Inside Kirsten Gillibrand’s meeting with Jewish feminists


NEW YORK (JTA) — Before Kirsten Gillibrand declared her candidacy for president and took off to campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire, she sat down to schmooze on the Upper West Side of New York with a group of feminists, half of them Jews.

The meeting with the New York senator, which lasted for two hours on Saturday, took place at the apartment of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a prominent feminist, author and co-founder of Ms. magazine. Also present was Gloria Steinem, another feminist icon and Ms. co-founder of Jewish descent.

In total, the meeting included two dozen women, ranging from their 20s to their 80s, a third of them women of color. Gillibrand didn’t explicitly tell them she was running for president — an announcement she would make three days later on Stephen Colbert’s late night show — but Pogrebin said it was “signaled” from the conversation, which covered everything from climate change and the rise of white supremacism to sexual harassment and health care.

“It was a reality check from a woman’s perspective,” Pogrebin said. “It was like, women’s issues are everybody’s issues. Sexual harassment involves indignities that are visited on women, but it also means your job is threatened because if you don’t put out, you get fired.”

Pogrebin said Israel did not come up, though anti-Semitism did. According to Pogrebin, the senator said that white supremacism has been rising since the election of President Donald Trump.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin

Letty Cottin Progrebin, a prominent feminist, hosted Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in her apartment days before Gillibrand announced her 2020 campaign for president. (Mike Lovett)

“She talked about the transition of this country since 2016, and part of it was about how white supremacism has been normalized,” Pogrebin said.

During her decade-long Senate career, Gillibrand has prioritized fighting for women’s rights and against sexual harassment, particularly in the military. She was the first Democratic senator to call on her colleague Al Franken to resign following accusations of sexual misconduct last year against the Minnesota Democrat — a move that alienated some party donors.

She has also moved left on some issues, like gun control and immigration, since her time as a U.S. congresswoman from upstate New York. While some have criticized those shifts as opportunistic, Pogrebin feels that they are genuine results of her experience in the Senate representing a wider constituency.

“I’ve been in rooms with her enough times to know she’s an authentic person,” said Pogrebin, who has known Gillibrand since she entered the Senate. “To me, that’s one of the most authentic things about her, that a person can change in front of everyone and explain what happened.”

Pogrebin said she’s not endorsing Gillibrand at this point, though she thinks the senator could beat Trump in the general election. But Pogrebin is excited about the prospect of a woman earning the Democratic nomination. In addition to Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has announced her candidacy. Sen. Kamala Harris of California also is expected to join the field.

“I’m not one of those people who thinks we tried a woman once and it didn’t work,” said Pogrebin, referring to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Let’s look at the person… I can’t stand it when people say it’s not time for a woman. It is time for a woman.”

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