Amy Siskind—Wall Street to Political Activist
When I graduated from college, and during a long career on Wall St., I never would have guessed where my life would take me. I like to say I am in the third chapter of my life, one that I never could have predicted, but that is perhaps the most important work of my life.
I graduated from college with a BA in Economics and a minor in Math and Computer Science with no idea of what I wanted to do. A sorority sister encouraged me to interview for a bank training program—I did it and enjoyed it. It definitely drew on what I had studied in college, and
I had a 20- year career in Sales and Trading at several different firms. One of the benefits of working hard on Wall St. is that you can make enough money to follow other passions later on. I like to encourage people to learn, earn and return.
Transition to Political Activism
At 40, I had two young children and wanted to spend more time with them, so I left the banking world. I had no plan other than to raise my children. I saw Hillary Clinton speak in 2006 at an Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee event and was inspired to volunteer for her Senate re-election campaign and later her attempt to win the Democratic nomination for President for the 2008 election. A group of women, led by Judith Hope, and I became “ambassadors” for Hillary from our area and got very involved in the presidential race. When Clinton dropped out after Barack Obama won the nomination, 30 of us sat in my living room and asked, “what should we do next?” We were dismayed and upset about the sexism Hillary faced during the campaign.
In 2008, we launched The New Agenda which I still run. It is a nonpartisan advocacy organization whose mission is “to improve the lives of women and girls by bringing about systemic change in the media, at the workplace, at school and at home.” We have a 501c3 non-profit that focuses on initiatives to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. The organization produces materials colleges can use to educate students on the issue. We also have a 501c4 non-partisan organization that advocates for women’s issues such as fair pay and gender bias, and for more women in leadership positions. We host a national event– “National Girlfriend’s Networking Day” on June 4 each year, which is the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.
The Third Chapter
The day after Donald Trump was elected President, people at work asked, “what’s next?”. For me, the journey began by reading up on authoritarian regimes. Having come from a Jewish family with the history that entails, I knew something was not right. After doing extensive homework on this topic, I started The Weekly List– theweeklylist.org–which tracks actions by the administration that represent a danger our democracy. I originally started sending it to my friends and social media followers, and then it went viral. I also do a related weekly podcast.
At the beginning, I catalogued perhaps nine items a week, and now we have can have as many as 300 items a week that are not normal to a democracy. These include the breaking of norms, doing away with rights of certain communities, disappearance of press conferences and many other types of actions that are well documented by scholars to gradually erode democracy. Keeping up with the news and curating the list as well as creating the podcast requires about 40-45 hours of my time each week. When I started this, I had no vision that Trump would have lasted this long.
One unforeseen challenge of the work I am doing is that I have become a public figure. If you think you want to be one, try it for 24 hours and you might change your mind! Because of The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year and my presence on Twitter, I have attracted the attention of hostile people and organizations and have had to take security precautions for my family. One website published my home address and phone number after my tweet urging that a horrendous article about Heather Hirer-the young woman who was killed in the Charlottesville protest-be taken down. I also recognize the responsibility that comes with being a public figure. I am a lot more careful now about what I tweet: I wait for facts and realize that anything I say will be subject to public scrutiny.
My kids have asked “why can’t someone else do this work”, but I feel that what I am writing is an important first draft of history which is already being archived in the Library of Congress. I post The List every Saturday, and there are so many items each week that I have to think hard about the order in which they occurred. Trump does this by design to confuse and overwhelm us, which is part of the authoritarian’s playbook.
I recently also organized and led the “We the People March’, which took place on September 21 in Washington DC. I saw that no one was planning a major protest march and I had the feeling that people wanted it given all that has happened. It was a great success with 10,000 people who marched in Washington D.C. and 65 satellite marches in other cities.
Words of Wisdom
My advice for young women is that whatever you choose after college or for a first career isn’t a lifelong commitment. I encourage people to think of their lives in chapters: do something until your passion for it has run out and try something different. That doesn’t mean “quit” as soon as you tire of something. Always give 110% and do the best at what you’re doing. But if ultimately it isn’t fulfilling, think about what drives you in the morning. Something could be out there that you might not have specific training for and might not have thought of. I have had no training for two of the three things I have done. Be present in what you are doing, but be open to the world of options and try something new when it makes sense in your life.
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some inspiration for these unprecedented times.