Actress Debra Messing stopped by Philadelphia on July 20 at the Hillary for America headquarters in Center City to raise awareness for the candidate she supports — and believes the rest of the country should get behind.
Messing, most well known for her iconic, ahead-of-its-time role in the sitcom “Will and Grace” — and, more recently, her heated Twitter battles backing her favorite Dem — joined the Montgomery County Women’s Roundtable on July 20, alongside State Rep. Madeleine Dean, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh and many other women who support Hillary Clinton.
She headed back to the Clinton headquarters — decked out in red and blue hand-painted signs — to speak to about 20 volunteers plus staff during a “women-to-women” phone bank.
One volunteer was brought to tears while meeting the actress because Messing’s role as Grace on “Will and Grace” impacted the lives of many in the LGBT community, including her own, to which Messing explained that the show is the second thing she’s most proud of — this campaign being the first.
With the Democratic National Convention underway — where she also spoke — Messing sat down with the Jewish Exponent to discuss the imminent election.
What brings you to Philadelphia in particular? Are you going around to other cities spreading the word for Hillary?
I am here because I am a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton. I’m just an actress, but I’m a mom who really, really, really cares about the trajectory of our country. It’s a very scary time, and the choice is very consequential. So I have offered myself to the campaign to go around and just tell my story and talk about the things that matter to me.
Have you done this before for a presidential campaign or a candidate?
I was actually here in Philly campaigning for President Obama. I had voted for Hillary in 2008, and when it went to Obama, I stood behind him. … But I’ve never been this active, this vocal. Twitter is kind of a game-changer. I feel very, very strong in my beliefs, so I really feel good about coming out and talking and supporting her.
So what issues in particular do you support from her campaign?
She addresses social issues in a way that are very meaningful. And, for me, that’s important. She is a friend to the LGBT community, and she has been for a long time. She is pro-women — she is fighting for equal pay for women and the equal rights amendment, and that’s important to me. She’s inclusive — she’s not going to build a wall, she’s not going to disallow an entire religion from entering the country. Inclusive, compassion, respect, tolerance: Those are incredibly sacred to me, and I think some of it may have come from all my years on “Will and Grace.” But then beyond that — guns. I’m terrified. The idea that my son can go to a school and someone can come in who had gotten a gun at a gun show without any background checks — it’s absolutely terrifying to me. I know that all the mothers I talk to are equally terrified. The fact that she is so adamant about finally getting legislation that is going to close those loopholes is something that needed to happen 10 years ago. It’s certainly not going to happen with Donald Trump. … I don’t want my son to hear him speak because it’s so dark and disturbing, and it’s a very surreal thing to think that the president of your country, the leader of the whole world, could be someone that you have to protect your child from hearing is really just — I don’t know how we got here, but I do know that Hillary Clinton is steady, and she’s brilliant, and she’s experienced. She’s known around the world. She is strong enough to take out Bin Laden, but she’s also respected. I just can’t imagine Trump being the peacemaker in, say, Israel.
Speaking of that, is there anything from your Jewish background that influences your activism?
Being raised Jewish, a lot of the conversation around the table when I was growing up was about kindness and tolerance, and being aware of our history of persecution and realizing the consequences that can come when a group is targeted. I think perhaps part of that made me very sensitive to making sure that everybody is treated equally and has equal opportunity and equal protections under the law.
So how do you use your influence as a celebrity to encourage people to vote and get involved with this election?
I am active on social media. … That seems to be the go-to place for getting your messages out. And then, because I’m an actress, I’m afforded a platform that many, many people don’t have, and I honor that. So that’s why I’m here — to take advantage of the opportunity to be heard about something that I feel very passionate about.
Have you had a chance to meet Hillary in person? What was that like?
It was wonderful. She reminded me of my mother. She had a big smile, really welcoming. She drew me in. She was really looking and really listening. I’ve been with her when there have been many, many people vying for her attention, and she made me feel like I was the only person in the room for that time that we were talking. You can’t fake that. She has a big heart, and she leads from the heart. … I believe that she truly cares. She’s capable of being incredibly empathetic and compassionate, and a thing that I love about her is that she’s human. If she makes a mistake, she acknowledges it. She apologizes for it — she reevaluates and she redirects and makes other decisions.
Millennials: I think they’re a big part of this campaign, especially starting out with Bernie [Sanders]. Why do you think it’s so important for them to focus on this election and really get out there, especially for first-time voters?
I really empathize with them because I understand their disappointment. Their candidate didn’t get there and, for many of them, it’s their first election. And because it’s their first election, many of them don’t understand how important this election is in the history of our country, and how catastrophic it can be for progressive progress in our country if Trump wins. I understand that Hillary’s not perfect. But Bernie and Hillary voted 93 percent of the time the same way when they were senators and since then, they have come together and unified. The new platform has many of the things that Bernie had been talking about during his whole campaign. So it is something that Bernie supporters can get behind and say, “You know what, it’s not perfect, but it’s something. We’re going to get $15 an hour minimum wage.” There are things that have been incorporated, and progress takes time. I waited a long time for there to be same-sex marriage equality. It took a long time — longer than I feel it should have. It was frustrating at times, but we’re there now. I just would really ask the millennials and anyone who is a very passionate Bernie supporter to think that if you don’t support Hillary, and Trump becomes our president, all the progress from the last 50 years will be erased.
Rachel Kurland is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.