America Ferrera is a relatively new mom, but she’s definitely not a new activist.
She kicked off January 2017 by investigating the realities of health care access in South Texas. By that October, Ferrera had publicly joined the ranks of women saying #MeToo, revealing on Instagram that she was sexually assaulted when she was just nine years old.
This May, she announced the birth of her son, Sebastian Piers Williams, with husband Ryan Piers Williams, and by August, she’d shared with the world—via Instagram—a photo of herself smilingly nursing the baby in public to mark World Breastfeeding Week. In between, the “Superstore” and “Ugly Betty” actress lent her voice to the Families Belong Together movement in Washington. A daughter of Honduran immigrants, she denounced the separations of migrant parents and children as they tried to enter the U.S. via the southern border.
And, she’s no stranger to politics. Ferrera hit the campaign trail back in 2016, and now, true to character, she’s making a return in one of the most contentious midterm election cycles in history.
She spoke to Glamour about her civic engagement—and how we’ve failed at making voting accessible to all—during a recent visit to Nevada to campaign for Rep. Jacky Rosen, the Democrat trying to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller and loosen the GOP’s grip on Washington. Here’s what she had to say:
It’s actually been 10 years that I’ve been engaged in getting out the vote for elections, and obviously everything’s different [now]. It really feels like everything is at stake. Everything that I care about, everything that I believe in, the idea that I grew up with about our country—who we are, what we are, and why we are—that’s all up in the air, and it feels truly like, this midterm election [will] be our opportunity to either negate what’s been going on in our country in this administration, or allow it [to] change the very fabric of who we are.
I am most concerned about the wealthy owning our democracy. [It] feels as if very real efforts to disable our democracy are underway. Between the way our rights as voters are being attacked, the way elections themselves are being gerrymandered… I really think that if we don’t show up in this moment, we will [have] missed potentially our last opportunity to really check this administration.
I think elections and politics being something that is hard to understand and untouchable is by design. I think it benefits the people in positions of power to make it so murky and hard to understand. What all these people in this [field] office do, and what I try to do from the position that I’m in, is to try and make it as easy to understand as possible, and as easy to engage with. There are real reasons why people are disenfranchised. I think the easiest and most beneficial [thing] to a lot of people in power to believe is that, “Oh, people are lazy and they don’t care, and they’re complacent.” But there are all kinds of genuine obstacles that have been intentionally placed to keep people from participating in democracy and mattering in democracy. Sure, when you look at your life and you feel like nothing about our government or the way the system is working is positively impacting your life, of course you’re going to feel disenchanted and cynical about those institutions. That’s only natural and human.
But what we have to remind ourselves, and each other, is that our democracy only works for us if we show up. Getting ourselves to show up and re-energizing people who have been on the margins for so long is the work we have to do to save our democracy right now, because power is so obviously concentrated in the hands of institutions that have been in power for a very, very long time. That’s what’s also so exciting [about] this midterm election, of course—there’s the gravity of it and the necessity of it, but we have an opportunity to wake up on November 7th and make history across the country. You know, the first female black governor in the history of the United States, the first Native American governor in the history of the United States, a majority female state legislature [in Nevada]. There’s so much opportunity to take what has been a very painful and truly devastating couple years and have some light come out of these elections—if we can harness people’s outrage and [get them to] take that to the polls and vote.
Regarding [low voter turnout in midterms], I think there’s a lot of reasons as to why that’s true, and I think the number one reason is our civic education in this country. It’s not accessible, it’s not made accessible, it’s not easy to understand, it’s not easy… You know, voting is the only Constitutional right that we have to register for, that we have to sign up for. [You] don’t have to register to exercise your right to free speech, or register to exercise your right to free assembly, [but] voting, for so many people there are a ton of obstacles in the way. [There have been] last-minute, blatant attempts to suppress votes—and mostly people of color—and this is not new to our history… It’s an illness, and our democracy cannot survive this way.
Honestly, [this election] isn’t even about, for me, if it’s red or blue. [I’m] a Democrat. I’m a registered Democrat. But there are plenty of Democrats who need to go, you know? And I’m excited to see some fresh blood in the Democratic party, and I want to see good, decent people running as Republicans. I don’t think this needs to be a country where one party rules. I think we need a democracy that works, because we are doing everything in our power to make it work, to give people access to democracy, not box them out so that it’s easier to stay in a position of power.
One of my favorite and most succinct quotes around all of this is [from farm worker organizer] Cesar Chavez. He said, “We don’t need perfect [politics], we need perfect participation,” and if everybody shows up, and if everybody has an equal say and everyone’s voice matters and counts, [then] we can know what [our] country really [stands] for.
But, we know, in our hearts, that what’s happening in our country right now is not a result of everybody’s voice mattering and every voice counting and every vote counting, because there have been so many blatant attacks to really nullify people’s voices and votes and keep them home, or make their votes not count. And so we have to fix that, and I personally think that’s the only long-term solution…
What I’m saying is: It isn’t about who is the majority in Congress. It’s about, are people educated and enfranchised and resourced enough to participate in the government that purports to be of the people, by the people, for the people? We’re missing the people part—and not because people don’t care, but because we’re not doing our job as a country, as a culture, to make democracy work.
Celeste Katz is senior political reporter for Glamour. Send news tips, questions, and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a pivotal election year, Glamour is keeping track of the historic number of women running (and voting) in the midterm elections. For more on our latest midterm coverage, visit www.glamour.com/midterms.