This morning, Judge Brett Kavanaugh came one step closer to being confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court, after an FBI investigation into his past spurred by three women’s sexual assault allegations against him. Much of the nation watched, transfixed, last Thursday, as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh each gave testimony about his alleged assault of her when they were in high school, and eagle-eyed viewers spotted a familiar but unexpected face in the crowd: Alyssa Milano. The actress and activist attended as a guest of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and was an instantly memed stone-faced observer. She is not a newcomer to the political stage, however, and she’s not wasting any moments in which she could be making a difference.
The day after the hearing, Milano spoke at an anti-Kavanaugh rally outside the Supreme Court before heading down to Florida, where she would campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, something she’s done for various candidates since 2010. And the day after that, she was in Parkland to speak at the Actions for Change Food & Music Festival, a fundraiser organized by Shine MSD and Change The Ref, local nonprofits that formed in the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this February.
Sunday, September 30, was hot and humid for a festival, with temperatures hovering in the upper 80s with barely a breeze. But that didn’t keep more than 2,000 people from attending the inaugural event at Pine Trails Park, less than two miles from the school where 17 students and staff were gunned down on Valentine’s Day. “I’m right by your sides. I’m standing next to you. You’re in my heart always, forever. Everything that I do is motivated by you,” Milano said of the activist community there while emceeing the event.
The vibe was buoyant as guests sampled fare from local and national chefs and enjoyed music by Michael Franti & Spearhead, Skip Marley, and DJ Samantha Ronson, among others. Also performing were Shine MSD student activists, who debuted three songs from their upcoming album, “Wake Up America,” which aims to raise awareness about gun safety.
The purpose of the event was never overshadowed by the fun. Visitors watched as Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was a shooting victim, created an art installation depicting cities where mass shootings have recently occurred. For her part, Milano took the stage to lambast the undue influence of the NRA. “In 2018, about 35,000 [people] in America will die because of guns,” she said, citing the 17 lives that were lost in Parkland. “I ask you what numbers could possibly be more persuasive than these numbers? And when has the number 17 ever carried so much weight? And somehow, someway, very little has changed. We have a government with its nose so deep in the ass of the NRA and its blood money that numbers no longer persuade policy — unless those numbers start with a dollar sign.”
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She went on to champion the healing power of art, which both her foundation, NoRA, and Shine MSD espouse, and the urgent importance of voting to move the needle. Members of the crowd – comprising MSD students, families, and community members – met Milano’s passion in kind, and repeated after her as she chanted: “I believe we will win!”
InStyle was able to connect with Milano about the events of the week, the issues she’s most passionate about right now, her hopes for the midterms, and more.
Why did you decide to attend the hearing on Thursday?
My initial reason for going was to support Dr. Ford. Being a survivor of sexual assault, I know how hard it is to confront your past and relive those moments, and to do so on such a public stage with such intimidating circumstances. I thought it was important to be there.
What was that experience like?
Sitting behind both of them and being able to see the Senators’ faces gave me a unique perspective, because I was able to view the body language not only of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh but also the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and their body language. Most startling to me was how incredibly disengaged [the Republican Senators] were during her testimony.
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What were your impressions of Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimonies?
She was incredibly credible. There was no reason for her to come forward except that she felt it was important for the country. And that is an incredibly heroic move.
To me, his testimony proved that he didn’t have the temperament to be on the Supreme Court. If a woman acted like that during a line of questioning – I can’t even imagine. People’s heads would explode! She would be considered totally unhinged or to be having a meltdown. And to me, even though he was accusing her and the Democrats of partisan politics, he was the one that sounded like a partisan operative. And in my perspective, there’s no place on the Supreme Court for that type of person. And I also don’t understand – sorry, I’m getting wound up now – one point I really want to make and stress that I don’t think people have talked about enough is, if he feels his reputation is truly permanently destroyed, why is he not bringing defamation claims against the people he’s claiming have lied? Why is he not even threatening that?
What are your big-picture takeaways from this whole process?
My only concern at this point is that we get past this time of not believing women and men when they come forward. As far as sexual assault, harassment and abuse are concerned, our justice system is broken.
I think we’re in an interesting time. We’re in a different place than we were during Anita Hill. I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to stop trying to continue to frame a narrative around victims and survivors of sexual assault. We spend so much talking about the predator and not enough time talking about the victims: I will keep trying to direct our consciousness around empathy and compassion around survivors.
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Why did you decide to take part in Actions for Change?
I have an organization I founded, NoRA. … We’re dedicated to hacking the culture of gun violence through art and trying to chip away at the NRA’s stranglehold over politicians. Actions for Change is doing all the same things. Any time we can come together through food and music to bring communities together, to give them the strength to fight this fight — it’s really important. Especially someplace like Florida, where there are people and a youth movement trying to impact policy.”
What do you think it will take to keep up the momentum that the Parkland students have created?
We have to just keep talking about the problem. This is true about every issue we’re facing now as a nation. We have to keep talking about the issues to motivate and inspire people to not only want to make a difference but to give them the tools and the power to make that difference.
What are your thoughts on the midterms?
I am very hopeful, but I’m not taking anything for granted and neither should anyone else.
Are there any races you’re particularly paying attention to?
We in the state of California have 10 seats that are potentially flippable [from Republican to Democrat], which is amazing. Three gubernatorial races that I think are really important are Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and Ben Jealous in Maryland.
I’m truly inspired by what I’m seeing in the country. Truly. I think people are pissed. I’m so tired of trying to find nice words to describe everything that’s going on. I think people are pissed. I do. If it takes anger to motivate people to want to be a part of the political process, that’s OK because honestly democracy doesn’t work unless people are involved.”
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What’s the one issue you’re most passionate about right now and why?
Yeah, I can’t do that. I get asked that question a lot, and I can say this — and this is really broad, so forgive me: I’ve been a UNICEF ambassador since 2003. The reason is because the health and welfare of children and future generations is very important to me. If I were to put my activism under one umbrella, it would be to make the world a better place for future generations. That means a lot of different things. That means protecting our environment, Civil Rights issues, immigration issues, gun reform. If I were to pinpoint what gets me up every single morning – even though I’m super tired – to continue to fight? It would be the children of our country, and ensuring they have a better future than what is facing them right now.
What would you say to all the women out there who feel – in the wake of recent events – that their country doesn’t value them?
I would say that you are valuable. You are important. The tide is changing. We need to continue to have hard conversations. We need to continue to support each other, to come together. The only way that this is ever going to change for women is if we support each other.
So what comes next in the fight for women’s rights and equality?
The only right we have in our Constitution is the right to vote, the 19th Amendment. How have we not passed the Equal Rights Amendment to give women fair protections in our Constitution? Would this world be a different place right now for women if we were protected under the Constitution? I think it would. When people ask me what’s next, I think that’s next…There’s no reason the greatest, most powerful country in all of the world does not have protections for women in the Constitution except for our right to vote. So we have to exercise that right.