Back in May, Debra Messing and her good friend Mandana Dayani created a podcast called The Dissenters. The name, of course, comes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s famous “I Dissent” quote and the podcast, hosted by Messing and Dayani, features interviews with 20 Dissenters: people who woke up one day and decided to challenge the status quo and make positive differences in their communities. Messing and Dayani have interviewed everyone from Adam Schiff to Lena Waithe — but when they learned of the passing of iconic feminist hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg, they knew they needed to record a special episode dedicated to the life and legacy of one of our nation’s most incredible women.
We were lucky enough to speak with Debra Messing about her upcoming podcast episode, what losing Ruth Bader Ginsburg means for our future, and what we need to do to ensure everything she spent her life fighting for is not lost.
SheKnows: You have a new podcast that’s named after Ruth Bader Ginsburg called The Dissenters. I heard that as soon as you learned of Ruth’s passing you and your co-host dropped everything to record an extra episode on the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and that episode will be dropping tomorrow? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Debra Messing: Well, as as you just said, we named podcast after Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You know, she is the ultimate Dissenter and the person who is directly responsible for us having all the rights that we have as women. And when we heard, Mandana and I got on FaceTime and we just wept together and talked about the loss and so we decided that we were going to do the podcast. And in the beginning of it, we just talked about what we felt when we heard the news, why it is so important that she’s gone in this moment.
We talk about her legacy, everything that she spent her entire life fighting for. I mean, we as women, we wouldn’t be able to have a credit card or have a mortgage without Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I mean, she was that consequential for us. And we talk about, you know, in this moment, that it is possible that we can lose all of the ground that she fought so tirelessly for on our behalf.
We then also spoke with three of our past Dissenters: Shannon Watts, who was a stay-at-home mom and created the gun safety organization Moms Demand Action. We spoke with her about the law cases that were so pivotal with RBG. And we spoke with Glennon Doyle, who was our first Dissenter, who wrote the New York Times best-seller Untamed, about grief and really what it means to dissent, to speak out for something, to try and make something better. And then we ended it with speaking with Sophia Bush, who is our equality dissenter. And she really spoke about the direct effect it would have on women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, people, unions, working unions, immigrants, people fleeing to our country because they are under threat of violence. You know, we really just cover everything. And then we just end with talking about, you know, how we personally want to honor her and how voting right now is really the best way to show up for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and to use our voice to support everything that she fought so hard for.
SK: I think everyone can agree that 2020 has been hands down the most difficult year any of us has had to live through, but losing Ruth Bader Ginsburg just brought up — even with everything else that happened this year — these deep feelings of hopelessness and despair that we’re all having a really hard time dealing with. Why do you think Ruth was so fundamental to our nation’s history and why did she have such a profound impact on all of us?
DM: She was the pioneer. She was the person when nobody was interested in hearing the opinion of a woman, much less having her being a deciding voice in the room. She stood strong. And she never gave up. And she believed in incremental change. She believed that for us to get to full equality to achieve this, even the hope and promise that is in the Constitution, that we can’t expect to leap from zero to 100, that we have to take small, intentional steps. And that’s what she did. And that’s why she was able to accomplish so, so much. I think that you know, with this global pandemic and people being isolated and, you know, having 200,000 Americans dying and another 200,000 that will die before January, it is very easy to fall into despair. But the thing that gives me hope is that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a COVID plan all ready to deploy.
They believe in science. They are going to involve the global community of scientists to help us immediately. There will be funding for more PPE to protect our frontline workers and more masks given to everybody. When the vaccine is finally here, it will probably take another year for there to be enough for everybody in the country to have it, but for it to be free to every American. And so when I see that, that’s what makes me so committed to voting and to getting out the message that voting is easy and safe.
And, you know, it’s so interesting to me. People are talking about when the election comes on November 3rd, the election has already begun! In Virginia, they started voting last week. You know, all over the country, there’s early voting and so I am going to vote early the very first day I can. I’m going to go in there because I don’t want to deal with the lines and the waiting on Election Day and so to know that you can go in and wear a mask and be safe and you know that your vote will be counted, I think it will be a relief to have it over with. But, you know, that’s really what Ruth fought for, was for every person, regardless of social status, political status, religious status, to have an equal voice in our country’s future. And that’s why we created I Am a Voter, a nonpartisan voter registration organization and so if anybody listening, still hasn’t registered, it takes literally 60 seconds. All you have to do is text the word voter to the number 26797 and you will be able to register right on the spot and you can find out your polling locations and the dates that you need to be in by and everything that you could possibly need will be right at your fingertips.
You know, there is this disinformation that there is rampant voter fraud and that somehow this election is going to be compromised and the fact is, there have only been 31 incidents in the last 14 years of attempted impersonation at the polls, and that is of one billion voting ballots cast. So it is not a real thing. I just think that we have to put our faith in the systems that have been in place for decades, that have protected our elections and to show up and to think, you know, I’m doing this for Ruth.
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SK: It’s hard enough dealing with this as adults, but what do we tell our daughters during times like this? When their most basic rights are in jeopardy? How do we broach those tough conversations?
DM: I think that we have to model the behavior that we learned from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and that is to fight and to not give up and to use our voices and all of our tools and our communal power to stop that from happening. You know, they wanted to degrade Obamacare and at the eleventh hour, it failed. The vote did not pass and that was specifically because people in every single state showed up at their local congressperson’s office or senator’s office and said, do not do this. This is going to strip my health insurance away. My mother, my father, my sister, my grandparents. I mean, 60 percent of Americans have preexisting conditions and now it’s going to include COVID.
Republicans and Donald Trump right now, are at the Supreme Court trying to strip away all those protections. And so really, you know, if we are loud enough, if we protest, if we physically show up at their offices and make them feel like their jobs are at stake, if they vote against the interests of our community, they will think twice about it. So, you know, that’s our job to show our daughters. You know, for the next coming weeks and months that we will not allow those rights to be stripped. We cannot go backward. It’s just not an option.
SK: We all probably know someone who doesn’t vote or doesn’t plan to vote. How do we encourage them to partake? If people aren’t motivated by now, what can we do to get them out to the polls?
DM: I think a lot of people don’t vote because they don’t know how to or they’re scared to do it. And so I think what we have to communicate is that it is very easy. They can go to I will vote dot.com and all the information will be there. But I think also there has to be a larger conversation. You know, right now we have 200,000 people dead from COVID. You know, we are looking at 400,000 by January and it’s not stopping anytime soon. We have wildfires up and down the West Coast. We have hurricanes. We have to vote not only for our own interests and not only for our family’s interests but for the entire country’s interests. And so if you don’t have a preexisting condition or you don’t feel, you know, like you really care about politics or want to get involved, I would stress saying, ‘OK, let’s think about all of those people who have lost their lives and their homes up and down the West Coast. We have to stop this climate crisis and we have right now a president who doesn’t believe in science and has cut a hundred environmental protections in the last four years, including protecting clean water and clean air. And then we have another candidate, Joe Biden, who believes in science and will immediately reinstall into the Paris agreement with the global community and will, with the help of the smartest scientists, take immediate action to try and protect our country and the globe at large and also to create one million new jobs in order to transfer to clean and clean energy.’ We just tell them it really does matter. And the other thing is, 100 million people did not vote in the last election. The entire election was decided with 77,000 votes over three states. What that meant was one or two votes per district. One vote could decide the future of our country. And I think once people understand how close it was and how important one vote is, I’m hoping that that will inspire them to be a proud American and to take their power because our privilege to vote is our greatest power. It is the only thing in this country where every single person is equal. And, you know, there are billions of people in this world that do not have the ability to vote and so we have to defend that, our democracy. We can’t take it for granted.