By Amanda Jaffe
This year, Stanford in Government had the honor of hosting Senator Barbara Boxer as our big speaker. Senator Boxer, lifetime champion of women’s rights, the environment, universal healthcare, campaign finance reform, immigrant rights, and free education, spoke to students and community members about the importance of engaging in public service. The event was moderated by Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences.
Boxer began by describing her public service pathway and passion for politics. She’s proud that she was never one to choose the easiest or traditional path. At a time when women were pegged for jobs as nurses, secretaries, and teachers, she had to work twice as hard to become respected as a stockbroker. While she acknowledges that the world has changed for women, there is still so much more that can be done to energize, engage, and promote women in our workforce, especially politics. She stressed the importance of having women role models the U.S. Senate and hoped to inspired Stanford women to engage in public service.
Senator Boxer began her political career during the Vietnam War. She was unsettled by the divided nation and generation gap she saw around her, and knew that a job in banking was not enough to make the change she wished to see. She remembered fondly the people who gave her the push she needed to leave her comfort zone and comments on the importance of having role models as a young professional. She started small by creating a petition in her county to get troops out of Vietnam, and she has been unwaveringly hooked ever since.
Senator Boxer gave students plenty of advice for beginning their involvement in politics as public service. She stressed the importance of gaining experience by starting at a low level and working up through the system. She remembers how much she learned about succeeding in Washington by putting in the time behind the scenes, like how to communicate with difficult colleagues who didn’t share her point of view. Through building and developing these critical skills over time, she was able to understand different perspectives without getting angry and develop a reputation as someone who could “get stuff done”.
She also stressed the ability for anyone to bring about change at any level. She told audience members to “stay out there” no matter what and demand more from their representatives. She noted the difference volunteer support of any kind could make, including monetary donations, calling district offices, writing letters, or using social media to bring attention to representatives who have not stood by their promises. She is excited for the 2018 midterm election, as she believes it will not only bring change Congress but will also engage constituents across the country like never before.
Senator Boxer reflected on how far the country has come already in engaging with the government and fighting back against hurtful policies. She admits that the Suffragettes don’t get enough credit for the work they put in, as men were opposed to the women’s movement in their lifetimes. But she was thrilled to see men walking with women at the Women’s March on Washington, and recognizes that we must fight these battles united to make a meaningful difference. She also acknowledged that protesting to improve women’s issues is not enough, fighting back also applies to issues like the environment, healthcare, and immigrant rights. She knows firsthand that everyone can get involved, fight for what they believe in, and make a significant change to the world around them.
Senator Boxer left the audience with these timeless words of wisdom. She told students not to go into politics to “be something”, but to instead go into politics to “do something”. It is this basic reorganization of motivation and priorities that leads to success. She urged students to stick to their opinions and find their strength, even while pursuing a challenging career path, believing that people are always attracted to strength. She’s seen firsthand that opponents will respond well to a confident argument, even if they don’t completely agree with the point being made. And she had no doubt that her audience at Stanford will go on to change the world.