Dynamo Amy Siskind and How her “The New Agenda” Helps Women find their Voices

The New Agenda includes Upcoming SToPP Walk/Run events and a National Girlfriends Networking Day-to Raise Awareness about College Sexual Assault and Gender Bias.

amy-profile-picIn mid-October, runners and walkers at several college campuses around the country will lace up their shoes for a 5k walk/run. Their goal will not only be the finish line, but to raise awareness of campus sexual assault.

The New Agenda Foundation, co-founded by Westchester resident Amy Siskind, hopes to draw attention to an epidemic which impacts one in five college women, and one in 16 college men, with their on campus initiative, SToPP.

“The idea of SToPP — Stop. Think. Protect your Peers. — is to empower and educate our kids,” said Siskind. “Fifty-five percent of college students who witnessed a sexual assault didn’t intervene, many because they didn’t know what to do.” Siskind will join parents and students at the main run at Iona College on October 22, and the organization’s young women leaders will host races on their campuses too (register at www.SToPP5k.org).

Her thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers know Siskind as a fierce Hillary Clinton supporter, and turn to her feeds to celebrate, commiserate and criticize the twists and turns of the 2016 presidential campaign. Offline, she’s President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, a prolific writer and speaker to audiences of college students and professional women.

The New Agenda sprung from the ashes of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Shortly after Hillary dropped out, a group of women active in the her campaign gathered in Siskind’s living room in August 2008 to strategize about making change.

“We were upset by how women were treated in the media, by the double standard,” Siskind said. The media treatment opened their eyes, she added, to how far women have to go. “There were very few voices to defend women from the double standard, the sexist treatment.”

The New Agenda decided to be that voice–for all women, no matter what their political party or political beliefs. So when Sarah Palin was named Sen. John McCain’s running mate, The New Agenda got to work.

National Girlfriends Networking Day 2015

National Girlfriends Networking Day 2015

“Our belief was how we allowed any one woman to be treated, is how we should expect all women to be treated,” said Siskind.

Major news organizations, from CNN to Fox News, Huffington Post to the Daily Beast, took note. The New Agenda continued to call out examples of sexism–for all stripes of women, Republican, Democrat, liberal and conservative.

In 2010, with change afoot, The New Agenda shifted its resources and focus.  Vice President and Co-founder, Karen Gerringer, also a Westchester resident, said it was “time to stop just whining about women’s disparate treatment, and time to start doing something about it!”

The New Agenda morphed from its initial role as media watchdog, and now focuses on fostering leadership skills in and creating opportunities for millennial women, especially on college campuses. Every June, it holds a nationwide event called National Girlfriends Networking Day (“NGN Day”).  With events nationwide, NGN Day connects thousands of college and professional women, and last year, according to Siskind,  “hashtag #NGNDay had over 2.3 million Twitter views!” “We pride ourselves on inclusion and diversity.  Since we were founded as a voice for all women, it’s in our organizational DNA,” Siskind said.

National Girlfriends Networking Day 2015

National Girlfriends Networking Day 2015

Siskind worked on Wall Street until her retirement in 2006. She became the first female managing director at Wasserstein Perella at the age of 31, and later ran trading departments at Morgan Stanley and Imperial Capital, where she was also a partner.

"Shep's post debate spin room."

“Shep’s post debate spin room.”

More importantly, she has two kids she adores—and perhaps nearly as dear to her, two beloved dogs too, Arleen and Shep, who serve as perfect foils via Facebook to Siskind’s staunch support for Hillary. Shep, in particular, strikes multiple poses in picture posts as a hapless Democrat foe.

Notwithstanding the occasional levity are Siskind’s pursuit of solutions to dead serious situations. The New Agenda Foundation focuses attention on teen dating violence and campus sexual assault.  Siskind said she was entirely grateful that the Obama Administration had drawn attention to the epidemic of campus sexual assault.

The first SToPP race was held last year, and the money raised went to make a educational videos – “Grey Matters” (www.learn.SToPP5k.org) – which are being used on several college campuses to educate students. The video is a dramatization of a true story about a woman was raped by a dorm-mate while incapacitated – and covers the importance of bystander intervention.

“One of the issues we raise in the video is that young men don’t understand that if you have sex with an incapacitated woman, it is rape. Half of high school boys don’t understand this,” Siskind said.

“Campus assault is an issue that parents are struggling with,” said Siskind, who links campus assault to the sexualization of women today. “This permeates our society.” The way women are depicted, the way girls are bullied in high school and middle school, teen-dating violence–“the genesis is all from the same family… the way girls are portrayed leads to them becoming sexual objects, and so many boys think that if they are passed out they are fair game.”

Eight years after Clinton’s first run, examples of sexism in the media still abound. And many argue that Clinton is running against a blatantly sexist candidate, the Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. Still, Siskind sees improvement and reason for hope.

“The good news is when you look at women voters … Hillary is leading by record amounts,” Siskind said. “Women do see how [Trump] is treating women throughout the campaign and his career.”

Facebook and Twitter have helped enunciate the gender bias. “There’s more accountability on social media,” Siskind said. “Overt sexism gets called out.”

The harder battle is against internal sexism, she said. “That clearly still exists. The issue of whether Hillary can be trusted–that’s as old as Adam and Eve.”

She also reflected on women’s image in the media. “The portrayal of women in the media–videos, television, movies–has really hurt the women’s cause. Women are more sexualized. We’re not judged on how smart we are, but instead by how we look. We still have a long way to go.”

Susan Youngwood is a writer, editor and graphic designer, who recently covered the Democratic National Convention on behalf of the Inside Press.




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