Oprah, Barbra and Madonna want you — to vote

Election Day in 1992 was possibly
my favorite political day ever. I voted in the morning, watched election
returns all evening and celebrated in the streets of West Hollywood
until late that night. California made history that day by electing two women to
the Senate, and I had the satisfaction of having been part of the process.
Two years later, lots of folks with politics different from mine had
the satisfaction of shifting things in a different direction. (I was less happy about that.) What
we had in common, however, was a belief that voting was important.

This Tuesday, February 5, is
Super Tuesday — a big voting day in the United States. Despite
the early primaries and caucuses, Tuesday is the official start of the presidential
primary season. The 23 Democratic primaries
and caucuses and 21 Republican primaries and caucuses
will likely determine both parties’
candidates. The right to vote is cool and important — arguably the single
most important element of civic responsibility and participation. And
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Logo (AfterEllen.com’s parent company)
launched VisibleVote08.com in anticipation of this year’s U.S. presidential
election. And lots of celebrities are always yammering about the importance
of voting or the candidate they want you to vote for. Let’s take a look at how
some celebrity women have gotten into the act.

Celebrity Endorsements

The most obvious way celebrities
participate in the political process is by endorsing specific candidates. Oprah is arguably the highest profile endorser of a candidate in the 2008 race.

She endorsed Barack Obama

last spring, and pundits are questioning whether she can apply the “Oprah Effect” to political candidates.

Susan
Sarandon
is
a perennial activist who is dismissed by many (not by me) as a wacko
liberal and humorless soapbox orator. (I believe this makes her an
honorary lesbian!)

She tolerates this wearily,
and argues that if she has to deal with the burdens
of celebrity, she might as well also try to use it to do some good.
And she acknowledges that even her kids laugh at her activism:

“When we have friends over,
the kids always bet on how long it will take before we turn to politics.
We always forget, and then they say, ‘That was fast — only one minute
and two seconds.’”

And, of course, there’s Barbara Streisand, whom I love even though I think she
takes herself too seriously.

She’s well known as a Clinton supporter
— first Bill and now Hillary. But what I really love about
her political activism is the statement I just found on her website:

“There are 47 million single
women eligible to vote in America. At present, 20 million of these women
are not voting. Think about that for a moment: That’s a lot of people.
That’s a lot of power. Imagine what could happen if these 20 million
women could be motivated to participate in the democratic process? The
non-profit, non-partisan organization Women’s Voices, Women Vote has
made it their mission to engage these women, register them to vote and
make them feel their political clout. I have supported Women’s Voices,
Women Vote in the past, but this year I agreed to lend my voice to
their new PSA campaign, “20 Million Reasons.” I urge you to watch the
PSA. And I also urge you to forward it to the women in your life and
urge them to register if they haven’t already.”

Frankly, I prefer it when celebrities
use their clout to get us to vote, rather than tell us how to vote — even when I share their views.

Get Out the Vote

The organization Women’s Voices, Women
Vote
has a lot of celebrity support. Watch this PSA, in which Sarah Paulson, Christine Lahti and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

join the call for women to register to vote!



Lovely, just lovely.

Of course, Women’s Voices, Women
Vote is the not the only get-out-the-vote organization to use celebrity
women to mobilize voter registration. Rock the Vote, founded in 1990, has used its
share of celebrity influence, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Macy Gray

and Christina Aguilera,
to encourage youth participation in politics. Probably the most memorable
Rock the Vote PSA was Madonna‘s. Remember this?


In its early years, Rock the
Vote was responsible for the Motor Voter Act (vetoed by President Bush
and signed into law by President Clinton), the first voter-registration-by-phone program. And, working in conjunction with MTV’s Choose or Lose campaign, Rock the Vote was responsible for the registration of hundreds
of thousands of voters.

And then there was the Choose
or Lose journalist rock star, Tabitha Soren.

She was a hell of a role model
for aspiring young journalists. She interviewed some of the biggest names
in American politics (include Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). She
won a Peabody Award for her efforts and likely played a significant
role in inspiring youth participation in the political process. Soren
certainly had the journalism chops, but how cool is that that a 25-year-old
woman was the face of political journalism in the ’90s?

General
Political Education

Finally, there are women who
played a more peripheral role, educating people about political processes
to motivate current or future involvement. My favorite example is Tony
Award winner Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on
This Island, Seussical
).

She was an advertising executive
at McCaffrey & McCall when Dave McCall conceptualized Schoolhouse Rock! (in response to the realization that
his kids could learn Rolling Stones lyrics but not multiplication tables).
After writing the music and lyrics for a couple of the Grammar Rock

pieces (including “Interjections!”), Ahrens penned more than half
of the America Rock pieces — including my favorite, “The Preamble.”



Thanks to Ahrens, people my
age who can’t name most of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights can still
sing the Preamble to the Constitution. I’m guessing that I’m not the
only one who maintained an interest in American political history and
American political processes as I got older.

So there you have a fraction
of the celebrities who have done their darndest to get all of us to
vote. Who are some of your favorites? And what’s the celebrity activism
situation in other countries? Is this mostly a U.S. thing?

And BTW, you can register here, if you haven’t done so already. Don’t
forget to vote.

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