 119: She Won
Published November 17, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda, women winning in politics featuring good post-election news out of Virginia, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, and elsewhere, plus interviews with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Katherine Clark from the 5th district of Massachusetts about how they won their early races and how they're working to make change right now.
Aminatou: How're you doing over there?
Ann: I'm doing good. I'm still feeling overall pretty good about the election results we saw this month. Some really exciting, incredible first-time candidates elected to office including a lot of women we've been cheering for.
Aminatou: Can I tell you how halfway through election night I started -- I was texting people and I was like "Is this what it feels like to win again? Because I had clearly forgotten this feeling."
Ann: I know. Obama, we hardly knew ye.
Aminatou: Yeah. It's just like it's wild. But, you know, you're right. It was super, super, super encouraging to hear so many women and first-time candidates who were running and just absolutely crushed it. That made me really happy.
Ann: We have to play this incredible voicemail we got that's related to this point from a woman named Angela Becker in Kansas who was running for schoolboard this month, and here's the voicemail she left us.
Angela: My name is Angela Becker and I'm 30 years old. Last Tuesday I won a seat on the Board of Education in Newton, Kansas, and I didn't just win, I kicked ass and I won by a really good margin. I've always known I wanted to run for local office; I just pictured it being much later in life. But that changed after the 2016 presidential election. I really think Hillary lost because America is sexist and just trash and the only way to change that is for more women to be in office. I think we have a tendency to only focus on national politics which I get because it's important, it's dramatic, and it's easy for news organizations to cover. But I think local politics affect your day-to-day life so much more than national politics do.
As a schoolboard member I'll be making decisions on local property taxes and discipline policies, curriculum, teacher salaries, if we need to build a new school, issues that really affect my community. Small towns like mine are often run by old, white men that don't represent the diversity that actually exists because we need more women, young people, people of color to run for office. And I'm not going to lie, it's not easy. It's really stressful. But if you work hard, it's worth it.
Running for something connected me with professionals that helped with messaging, design work, and canvasing strategies and that was all pro bono because people want to help you. And if you don't run, encourage someone else to run and help them. You know, shine theory all the way. Thanks.
Aminatou: Angela Becker crushed it. Congratulations to you.
Ann: Obviously I love the shine theory shout out. I love the point that she made about how elections like schoolboard races are where we get a chance to make some really important and incredible lasting change. I was so excited to hear from someone who was running at the local level. Just thrilled.
Aminatou: Yeah, you know, and also the thing she said about asking for help was such a good way to frame it because when I think about what makes me really queasy about running for office which I will 100% do one day, it's like you need to raise money. You have to ask people for their vote and whatever. But just hearing her put it in that way, you know, that there are people who want to help you succeed and all you have to do is ask for help was like really helpful.
Ann: Totally. And we did in episode 96 talk to Amanda Litman of Run For Something if you want to go back to the archive and listen to that episode and listen to what she has to say about what they're trying to do and all of the resources they have to offer because let's be real, there are a lot of elections coming up too.
Aminatou: Ugh, Run For Something crushed it also. That's great.
Ann: Before we get to a few of the incredible interviews we have this week I do want to make like one less-than-exciting point about some of the election results we saw this month. Notably in Virginia, but I don't believe it was isolated there, which is to say white women, we still have not gotten it together. The majority of white women who voted in the Virginia election, statewide elections this month, went the wrong way/maybe did not turn up at all. Once again black women are carrying us all and I thank them for that but also no need to sit back and pat ourselves on the back about how everything's going great right now. White ladies, keep working. That's all.
Ann: Back to our discussion of winning but I just want to point out I felt some drawbacks to my win vibes when I saw those numbers.
Aminatou: Right, it's like we're winning but also like who's doing the heavy lifting?
Ann: Right. Who's doing the heavy lifting? And also how is this sustainable or what does this look like over the long term? Because I really think that, you know, this is a question of really making everyone feel like they have a stake in making change in this moment and that they have a lot to lose. I'm just like I would just like to see some different numbers from my voting demographic. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, one other thing that was really remarkable about Virginia is actually that their governor restored voting rights for a lot of felons there, I think about 200,000 people.
Aminatou: And the most emotional part of election day for me was watching videos of a lot of these people who were voting for the first time and just how inspiring it was to see how civically engaged they wanted to be. Over and over and over again you heard so many of them say like "I finally feel like a citizen now." Here are people who know exactly how important it is that elections have the outcomes that are right and just. And so 200,000 people, it doesn't sound like a lot, but that actually is a lot when you think about the number of people who stay home and don't fucking do anything on election day. Thank you Terry McAuliffe for that. You know, and it's just a reminder that voting rights is a really, really important issue at the center of the Virginia election.
Ann: Totally. And think about what could happen if those laws were changed in more populous states or states with even bigger prison populations, like things like that. Like that's where I start to really feel like okay, what if we applied this across the country? What would be possible?
Aminatou: Ugh, justice restored. I dare to imagine.
Ann: There's also some amazing victories. Montana elected its first black major, a refugee from Liberia, a man named Wilmot Collins. In Virginia also two women, Elizabeth Guzman and Hal Ayala became the state's first Latina delegates and Kathy Tran became Virginia's first female Asian-American delegate. Plus Danica Roem, oh my god, can we just fangirl about Danica Roem?
Aminatou: A hero. Like I'm so -- I can't even tell you. Danica Roem is amazing. She made history by winning election to Virginia's House of Delegates and she's an openly trans woman and also is somebody who has so much dignity and grace. Her opponent refused to debate her because she was trans and kept demeaning her and misgendering her and just doing all sorts of awful things. And when she won -- which one, karma is LOL, that's amazing. It's like way to defeat the architect of the Virginia bathroom bill. But when the press asked her about him and how she felt about him -- her opponent -- she wouldn't talk shit about him and she said now he's my constituent and I don't talk shit about my constituents. I was so impressed by that.
Ann: I loved it. I was also really excited to hear about Andrea Jenkins who became America's first openly trans woman of color elected to public office. She became a city council woman in Minneapolis. So shout out to Andrea Jenkins too. So amazing. A lot of these candidates too were people who were inspired by the election of our horrible Cheeto president to run and I'm like you know, if there is a silver lining here . . .
Aminatou: Sweet potato Saddam? [Laughs]
Ann: I'm sorry, anything with sweet in the name I refuse to reply. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Listen, I'm just workshopping some of these names.
Ann: A seasonal nickname. [Laughs]
Aminatou: That's the Thanksgiving nickname.
Ann: Ugh, yeah, pumpkin spice awful. I'm just saying that maybe a silver lining here is that we get these women in the government and leadership pipeline for hopefully decades and decades to come long after Sweet potato Saddam is ousted from office.
Aminatou: This feels really good and it also feels like, you know, some people are definitely putting in the work for 2018. Let's have more election nights like these.
Aminatou: I got the chance to meet my senator Kirsten Gillibrand this week and talk to her for CYG. It was pretty amazing. She's pretty badass. She's pretty great. So we talked about a bunch of things. One is all -- you know, a lot of the work that she is really known for and the issues that she cares about are all things that are basically on pause right now because the wrong party's in power. She's been at the forefront of national paid leave, military sexual assault, and campus sexual assault, and a lot of just really, really important feminist issues. So we talked about that. We also talked about her own kind of journey to running. And my favorite thing that she told me about running for office is that she felt that she was really prepared because she was really confident because she was raised to be a confident person.
I don't know, I really appreciated hearing that from a powerful woman because I think that so many times you're supposed to be like self-effacing or you can't brag about your accomplishments or where you come from and realizing that actually, no, there are young women who are predisposed to be really confident and are awesome and that's nothing to be ashamed of.
Ann: Right, like I was . . . I expected great things of myself from day one. Like I love hearing that.
Aminatou: It was just such a reminder to me about why it's important to walk in your truth and really believe in justice and do what's right all the time because other people are watching you, like both people in your family and people who are younger and people that you can have an influence on even without telling them. And I think that that's something that I forget a lot and that was really encouraging to me.
Kirsten: If you just look at what's happened in this country since the women's march, the women's march was the most inspiring moment certainly in my political life. And you saw women, men, kids all across the globe march because they felt this election was something that didn't represent who they were or their values or what's important to them. And what I love so much about it is it didn't matter what you marched for, you could march for anything. So whether it was women's reproductive freedom or Black Lives Matter or immigration rights or clean air/clean water or LGBTQ equality, it was whatever your thing was and I loved it and I thought it was really empowering and I think that interest in being heard and interest in affecting outcomes hasn't changed. It hasn't stopped at all.
And so that's why EMILY's List will tell you why they'd be working with maybe a thousand candidates at this point in the cycle. They're working with over 19,000 right now. So women are running and they're responding and they're showing up. They're showing up at town halls. They're making phone calls. They're being heard and that's the most important thing they can do.
Aminatou: I know, you know? But I'm still so struck by how in this body especially every year we hear that it's the year of the woman and that usually means like one more woman joins, you know?
Aminatou: And the first time that that happened was after the Anita Hill hearings, right?
Aminatou: It's the first time we had the year of the woman and really all that was was like four women joined.
Aminatou: That number, it's just not enough.
Kirsten: Not enough.
Aminatou: So how do we scale that in a way that really matters? Because as we've learned election results matter.
Kirsten: Totally, they affect everything. So I agree with you. It's one of the reasons I founded Off the Sideline six years ago to create a call to action, to ask women to run, to support their candidacies, to engage other women to vote and become advocates and support women who are running. And through that effort I've raised about six million dollars for women, about a million for women of color, because we really need to change the players list. We need to literally change who is at the table here in Washington. And I want to get to 51% of women in Congress. I want to get to the day where we represent our population appropriately. And having just 21 in the Senate and 18% in the house is just not enough, and so a lot of issues that we care about never become top five, top ten issues. If we had 51% of women in Congress we certainly would have national paid leave by now. We certainly wouldn't be debating whether women should have access to contraception and I think we'd have done a lot more about sexual violence.
And so we just have to keep fighting and for all your listeners really encouraging someone you know and love to run, and if none of them will run then you need to run.
Aminatou: Oh, I'm planning on it.
Kirsten: You just have to say "I need to run and I'm going to run and I'm going to be heard on this issue or that issue." And it matters. And if we do it, if we all do it, if we all take responsibility for our own communities it will change everything.
Aminatou: One thing that we've been so encouraged about on the show about you specifically is how you champion these really awesome feminist women issues, so everything from campus sexual assault to military sexual assault which I know that you have a bill, a bipartisan bill that's coming up soon. It also seems like you're the only person who can get bipartisan support on most things. You know, and you mentioned also national family paid leave. And I think about all these issues and you're right, they're super important but they're not a priority for the GOP right now. It's really frustrating because these are the issues we care about. How do you keep focused on that and how do you keep fighting even though we're not in a climate really where those issues are front-of-mind?
Kirsten: Well I'm working hard with my Republican allies to bring bills forward, so we're going to have a press conference about the military sexual assault bill this week. We're also going to talk about the bill to revise how we handle sexual violence and sexual harassment here in Washington on Capitol Hill. And so it's important that you just keep pushing and finding allies where you can. So all those bills I'm working on are bipartisan right now and keeping them bipartisan and keeping and pulling in new people is really important. Asking your colleagues to change their minds, to come with you, to support your goals, and it takes a lot of work. But it's that important because when half the population isn't being valued, I mean that's where all this stems from. If women aren't being valued they're not going to be paid equally. They're not going to have support like universal pre-K or paid leaf and they're not going to have justice when it comes to domestic violence or violence against women in society and so we just have to keep fighting.
Aminatou: I love what you said about pulling in your colleagues when you can. I think something that's very true for those of us who feel like we don't have political power or we don't work in Congress or whatever is there is a real feeling of powerlessness and a real feeling of frustration with people who don't see the world the way that we see it. Do you think that having conversations with your colleagues on the other side, that they really matter beyond just political calculus?
Kirsten: For sure. And in fact over time I can win them over. We were able to change a few senators' votes over the last few years. Senator Thune for example decided to support our bill after he talked to some constituents, and a constituent in his state was treated so badly after being assaulted in the military and did not get justice. He really felt called to support her and to support her by joining our bill. So people's circumstances change and the conversation changes and right now we're in the middle of a very powerful conversation with the Me Too campaign. And what's happening and what I think is most remarkable is individuals are beginning to see that this really is a problem, that it is a prevalent, pervasive problem regardless of industry. It's not just Harvey Weinstein. It's also Fox News. It's also corporate America. It's also comedy. It's also NFL. It's also schools and the military. It's also Capitol Hill.
And so I think people are now recognizing that this is a problem that society must address in that just assuming it's not so bad or it's once in a while is just not right. And so I think we are going to get more help. I think there are going to be more people who will side with us and who will fight against this kind of sexual violence and fight for justice. Everyone deserves justice and transparency and accountability.
And so I think this moment is powerful because with the real story and a real person sharing perhaps the worst moment of their life publicly, it's a really hard thing to do. And when you hear painful story after painful story you begin to say wow, this is real and maybe it wakes them up a bit and it makes and it makes them willing to support efforts to change what's happening.
Aminatou: Can you talk a little more specifically about the campus sexual assault work that you've been doing, especially in the face of Title IX being completely gutted by this administration?
Kirsten: Yeah. I was very disappointed in Betsy DeVos. She certainly didn't have the experience to lead the Department of Education in my view but this in addition to that is heartbreaking. Title IX guidance was very helpful. It was really something that was trying to put into place fair adjudication for these cases on campuses so that a survivor could get an accommodation or get her classes changed or change her dorm room or maybe have some measure of justice and maybe her perpetrator could even get kicked out.
But the problem is when you take away that guidance you leave it up to the school to do whatever they want, and what we know from past practice is they're doing it terrible. They're really not handling these cases well. And there's so many injustices like giving someone on a football team a different set of rules or having a different process for star athletes. That's just not right.
And so we need more accountability when it comes to schools. The bill that I have that's a bipartisan bill -- that's widely bipartisan, it has over 30 cosponsors -- it really does that. It calls for a nationwide survey so that every two years every kid on every campus will be asked "Do you feel safe? What's the climate like? Have you ever been assaulted? If so, did you report? If not, why not?" You would get a snapshot in time of what every campus is like and then that school system, that administrator, can figure out how to make their school safe. It's such a common sense approach.
So I'm hoping we can get a vote on that bill someday and get to vote on it and I think this debate might help spur that because maybe our Republican colleagues will want to get something done. Maybe they'll want to show that they can protect their kids on college campuses too.
Aminatou: I hope so. [Laughs] Can you tell me a little bit about who your friends are with the other women in the Senate? Because we read so much about that, just the special bond that you all have, and I wonder is it really real?
Kirsten: Yeah, it is. I mean what's nice about the women senators is we get together every couple months and have a dinner and we do it on a bipartisan basis, all the women senators, and we don't talk about work so much. We talk about ourselves, our families, our kids, our dreams, our life experiences, and it makes us care about one another. And so when we're working on legislation oftentimes we want each other to succeed and for my part every time I pass a major piece of legislation I've had strong republican women helping me. So with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal it was Susan Collins who felt strongly and got the senate Republican votes we needed and helped me every step of the way. When I was trying to pass the 9/11 health bill, the first time it was Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. The second time Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins really leading the way and guiding me as to how do you get this bill voted on? How do you get it passed? How should we pay for it? And giving me the advice I needed to make sure it was something that could be non-partisan. And in fact the first time we passed it was unanimous and that only happens because you have people working together on the same goal.
And so the women senators really do help one another in a really wonderful way. I really respect them. I very much respect Lisa and Susan as sort of these two people who are willing to take lots of heat from their own party just to do the right thing over and over again. They did it on healthcare most recently but they've done it over and over again on bills with me that hugely make a difference in people's lives.
Aminatou: Do you remember when you were first being recruited to run? What were things that people said or did that really helped you to see that you could do this job?
Kirsten: Well, I had a lot of self-confidence because I had a grandmother who sort of imbued it in me. My grandmother was a lady who never went to college but she was a secretary in our state legislature and as a young woman started working there at age -- when she was 20 years old. She recognized that women really didn't have a voice in politics and so she organized women. She asked them to participate in campaigns, so she created a club. They did all the envelope stuffing and door-to-door. These ladies literally elected candidates year after year that shared their values. And so I remember watching her do that and being really inspired by her. And what I learned from her was not to be afraid of politics. It was almost like she taught me that yes, this is a tough sport but you've got all you need to protect yourself so you play it anyway.
When I was deciding whether to run, when I did choose to think about it, it was talking to colleagues like Debbie Wasserman Schultz who had kids and I was like how do I have . . . I had a new child. I had a two-year-old and I was thinking about running. She was very helpful in explaining of course you can be a good mom and be a member of Congress. Of course you can do two jobs at once. All women work and manage their children whether it's in the home or outside the home so you can totally do this.
So just that encouragement made a big difference to me because I was a little nervous as a new mother if I could do both well. And so I make sure when I'm encouraging candidates to run, especially women with young kids, I explain to them that of course they can be a good mom and a good member of Congress and in fact their experience as mothers make them a better member of Congress because they might see different problems and offer different solutions.
Aminatou: One of the comments that we get from people who think about running is how they just don't have the stomach to ask for money and how fundraising is really, really hard. Like what would you say to them?
Kirsten: Oh, so easy. So I would ask the woman first what do you want to change? What do you want to accomplish when you get there? What's the one thing you want to fix? And it'll be something they care deeply about, sexual violence on college campuses, clean air/clean water, childhood obesity. Whatever their issue is they're going to pick one thing that's really driving them. And then I'll say "Well, would you ask your friends for money for that cause?" and they say "Of course I would." I say "Well that's the only reason you're asking them for money, because if you get elected you're going to fix that problem. You're going to solve that problem. You are the one who's going to be the voice to change that issue." And so when you're asking about money it's not about you at all; it's about that problem that you want to fix. And when you tell a woman that a lightbulb goes off and she's like oh my goodness, I can definitely do that, because it's not about them. You're not asking for yourself. It's not going in your bank account. It's actually going to pay for that television ad that's going to say "I'm running because I believe we should be doing A, B, or C."
Aminatou: So for the Call Your Girlfriend listeners who are -- we're the ones who call all the time. We've memorized the capitals, which board number. We're those annoying people who fax, text, everything. Now we're thinking about running for office. What are other things you think that we should be really laser-focused on?
Kirsten: Right now as Congress? For your activists or for me personally?
Aminatou: I guess both.
Kirsten: Well, for your activists it's really what they care about. So healthcare is still a number one issue for a lot of folks in my state. They're going to actually bring up appealing Obamacare again.
Aminatou: Oh, great. [Laughs]
Kirsten: I think they're going to add it to the tax bill if they can, so again, healthcare. Why having access to affordable care is so important to you; why being discriminated against because you have a preexisting condition is morally wrong; and why you want to make sure everyone has affordable access. Or tax policy. They're about to have a vote on taxes. It is going to raise taxes for the middle class. It is not going to help most working people. And it's a giveaway to huge companies and millionaires and billionaires. So giving money directly to people who do not need it and taking it from those who do, that is what that tax bill is going to look like.
So speaking out on the topics that are being debated, or speaking out on the thing that again you're most upset about. I mean there might be something in your life. You might be worried about autism. You might be worried about environmental pollution and what Secretary Pruitt is doing to this country. You might be worried about what Betsy DeVos is doing to public school education. Whatever it is, that's your thing. Just again keep being heard.
And showing up is half the battle. Turning up at the town hall, showing up outside a congressman's office, writing a letter, sending an email, posting on your Facebook page. Whatever it is for you to be heard is really -- keep doing it because it's working. And then for me personally I have a lot of irons in the fire but I am very worried about what's happening to this administration both domestically and with foreign policy. I'm really worried about the tax bill. I'm worried about healthcare for all. I want all of us to start focusing on what we could do that would make a difference which I think is Medicare for All and really let anybody buy into Medicare as a not-for-profit public option that creates competition, that allows for affordability and most things being covered.
I also care very much about national paid leave and I'm trying to talk a lot nationally about why we're literally the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have it and how hard that is for working people. And then with foreign policy I'm very concerned about what the president is doing. I think undermining the Iran deal is unwise and destabilizing. I think saber-rattling with North Korea is equally unwise and destabilizing. And so I have to keep focusing on speaking out and making sure this president doesn't take us off a cliff.
Aminatou: Thank you so much Senator Gillibrand. On a personal note I'm really thankful to be a constituent of yours and I hope that we'll be talking to you again soon. We hope that you'll run for something even bigger.
Kirsten: Aww. Well thank you so much and thank you for having me.
Ann: Ugh, I love her. Can she be my senator? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Don't worry, maybe one day she'll be your president and then we'll all get to enjoy her.
Ann: Ugh, yes, I hope so. I'm like I really hope so. I'm already starting up the super PAC to get her elected president.
Ann: Let's make it happen. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my god, our super PAC name, Lady PAC.
Ann: Lady PAC.
Aminatou: Lady snack PAC.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: Get it all done. She hasn't announced that she's running for president or anything and the hope is that she will but the thing that makes me really happy is even despite the fact that there are so few women in Congress, because women are amazing, the ones that are there are pretty fucking competent and kind of amazing so the bench is deep in a sense. And I would be happy for any of them to run but mostly I'd be happy if they all ran together.
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Ann: So I talked to Representative Katherine Clark who reps the 5th congressional district of Massachusetts which is sort of north and west of Boston. And she first came on my radar because she was involved in being one of the first people to create legislation against various types of online harassment, like was a person who heard about Gamergate and specifically how a woman in her district, Briana Wu, was being harassed online and was like "Um, actually, this is something that elected officials can work on," and has been working on it. So that's how she first came on my radar even though I'm not in her district but she much like Senator Gillibrand talked about her relationship with the many competent women in the House and how they work together sometimes across party lines but also to just really . . . within like the Democratic Party for her in particular to boost each other up and to make sure that they are continuing to get stuff done so they can continue to be reelected.
Ann: I'm curious, the first few times that you ran, I know that was first for your local school committee and then a few years later for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Were you confident that you would win? Did you feel good about it at the outset?
Katherine: Well I certainly did for my first race because part of my -- looking back at that race was the fact that there were eight people running for nine openings on my local school committee so I felt really great about my odds of winning. But with each race that I've done, and the next race that I did after that, I ran for the state senate in 2004. Like so many women who run I just was so concerned about what I saw happening in human service programs around Massachusetts that were being devastated, what I saw happening to our schools, and the funding cuts that they were trying to absorb, that I decided I was going to run against a popular incumbent state senator. And I really didn't understand the dynamics of that or what that meant but I felt so passionately about the issues relating to local education that I decided to jump in.
And I did lose that race but it was closer than anybody thought it should be and I learned so much from meeting people, from knocking on doors, trying to raise money for the first time, that when I came back and ran for an open seat I really had that experience. Losing a race isn't fun in any way. You feel not only personal disappointment but that you let this team down. But it is often the way that we push our own boundaries and when you do that you also really discover how to find joy.
Ann: Did it take you a long time to come around to that? Because I'm just picturing like myself like hypothetically the morning after losing a tough election and just feeling like oh god, I wasted everyone's time and money. You know that thing that women often do of, you know, yeah . . . [Laughs]
Katherine: Oh yeah. [Laughs]
Ann: So did you have to pull out of that phase a little bit to get back into it?
Katherine: Oh, absolutely, you know? This was back in 2004 so I've had 13 years to . . . [Laughs] to think about it. But I think one of the things that was so hard was that I just -- I did, I felt this guilt that I had wasted everybody's time and that I hadn't lived up to their belief in me. My voice completely cracked. I was teary in my speech to my volunteers and family and friends that gathered on election night and that was reported in the paper and I'm like oh, boy, you know? Not only did I not do this but I come across as like this fragile flower who cried her way through her . . . [Laughs] her thank you speech to her supporters. I'm like ugh, what?
Ann: When in fact you're just like a human. I mean who wouldn't be sad about that?
Katherine: That's right.
Ann: Like truthfully only a sociopath would not be sad about losing an election, honestly. So I'm curious then if you could time travel back to near the beginning of your political career, like maybe to that moment when you were speaking to your staff after the loss or maybe even right after you did win election to office, what would you tell yourself knowing what you know now?
Katherine: I'd say keep going and it really was a call from a mentor of mine named Barbara Lee who's a great supporter of women who run for office who called me I'd say like five days after that state senate election that I lost and said "So what's the next step?" Not "What's the next race?" but how are you going to get ready, you know? What are the lessons learned and what are you going to do next? And, you know, there was a mix of annoyance at first. I'm like I am going to lie on my living room floor for a few more days before I decide to do anything.
Katherine: But that call was like that's right, I have a voice and I live in an incredible community that needs good representation and I can be that. So what are the next steps? And that was a really vital call to get from another woman saying okay, you can grieve over that and that's disappointing but let's move on. And I think that was an incredible gift that she gave me.
And also as someone who had contributed to my campaign and come to all my events and knocked on doors to me to say "I don't think that that was wasted time or money or energy, I still believe in you and I still want to see what you're doing next, and my disappointment would come if you just walked away from this political arena."
Ann: Oh my god, I have full chills. I love women so much. [Laughs] Honestly that's so . . .
Katherine: I know.
Ann: That's so great too. I'm curious, did you know her very well? Had you spent a lot of time with her? Or was it just more of a professional relationship where she had worked on your campaign?
Katherine: Yeah, it was absolutely at that point. She has become a very good personal friend but at that point it really was she's very active. Part of her life work is electing women and, you know, we had certainly hit it off but she wasn't someone I'd known for years or had any relationship with outside of a political environment at that point. And for her to make that call and say "Let's get going, you know? Next steps. What are we going to do to position yourself for the next thing?" It was just really, you know, a pivotal moment for me and my career in public office.
Ann: I'm curious if you've done that for other women since then, if you're paying attention to kind of the pipeline behind you.
Katherine: I certainly hope so. There'd be nothing better than if someone told that story about me someday. I think that women really have -- always have something very significant to offer. Our numbers are way too low in Congress. There is a special working relationship among women regardless of party or ideology in the House that is important and it's an important factor in how we're going to knit Congress back together and where we can move things forward for all Americans.
And so I have been reaching out to women around the country saying "You can do this. You can do it with having children at home." And I think it's really important at this point in our history where I see our democracy so threatened. We need women's voices in this process.
Ann: So you mentioned maybe being sort of a special working relationship between you and some of your colleagues in Congress who are also women. I'm curious about what that looks like because you know from the outside it can be pretty opaque. Like what are the women in Congress actually talking about? Where are you hanging out? Does this look like just two minutes after a committee meeting or something? I'm curious if you could talk a little bit more about that.
Katherine: We do hang out.
Katherine: We tend to -- you know, we tend to get together after votes and have late dinners that are often put together at the very last minute. We're away from our families. We're for many of us away from our children during the week while we're here. And to have these friendships from women around the country who have very different districts than mine, but we're here with a sense of purpose, has become one of the real surprises about being in Congress that I certainly hoped I would find but I didn't know. And there's busy schedules. We're often out late. But, you know, we have a lot of good texting threads going.
Ann: Yes. [Laughs]
Katherine: And we send a lot of emoticons. But it's supportive because a lot of things happen both in your political life and in your personal lives to reach out and know that there is this network of women you can count on. And some of that has -- you know, my closest friends here are Democrats but I really do have friendships with some of the Republican women.
Ann: And so what is your approach like, for example, with those maybe Republican women in Congress or colleagues of any party who maybe don't agree with you about what needs to be done? Or about opposing what definitely shouldn't be done. Do you have a playbook for how in a more work context you try to bring people along? Okay, you know, I can have ideas about what great policies would do. I mean you mentioned caring about social programs as a motivating factor to get into politics and I really relate to that. And then when I think about the practical like oh, god, I have this very clear opinion of Congress as a place where it's really, really hard to get good things done. And so I would love to hear you talk about that and about your learning curve with just like the work.
Katherine: Yeah. Well I think sometimes it's good not to know too many of the unwritten rules. [Laughs] You know, that you just don't go over really and mill around on the other side of the aisle. You know, we're very separated even in how we sit in the chamber and when I first came in I didn't really realize that so I just sort of sat myself down in places in the chamber where people don't expect you to do that and it kind of makes people uncomfortable.
Katherine: You know, when I first came in too so many of the relationships that I was able to form with Republican women and find those areas of common ground where we could work on something together really started with the congressional women's softball team. I went out for that not because of my athletic skill. I am just a horrible softball player. But it was a chance to -- you know, when you meet members of Congress at 7 a.m. and it's already a hot, humid Washington day it really breaks down just about every barrier. I mean you name it, it all comes out when you're out on that practice field. And some of those friendships that I formed, then I was able to go and say "Hey, I know that you care deeply because you mentioned it to me on the field about domestic violence and can we find a way to work on a piece of legislation together?"
And they may be sometimes smaller bills and discrete bills that don't get a lot of headlines but one of the reasons that I ended up running for Congress was someone in our Massachusetts delegation, Nicky Sangas, talked to me about the power of this job is that even if it's a small budget item or a discrete bill that you get passed it can have such a positive impact on millions of people.
Ann: Yeah, and I love thinking about that too. I mean especially again as I think a lot of us are really demoralized by the headlines, like the idea that part of the job you're doing is not headline-grabbing legislation that will actually have an effect. And so I'm curious about what you're working on right now, or what's your most recent victory that you would kind of place in that column? Like didn't make a ton of headlines but you're really proud to be working on it or proud to have seen it come to fruition.
Katherine: Yeah. You know, we have been able to work consistently across the aisle on addressing the opioid epidemic and crisis in this country. The first bill that I got passed in Congress, I had the very unlikely partner in the Senate of Mitch McConnell and it wasn't because he was looking to partner with a progressive freshman from Massachusetts but it's because Kentucky is as ravaged by this public health crisis as Massachusetts is. And, you know, I think each time we're able to do that we're able to start to change opinion and really view this as a chronic health crisis rather than a criminal justice or a moral failing.
Ann: Yeah. Then tell me a little bit about what you're looking forward to now, or what the next few months hold for you like work-wise. What mode are you in right now? [Laughs]
Katherine: You know, these are . . . you know, I am an optimist by nature and we are continuing to work on online safety is a real priority in our office and making sure that women and girls are safe online and getting a comprehensive piece of legislation that we've put together in our office that is also sponsored by Susan Brooks, Republican from Indiana, another great woman to work with. Over the line, but we also are very aware of our role as trying to do everything we can to be a backstop to this administration. And we have some real deadlines that are looming.
What are we going to do about the Dreamers and DACA? We're running out of time. What are we going to do about the children's insurance program that we have let lapse? What are we going to do about community hospital funding that is so vital not only to access to healthcare but to employment? In many rural areas of the country the hospital and the community health center is the biggest employer. There's such urgency to do much of the work that we are not doing, and to try to keep up with the dangerous rhetoric that comes out of this White House on a regular basis, it's a time of great anxiety I think for the American people and for members of Congress. And I know that I feel it, I think partly by design. It keeps us off-balance as we try to fend off all these different assaults that are coming so regularly.
Ann: Well, and we're definitely all feeling that on the outside as well too.
Ann: The way all of this is overlapping and the demands of trying to resist on multiple fronts at once.
Ann: I'm wondering real quick as a last question if you have a tip for managing overwhelm about all of this stuff, because I think you're obviously in a very different position than I am or than a lot of our listeners are but the emotional underpinning of oh, god, there's so much to work on feels very familiar. How do you even start to make a priority list or figure out your first step?
Katherine: Yeah. It can be overwhelming. I think you've got to focus on one or two things. You know, we all care deeply about so many issues and see how they all interplay but really have to just stay focused on a few of the key items. And for me what keeps me sane is working towards these midterm elections and making sure that we have candidates across this country, and especially women candidates, that represent those core values and are going to continue to fight for equality and opportunity and security. And security means not only national security but also the security of knowing you have healthcare for your family and a way to make a living and pay your bills. And I think that the word I hear most often at home is I feel helpless in looking at all of this. But the thing that we have to celebrate and keep watch on is that people are awake and people are involved in a way that I haven't seen in a long time and that we as individuals have the power to take this back and we may not have flexed that muscle in a while but it's there. And I do believe that it is real and it's not going away and that it's going to make all the difference.
Ann: Ugh, yes. Midterms, midterms, midterms. Us too for sure. [Laughs]
Katherine: And a little podcast listening and a little HGTV when it all becomes too overwhelming is always good.
Ann: Oh my god, yes. Always.
Ann: Well listen, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. We really appreciate it.
Katherine: I'm so excited. I've been singing the theme song. [Laughs]
Ann: Yes! [Laughs]
Aminatou: Ugh, go Katherine Clark. That's awesome.
Ann: I know! And, you know, to just bring it full-circle with Run For Something and the fact that we're talking about women winners today actually it's really important to remember something that Stephanie Schriock from EMILY's List told us when we talked about this the first time earlier this year which is that most people lose their first race and that includes women. And the idea that you run so you can get better at it and then run again and win is something that I think is also super-important to remember. Even as we get excited about our winners, it's like actually even women who lost their races this year are . . . yeah.
Aminatou: Oh, we're excited about people who stepped up to the plate because you never know and losing an election has nothing to do with your own personal worth. It says very little about you as much as it says like where we're at politically. But, you know, the thing too about talking to these two women that was so important to remember is that all of this is still a long game. Senator Gillibrand talked to me about how the healthcare bill is coming back again and it's getting morphed into the tax conversation.
Ann: Ugh, my least-favorite zombie.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, the worst zombie. But it's like the tax bill is a nightmare. It's like every time you think that you've won something you still have to stay really vigilant and you have to be ready to fight for it all over again.
Ann: Constant vigilance, yeah.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, constant vigilance, election edition. You know . . .
Ann: The story of American politics, yeah. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my gosh. You know, but really be ready to fight for it again. And so it was really interesting when I talked to Senator Gillibrand because I walked into her office just being like ugh, I'm like one of those people that calls all the time. What more can I do, you know? And walked away feeling like actually I should still call a lot because it never ends and there are more issues at stake than even just the ones that I care about. And democracy is all about exercising your muscle for it. So it's not a one-and-done deal; it's a you have to fight for what you want constantly all the time and that's how you show that you care about it.
Ann: Totally. And to that end I would say that if you supported an amazing candidate who won in this election, basically checking in and being like how can I help you actually implement the things that I voted you into office to do would be incredible. And if you supported a candidate who didn't win this time around, sending them a note and doing that -- like using that amazing Barbara Lee line of "What's next for you? What are you doing next and how can I help?" If this is a person you really do want to see elected someday it could be really powerful I think. So just realizing that you do deserve a personal relationship with your elected officials. I feel like that's part of what's going on here too. I'm like you can just call them up. Like you can go visit your senator like you did. I love that.
Aminatou: They literally work for you. Also, let me tell you, in my senator's office she had a fridge of Chobani yogurts.
Aminatou: Because the founder of Chobani, who is like an amazing immigrant, also is a New York State resident. And so I was just like thank you, all the things that matter in one place. Senators actually care about their constituents. It was great.
Ann: Wow, wow, wow.
Aminatou: Listen, other offices step up your snacks.
Ann: I've got to say it feels really good to have an episode -- I know that we are realistic about the long game but it feels really good to say we're just going to talk about some wins right now, you know?
Aminatou: I know. We haven't had wins in a while. [Laughs]
Ann: We needed a W. We needed a W. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, we needed a W. And also here's the honest to God truth is if we want more wins we have to work harder.
Ann: Yeah, and I think that we'll link to a few places that are doing more of this work to gear up for 2018. We've talked about them in the past but we'll put them in the show notes if you maybe want to get involved for the first time/stay involved because, yeah, next year is a big one.
Aminatou: Ugh, I can't wait. I can't wait to just look at the board and just flip all of these goddamn seats. It's going to be great.
Ann: [Laughs] I know. I almost like . . .
Aminatou: And then get ready to do it all over again. [Laughs]
Ann: Ugh, I know. I know. We're doing it. 2018.
Aminatou: This week's special thank yous go out to Justin Anga, Alex Phillips, Whitney Brennon, and Rachel Lindon. Thanks for helping us with this episode. You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. You can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts or on Apple podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at email@example.com. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter The Bleed on the Call Your Girlfriend website. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 781-681-2943. That's 781-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. See you at the ballot. See you on the Internet.
Ann: All of these things. I'll see you there.