On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, three women took the stage with stories to tell. There were many women who spoke at the DNC over the last three days but, next to Michelle Obama, actresses Kerry Washington, Scarlett Johannson and Eva Longoria were probably the most easily recognized. Hollywood Liberal Elite? Yes, they are. And they're not arguing otherwise.
A great privilege that comes with celebrity is the ability to use your voice to raise awareness and support the causes you hold dear. We the people of the United States elect our officials. Hollywood stars, well, they're people, too. Some have become political players themselves, from their hometowns all the way to the White House. Others have chosen to actively participate from the sidelines.
As Johansson said, “That’s why I’m here today. To use whatever attention I’m fortunate enough to receive to shed the spotlight on what’s at stake for all of us.”
Personally, I think Hollywood should be present in politics. I grew up in Hollywood and, in my lifetime, I’ve watched several times as union negotiations and strikes brought film and TV production to a halt, putting myself, my friends and family all into unexpected circumstances. Some recovering better than others. Just as the steelworkers or autoworkers take the stage at these conventions, or on the campaign trail, Hollywood has a rightful place there, too. Hollywood is a union town, and these actors are our reps.
Kerry Washington, who plays a political fixer who once worked in the White House on Scandal, spoke directly to the women’s rights issues that so divide the two parties:
“Today there are people out there trying to take away rights that our mothers, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers fought for. Rights that we fought for. Our right to vote. Our right to choose. Our right to affordable, quality education. Equal pay. Access to health care. And we, the people, cannot let that happen.”
Johansson, the granddaughter of a New York City tenant advocate, reached out to young voters, urging them to take part in this election regardless of party lines:
“In 2008, less than half of all eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted. Less than half. Young America? Why are we speaking with only half our voice when so many issues at stake directly effect us?"
Excited to share her own experiences at the voting booth, she urged young Americans, all Americans, to take this privilege we have and use it.
“You know who I’m voting for. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. I’m here to ask you to commit to vote.”
Eva Longoria, Obama Reelection Campaign Co-Chair, shared her experience growing up in Texas with a mother who taught special education and a father working on an Army base. As is the case for most young Americans, there wasn’t a great, big trust fund awaiting her when she was ready for college.
“I signed up for financial aid, Pell Grants, work study, anything I could. And just like our President and First Lady, I took out loans to pay for school. Then I changed oil in a mechanic shop, I flipped burgers at Wendy's, I taught aerobics and I worked on campus to pay those loans back.”
Longoria stressed the fact that college opened the door for many things to come her way. And a great deal of financial success with it. She spoke about the Republican platform on taxes, saying:
“Mitt Romney would raise taxes on middle class families to cut his own—and mine. And that's not who we are as a nation, and let me tell you why. Because the Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy's flipping burgers—she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not.”
With the size of Hollywood paychecks, these women remind us that the wealthiest in this nation don't all fall into one political party. One size does not fill all income brackets.
While some will remain put off by actors endorsing political candidates, it’s important to look at history and realize it’s been going on for almost a century. In his book, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, USC history professor Steven J. Ross writes about the way MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer helped “swing the 1928 convention vote to Herbert Hoover, by brokering a meeting between Hoover and William Randolph Hearst.” With Hollywood help, Hoover won. Hoover, if you didn't know, was a Republican.
The Hollywood Elite? Sure it exists, but it’s always been bipartisan.
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