Hillary Clinton speaks at Rutgers — talks women in politics, bipartisanship and the future of American democracy
A full house at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) was not part of the University’s initial plan when it invited former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Rutgers.
The former Democratic presidential candidate’s conversation with Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics Ruth B. Mandel was initially scheduled to be at the College Avenue Student Center but was later relocated due to high demand.
That demand was the more than 5,000 people at yesterday's discussion about American democracy and its institutions, Clinton's political career and her involvement in the women’s political movement.
Dutta kicks off the event
Opening remarks made by University Chancellor Debasish Dutta commented on the importance of events such as yesterday's in helping shape public conversations and educating the leaders of tomorrow.
Dutta listed some of the faces the University has featured in the past, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his boss, former President Barack Obama.
Clinton is one on a list of political figures to serve as the Clifford P. Case Professorship of Public Affairs — a program established by the Rutgers Board in the 1980s after Case’s death in 1982. The lectureship has been awarded to past leaders, such as former President Gerald Ford, former Vice President Walter Mondale and former speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, Dutta said.
Clinton received $25,000 for her appearance made possible by an endowment fund not supported by student tuition or public funds, according to The Daily Targum.
Lona Valmoro takes the stage
After his speech, Dutta introduced close ally to Clinton and Rutgers alumna Lona Valmoro to the stage. She recounted her experiences at Rutgers from more than 20 years ago, a time when students shared floppy disks instead of Google Docs, the news was measured in days and weeks — not hours and minutes — and students read the Targum.
Valmoro worked as Clinton’s director of scheduling, preparing her daily routine for 5,475 days and on her campaign trail during 2016. She told the story of the first time she met Clinton — soaked in rain and late to their meeting.
“The education that I received here, the confidence and sense of purpose I found at Rutgers, it has taken me farther than I ever dreamed, and I am so proud and grateful to be a Rutgers alumna,” she said.
It was then that she introduced Clinton and Mandel to roaring cheers and a standing ovation from the audience.
A conversation with Hillary Clinton
Mandel opened with a brief introduction, welcoming Clinton back to the University, and then proceeded to read her a list of crowdsourced questions for the rest of the evening. Her questions ranged from misconceptions surrounding Clinton, how she responded to comments that she should exit the public stage and how to sustain female empowerment in politics.
“I have often thought that I am a kind of a Rorschach test for people who are trying to make sense, not just of me personally, but of women’s roles and women's expanded opportunities in not only America but around the world,” she said.
Clinton said she hopes that people take more time to look beyond the image, regardless of if it is positive, based on actions and not other people’s remarks. It is a similar attitude that she later used to describe the miscommunication between members of government — how a lack of conversation between individuals of opposing sides has created a disconnect.
After the 2016 election, she said she felt pressure to remove herself from the public sphere and conversations about social issues. When asked how people could support efforts to sustain female political involvement and the support of institutions that support women regardless of their standing, she said there are three interrelated challenges. The first challenge is to convince women to get involved.
“The numbers of women who are running in these midterm elections and in the special elections we’ve seen over the past year and three or four months is very encouraging to me. So, we’ve got to keep those numbers, we have to keep the pipeline full. It’s not one and out, it’s one after another,” she said.
The second is that there will be backlash from people who do not want to see preconceived notions changed and who oppose women running for government. The last challenge is that women who are new to politics and effecting change are not aware of how long it can take.
“(Opposing groups) are as determined if not more so than you are, because they have other interests, they see the world differently, they make money from it, they have ideological reasons for it. The biggest challenges we face is keeping our momentum, of sustaining the energy that I have now seen, (sic)” she said.
When asked about how she sees the predominantly white political landscape and ways to even the playing field, Clinton said she is funding approximately a dozen groups of young people who are recruiting candidates of color, training them and granting them access to resources that prepare them for a spot in government.
Speaking on the merits of being a woman, she said that during the election she wanted people to embrace that she was a woman, but to also consider what she had to offer. She said she found common cause in a number of areas with other women in office.
“If you start with a shared perspective about what an issue is, bring public awareness, you can then discuss the details,” she said.
On the topic of meddling in the 2016 election, she said that although much is still unknown, there is now an uneven playing field.
“Politics is always messy — go to Eagleton, study political history and you’ll see that for yourself. But it is different now, we have rigged the game, we have rigged the money — opening the door to unaccountable money, giving corporations the right to influence elections, having the facade of charitable groups influencing elections,” she said.
Clinton spoke about the role the Russians played in the 2016 presidential election and how it should make all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, strive toward a better democracy.
Looking at the 2018 midterm election, she said she is hopeful that younger generations will continue to show their support, as they did in the weeks following the Parkland shooting, by voting.
“And we don’t want to turn decision making over large parts of our lives to unelected powerful interests. We want to be in a position where we are calling the shots,” Clinton said.
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