With the presidential primaries in full swing, the political discourse of 2016 is one of the most talked about everyday topics, and for good reason. With candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, respectively, setting a frontrunner status for their parties, the impending election will be one of the United States’ most memorable ones in history. Ahead of the California primary, which will happen on June 7th, Chelsea Clinton, America Ferrera, and Lena Dunham, took the stage at NeueHouse Hollywood to individually state their public support for the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton while highlighting some of the politician’s most memorable and progressive administrative actions.
America Fererra: Thank you so much for being here with us. My name is America Ferrera. I am a first generation American. I am a female millennial voter, and I’m not only voting for Hillary, but I really like her. She’s the kind of woman I want to share a bottle of wine with, or I could drink most of it…she’s kind of busy these days. But I really heart Hillary – maybe it’s because I was raised by a single mother who did the hard and unglamorous and grueling work of providing for her six children, which is how I have come to recognize and admire women like Hillary, who have showed up day in and day out for the promise of unsexy, slow-going, and hard won progress. So yeah, I would totally Netflix and chill with Hillary.
Maybe it’s because I’m an American Latina, who has experienced first-hand so many of the inequities that children and families from communities of color face in this country; The kind of inequities that Hillary has spent her entire career trying to understand and change. Even before the Latino vote was crucial to elections, Hillary held the first-ever White House convening on Hispanic children and youth when she was first lady. She fought for early childhood education, so that a kid like me, growing up in the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools, didn’t fall behind in her education before she even got the chance to get started.
Another thing I like about Hillary is that she doesn’t waste time licking wounds. When her first healthcare reform failed in 1994 she didn’t disappear, she got right back up and found a way to get democrats and republicans to at least agree on getting healthcare to 8 million children. We know by now that she doesn’t give up a fight, and she also knows not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As a long time ally in the battle for comprehensive immigration reform, Hillary co-sponsored Ted Kennedy’s immigration bill, which Bernie Sanders claimed would have created second class citizens in this country, but it’s really important that we set the record straight: there already exist second-class citizens in this country. They are hard working immigrants who contribute to our society, and whose status allows others to exploit them; from wage theft, to sexual assault, to being denied bottled water in Flint, Michigan. Undocumented people in this country are willing to do back-breaking jobs, under no protection, and with no recourse, so that their children might have a chance at a better future. And they might be willing to accept that, but we as Americans cannot accept the reality that a lower-class human being exists in this country. So while our inadequate immigration system has been turned into a hyper-politicized conversation, there is a humanitarian crisis growing, and in the 21st century our policies should be sophisticated enough to address it.
We need a president who is willing to take on this challenge, and who knows and has proven that she can work with republicans and democrats. We have to pass an immigration law that recognizes the humanity of over 11 million undocumented people in this country, one that remembers that every single non-Native American family in this country came here with hopes of a better life, and that hope is not illegal or criminal. That hope is called the American dream. Our families didn’t come to this country to solve the immigration crisis, we came here to thrive, to get educations, to start businesses, to contribute. Even before the Latino vote was desirable, Hillary stood for all of the issues that greatly impact all of our communities, from access to healthcare, higher education, reproductive rights, and support for small businesses. Hillary has made slow and steady progress on these issues, and I am fully aware that the words slow and steady are not exciting, especially in contrast to those calling for a revolution in this country. But many of our families fled countries where dismantled systems made room for tyranny and violence.
We don’t need a revolution in this country, we need an evolution, and I think Hillary is the one to take us there. I think that’s possible, and maybe it’s because I’ve come to see with my own eyes how women are underrepresented, disadvantaged, and exploited globally, from the halls of power in this country to back alleys and red light districts in India, to poor villages in Honduras where women are murdered, raped, and trafficked as if they were objects and not human beings. Before girl power was a hashtag, Hillary Clinton fought the unpopular fight. She defended women here at home and around the world. She dared demand that women’s rights be seen as human rights. And she traveled the world as Secretary of State, insisting that world leaders include women in their country’s economic and security plans.
I think it’s pretty awesome that Hillary Clinton is a woman, but if you could show me a purple faced, three-eyed sexless Martian with a better record on defending women’s rights and fighting for the most vulnerable children and families, then I would be out there campaigning for that Martian. But that is why I am here today for Hillary. Now I’ll turn it over to someone who is an inspiration to so many of us, and who, at such a young age, has found a way to use her voice and her platform for the things that matter to her, and that takes courage and bravery. It’s my honor to be on this stage today to introduce to you Lena Dunham.
Lena Dunham: It’s so exciting to be here with a group of people who are campaigning so forcefully for our first woman president, but I do have to say that I feel I am sharing the stage with two women who are definitely qualified to be the second and the third, in whatever order they should choose to take that on. It’s an amazing honor to be here with my friends and my compatriots. America prepared and delivered a great speech that I think really ran the gamut and showed you just how important this election is.
When I hit the campaign trail I had a speech that I delivered like a thousand times, and now I think I finally feel ready to talk from a slightly more organic place. I’m going to start off by saying that I think my support for Hillary Clinton can really be seen through my response to my Instagram comments. When I first made it clear that I was voting for and campaigning for Hillary, this sort of vitriol started. The fact that other members of the democratic party have spoken to me like I was an ill-informed child for voting for someone who represents everything that I think this country should be, is outrageous. I’m sorry to be so emotional, but to be told by people who supposedly share your values and your goals, that the choice you’re making comes from a limited understanding of feminism and a limited understanding of your own needs is wrong.
We’re all playing the same game here, so I’m not out to talk shit about your candidate, and you’re not out to talk shit about mine, but clearly that option is off the table now. But I reached my tipping point last week when I received a comment from someone who obviously had no avatar, because he doesn’t want me to see his face, that said Bernie Sanders has done more for feminism than Hillary Clinton ever has…and I lost my freaking mind. Before that, I was all about, “Yes, I’m so happy that you have the right to vote for who you want and me for who I want, and we both have two qualified candidates,” but we don’t have two qualified candidates. The idea that the woman who stepped into the White House when I was six years old and made me think that it was possible to live the life I wanted, and say the things I believed in, has somehow not done enough for women in her career is so offensive to the core of my being that I should probably stop talking now, because I’m going to turn into a shaking ogre monster.
This is the person who, after a successful law career, redefined our idea about what a First Lady could be, and redefined my sense of what a successful woman’s role could be. I’ve said this before, but I wrote an entire term paper on the conversation around the tea and cookies comment in third grade. This was pre-internet, so my mom had to go to the library, get clipping, it was a whole situation. This is the same person who, as senator, revamped the way we respond to rape cases in the ER, and who then as Secretary of State, took on not just women’s rights in America, but women’s rights globally, and who literally coined the term “women’s rights are human rights.” But somehow we are so deep into the psychology of villainizing successful women that this is the person who we’re going to turn into the enemy of our country? And that is personal for me, and it never won’t be personal for me – but the fact is that politics are allowed to be personal. To ask me as a feminist and sexual assault survivor to separate my identity from the candidate that I’m voting for is not just unfair, it’s ignorant.
When I’m told that I’m voting for her only because she’s female and I’m female, I’m like, if that was the case, I would be out campaigning for Carly Fiorina. I think it’s amazing how often I’m asked to list the litany of non-women’s rights reasons why I’m voting for Hillary, and I’m lucky enough that I had the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about issues relating to systemic racism in our country, college debt, the healthcare reform, how we’re going to deal with the issues that America talked about. I am sitting before you as a voter who is fully informed and excited about her approach to all of that, and who’s also pretty excited that she’s a woman. All that can exist together, and it doesn’t mean that we’re using our vaginas to vote for the president, which is the most insane concept. It means that we feel connected to the identity of the person that we’re voting for, and that is a beautiful thing.
I could rage out at you all evening, but I just want to say that I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation and also I’m kind of done with being polite about this. If people want to ask questions about why we’re with her, we want to answer those, but we also want to make it clear that this, for me, has never been an issue about voting for the candidate who I think can beat the bad guy. For me, it’s voting for the candidate I’ve been dreaming of my entire life, since she first stepped onto the stage when I was 6 years old. With that, I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce someone who I’ve come to consider a friend, who is so inspiring in her commitment, not just to what I think is right in this world, but also to helping people really understand her mother – not just as a candidate, but as a person. Without further ado, Chelsea Clinton.
Chelsea Clinton: I am incredibly grateful to be here with America and Lena, and to be here with all of you. I’m also grateful that we are sitting, not standing, because I am pregnant. Not surprisingly, this election is personal for me as well. It is personal in the sense that I am incredibly proud and grateful to be my mother’s daughter, and I certainly make no apology for being very biased toward her. But it is really personal for me, as well, because I’m a mom. I didn’t know that I could care any more about politics or who was running for or holding political office until my husband, Mark and I, decided to start a family. I found I actually could care even more about politics, and that surprised me, because I grew up going to events like this.
In fact, I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t at a political rally, or an organizing event, or volunteering in a campaign for my dad when he was running for governor, or for whomever my parents were supporting, or running, of course, as a democratic party standard bearer in a presidential year like this one. And yet I found that, because I’m now a mom, I see everything through the prism of what I think is right and best, and what I want most for my children and their generation – and I found that I could actually care even more intensely and urgently about politics. So I’m really grateful that for all of you it’s personal too, otherwise you wouldn’t be here on a Sunday evening with us.
I think every one of us probably has reasons, similar or maybe very different, from those that America and Lena shared about why they’re each supporting my mom. I want to tell you why I’m supporting my mom. The first point I want to pick up on is one that America made when she talked about my mom’s commitment reform, because I remember 1993 and 1994, when we had just moved into the White House. I was transitioning to a new school and I was nervous and apprehensive of what that would be like. I remember most of our conversations over dinner were about healthcare reform. I remember my mom working so hard on healthcare reform, and, as America said, it failed. And I remember how bruising the whole experience was when the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries spent literally tens of millions of dollars to defeat my mother’s efforts, because a lot of it was actually personally targeted toward my mother. She was sort of the “villain” of the piece, so she could’ve given up, but she didn’t. I think that reveals a lot about my mom – that she’s always focused on how to make real change that really matters.
Just like in the early 1990s, Republicans control congress today, and that’s not expected to change in this election or in the next election. We have to deal with political realities as we find them, and not as we wish they were. I think it’s important to know what America said about my mom’s work with Republicans and Democrats on healthcare reform and creating the children’s health insurance program, wasn’t a one-off. She worked with Republicans to overhaul adoption out of the foster care system. There are now 80% more young people adopted out of the foster care system than there were 15 years ago. I think that should matter. That she worked with Republicans to extend the VA system to cover all of our national guards, men and women, when they come home from serving our country overseas. I would hope that would matter to people. She worked with Republicans to double funding for early head start programs in childhood education and then worked with Republicans to protect that funding, when other Republicans wanted to cut it. I think it should matter that she knows how to find common ground. And yet, I think it’s also important that she knows how to stand her ground.
And if there’s any doubt as to why that should matter in this election, I think you’d just have to look at the Republicans on any given day. You laugh, but this is a really serious point. I think the almost normalization of hate speech, the sexism, the racism, the Islamophobia, the homophobia, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, the rhetoric against Americans with disabilities. I mean the list just goes on and on. So, it matters that we have a president who knows how to make government work on behalf of our values when in office and when out of office.
I hope we always have a Democratic president, and therefore a Democratic Secretary of State, but I don’t want to bet our values on it. It matters that you know we don’t live in a single issue country, which we’re seeing right now through the prism of what’s happening with the Supreme Court since the passing of Justice Scalia. We see that in the recalcitrant, and I would argue, constitutional opposition, coming out of the senate right now, to even the idea that President Obama has nominated someone to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. And yet, if you listen to my mother’s opponent, he talks about the Supreme Court mainly through the lens of campaign finance reform, and campaign finance reform is hugely important. We have to remove the equations of money, speech, corporation, and person that are codified in Citizens United, and yet, I think it’s hard to argue my mom doesn’t have a personal and ethical interest in this because Citizens United was an organization set up with one purpose – to derail her 2008 presidential campaign. I think she was the first person, who’s running for president, to come out against the case shortly after the Supreme Court released its verdict a few years ago. For her, it’s also personal to see that Citizens United is not remembered in the angles of history, but she knows the court is important for so much more.
If you care about voting rights, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about climate change, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about gun control, you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about a woman’s right to choose, you care about women’s healthcare, you care about equity – because wealthy women in our country have always had choices – you have to care about the Supreme Court. If you care about equal rights, you have to care about the Supreme Court. We do not live in a single issue country, and we cannot afford to have a president who thinks that we do.
And yes, it does matter to me that my mom has been engaged in the fights that Lena and America and I have talked about, many for longer than all three of us have been alive. I think that it should matter what someone has done. I hope that it will matter here, when you vote on June 7th, because I think it’s really important that California sends a signal about what you care about, about what you want for your futures, what you want for the country that you want grow old in, the country that you want your children to grow up in. And I would also say to those of you who have Republican friends, please talk to them about what’s at stake in the Republican primary as well, because I don’t think any of us have the option to be both citizens and on the sidelines. There is too much at stake and I think this is the most important presidential election of my lifetime.
I couldn’t agree with Lena more; I think it’s important we remain polite and civil while we can be, although I recognize we all get pushed to our limits, but I think it’s important that we always engage. We cannot ignore what is happening right now in our country, and we cannot expect it to go away without each and every one of us standing up to the sexism, the racism, the homophobia, the Islamophobia, the anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s not the country that we want to live in, but if we don’t fight for the country that we do want to live in, we have to hold ourselves accountable. So clearly, we’re all passionate on this stage for our own personal reasons about this campaign and about my mom, and as I think you heard both in what America and Lena said, we also know that we’re not alone. We’re grateful, again, to all of you who’ve come out this evening.
Portrait Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal