Kirsten Gillibrand

Gillibrand champions the #MeToo movement

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is optimistic that her part in the #MeToo movement – a bill to overhaul Congress’ sexual harassment reporting system – will soon pass in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is optimistic that her part in the #MeToo movement – a bill to overhaul Congress’ sexual harassment reporting system – will soon pass in the Senate.

In an interview following her remarks at a breakfast event on Friday, New York’s junior senator told City & State that she had spoken on Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about her bill, which has already passed the House.

“I'm hopeful that he will work with me to move that to the floor soon, because it's already passed the House," she said of the legislation, which would end mandate sexual harassment training in Congress, ban publicly funded misconduct settlements and no longer require mediation before a victim can make an official complaint.

In her speech Friday morning, Gillibrand also highlighted the #MeToo movement – and did little to downplay her reputation as a potential presidential candidate in 2020. The country must recommit “to actually being the light of the world,” she told the crowd, echoing President Ronald Reagan’s famous campaign references to the United States as a “city on a hill.”

Gillibrand spoke at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies’ event “Rising Together: Local Women Leading Change,” which featured advocates for gender and racial equality. Gillibrand’s speech was a rallying cry for women to “speak truth to power” and let their voices be heard. She called for women to continue the activism expressed by the Women’s March after President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the #MeToo movement.

“One of the things we’ve seen over the last year is women’s voices, especially women of color, are truly making a difference in our country right now,” she said. Gillibrand’s passionate speech was tailored to an audience of activists and women of color. She discussed voter turnout by black women specifically in the Alabama special election that contributed to the defeat of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, calling this demographic the “heart and soul of the Democratic Party.” She emphasized intersectionality, speaking of the achievements of women of color and the need for #MeToo to address the needs of lower income women.

“In this era of hate and division, greed and isolation, our shared mission is that much more important,” Gillibrand said, culminating her speech with a reference to the Biblical directive to “love your neighbor as yourself” and to be the light of the world. While speaking, Gillibrand has the passion and cadence of a preacher – or a potential presidential candidate – and was met by loud applause.

The audience at the breakfast was composed primarily of women, sitting around tables with delicately plated quiches and pastries. Large pink words were taped to both walls of the Park Hyatt ballroom, presenting encouraging affirmations such as “act” and “inspire.”

The event celebrated women’s leadership, with other guests including Women’s March national co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman, Girls for Gender Equity founder Joanne Smith and Higher Heights co-founders Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen.

In a panel discussion with NY1 anchor Cheryl Wills and Austin, Mallory and Sarsour struck a defiant note as they talked about their activism and what it is like to be subjects of controversy. Sarsour has been criticized for her positions on Israel, and Mallory has been accused of anti-Semitism for appearing at a rally with Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan.

“When you actually look at the types of controversy we’ve been a part of, it goes literally back to who we are. It’s our existence that’s controversial,” Sarsour said, arguing that she and Mallory made people uncomfortable as powerful women of color. Sarsour and Mallory also discussed their loyalty to each other amidst controversy, and the need to support women from marginalized communities. Mallory noted that women of color spearheaded the activism that led to the Women’s March.

“We built an intersectional platform that no one has ever seen,” Mallory said.