By Michael McDowell
A sunny day and sizable crowd greeted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the Upper West Side on Sunday, as she kicked off her campaign for president with a rally outside the Trump International Hotel & Tower on Central Park West.
“President Trump is tearing apart the moral fabric of this country…Our president is a coward,” Gillibrand said, in a fiery and rousing speech.
“Look up at that tower: a shrine to greed, division, and vanity,” she continued, with a glance toward the dark structure. “Now, look around you,” she urged the audience. “The greater strength by far, is ours.”
Gillibrand also addressed the hot news of the moment.
“The Mueller Report must be made public. All of it. Nobody in this country, not even the president, is above the law or immune from accountability,” she said, to loud applause.
However, Gillibrand devoted the majority of her speech to bravery—“Brave Wins” is the current campaign slogan—and the policies she would seek to enact were she elected president. These included Democratic positions old and new, from affordable health care for all, to universal pre-K and solving the student loan debt crisis, to the Green New Deal. It’s not clear if these positions — which some others in the race have also discussed — will help Gillibrand improve her standing among Democrats. Early polls show her to be way back in the pack, though it’s obviously still very early.
“We must have Medicare for all. We have a plan to get from our current system to single payer, and I know, because I helped write it,” she said.
Education was another theme of Gillibrand’s speech.
“It’s time to guarantee universal pre-K, affordable daycare, and high quality public education for every kid,” she said.
On student loans, Gillibrand is equally ambitious.
“The federal government should not be making money off the backs of our students. In my administration, we would refinance all federal student debt to the lowest available rate. And here’s a big idea: let’s improve and expand the GI Bill, to make college free for anyone who agrees to do national public service. That way, our young people can pursue their dreams, debt-free, while helping others.”
Gillibrand invoked JFK in her discussion of the Green New Deal.
“Let’s make this our generation’s moonshot. Addressing a global challenge of this urgency will take massive effort and transformational vision, which is exactly why we should do it. John F. Kennedy said he wanted to put a man on the moon in the next ten years not because it [would be] easy, but because [it would be] hard. I believe we should look at global climate change the exact same way: we should aspire to net zero carbon emissions in the next ten years not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. It is a challenge that we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one that we will win.”
And Gillibrand repeatedly characterized the upcoming election as a pivotal—even existential—moment.
“Will we defend this democracy? Will we speak for what we believe in? Will we reject the hate and fear and greed and corruption? Will we fight with every fiber of our being because everything we care about is at stake? Will we be brave?…I know that years from now we will look back on this moment in history and we will be able to say that we did something about it…when people come together to drive out the darkness, hope rises, fear loses, and brave wins!”
Trump has called Gillibrand a “lightweight,” among other insults.
What did those in the audience have to say? Why Gillibrand in 2020?
“She’s smart, she knows how to get deals done—to get legislation enacted—she picks the issues that are not the easy ones, they’re the hard ones. Family medical leave? Not popular, but she’s now made it part of the national agenda,” one woman told the Rag.
“I wanted somebody with the balls to take on Trump in front of his own hotel,” another woman said.
“Out of all the candidates, I think she’s the best choice to beat Trump because she has the ability to work bipartisan. She also flipped a red district at the beginning of her career in New York, and I think she really understands how to speak to the people in the key states that we lost back in 2016, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania,” said a man.
Not all in attendance were supporters, and Trump-supporting protestors were audible at times during Gillibrand’s speech.
“I especially oppose Kirsten Gillibrand because she voted [against] the anti-BDS legislation that came to the Senate in January. That shows she’s in favor of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions of Israel, that makes her an anti-Semite,” one of the protestors told the Rag.
Other protestors declined to be interviewed.
The Rag spoke with a woman named Ruth and her daughter Sarah. Sarah had interned for Sen. Gillibrand.
“[Gilibrand] is the only one who has really stood up to support sexual harassment law reformation…she also is the only one to shine any attention on military sexual assault. These are very important topics…I’m not convinced I’m going to vote for her for president, but in terms of hearing out the initial wave of candidates, she’s very capable, she works very hard, she knows a ton. And she is brave,” Ruth said.
Following her speech, Gillibrand was joined by her family on stage, to the tune of Lizzo’s “Good as Hell.” Gillibrand then shook hands, held infants, and posed for selfies before departing in a black car.
As the crowd dispersed, a few supporters lingered.
“It’s going to be an interesting campaign,” a man said, nodding his head. “Hard to say which way things will go.”
Photos by Michael McDowell.