Podcasts Offer Progressive Women A Platform

Emily Tisch Sussman's podcasts give political and policy experts, who just happen to be women, an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Emily Tisch Sussman, 33, who has been a Democratic political strategist for much of the past decade, appearing regularly on networks ranging from MSNBC on the left to Fox on the right, grew frustrated with the dearth of women being asked to comment on important matters of policy in the media.

Even though women are the majority of the voting public, she said they constitute only about one-third of the experts brought in to weigh in on the news and opinion programming broadcast on television and radio, or cited on the pages of newspapers and magazines.

So last year, in the run-up to the 2020 national election, she decided to give progressive women a platform to discuss political issues, launching “Your Presidential Playlist,” a podcast on which she has interviewed a who’s who of women on the local, state, and national political scene.

Her guests have included rising Democratic stars such as Stacey Abrams, who has been credited for registering and organizing voters in Georgia, which narrowly supported President-elect Joseph Biden in this year’s balloting, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer, who was targeted for kidnapping by members of a far-right militia in that state.

But she has also interviewed some of the party’s elder stateswomen, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, whose loss to Donald Trump in 2016 shook the party’s core to its foundation.

So far, the sole exception to the all-female guest list is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a family friend, who officiated at Ms. Tisch Sussman’s wedding, but who she said wasn’t spared the tough questions she asks all her guests.

“Even though I have a female-anchored show and my guests are women, it’s not necessarily a show for women. It’s a show for everyone,” Ms. Tisch Sussman, who lives in New York and Sag Harbor, said this week. Nonetheless, “we have to be hearing women’s voices talking about issues that are not only couched in personal experience. We have to hear women’s voices dissecting hard news issues, hard economic issues, hard policy issues, and that will subtly change our perception of what it looks like to be an expert and what it looks like to be in power.”

The podcasts, typically about 30 minutes long, followed the campaign from the primaries up until the November 3 election, with special features on swing states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona, all of which proved key in the final election tally. Down the stretch drive, the podcasts were also paired with a campaign-themed activity, from postcard writing to phone banking.

Ms. Tisch Sussman said the American political landscape is seeing a major change as more and more women run successfully for public office from the local to the national level. The election of Kamala Harris as the country’s first female vice president will help “push the needle,” she said. “In the past, women only felt they could run for office as a second life after their children were grown and out of the house,” she said.

Ms. Tisch Sussman said she admired the ability of women such as Paige Cognetti, the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who “was sworn in to office, in a month and a half had a baby and then the pandemic started.”

The mother of three young children, Ms. Tisch Sussman said she faces her own challenges in producing her podcasts. “I record from home,” she said. “I do it from the closet with pillows and blankets around me to absorb sound, and I schedule my interviews during the baby’s nap time.”

A graduate of Skidmore College, who received an undergraduate degree in social work and worked with adults with developmental disabilities, Ms. Tisch Sussman said she didn’t find her true calling until she worked on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

“We didn’t win, but the substance of the work really clicked for me,” she said. “We were all in it to change the world, and I just got sort of hooked.”

She got her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, worked on President Barack Obama’s campaign, and became vice president of campaigns for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the largest progressive think tank in Washington. Her credentials helped land her appearances on television to speak about Mr. Obama’s election and his support among young people.

Although President Trump has yet to concede the election and continues to make unsubstantiated claims that it was rigged against him, Ms. Tisch Sussman said she believes Republican lawmakers who continue to support him are doing so in effort to motivate his base to come out in the two Georgia Senate runoffs in January.

“It’s very disturbing to me that they are not thinking long-term, or even medium-term,” she said of Republicans, who she believes are helping undermine faith in the American electoral process.

“It’s hard to take a break right now,” she said, even though the original idea for her podcast to focus on the presidential campaign has run its course.

So instead of suspending her program, she is launching a new Instagram Live series in which she will continue to interview women political experts and focus on topics like how a presidential transition will work without the cooperation of Mr. Trump and what can be expected of a Biden-Harris administration, given the Republicans will likely retain control of the Senate.

“People want to be engaged, they want to be well informed, but the barrier to entry can be so high,” she said. “So being able to lower the barrier and make things accessible and help people connect and feel powerful in the process has always been what’s driven me.”