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.



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

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?


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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