WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Hollywood doesn’t have to be a value-minus proposition.
Actress Alyssa Milano got her start at the age of 7. Since then, she has starred in movies and TV, famously on Charmed and Melrose Place. But her most challenging and important role? Her involvement with #MeToo. This week on The Carlos Watson Show, dive into her experience with COVID, her political contributions and her dedication to the #MeToo movement. You can find excerpts below, or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.
BEING DIAGNOSED WITH COVID-19: THE AFTERMATH
Carlos Watson: Are you actually feeling better?
Alyssa Milano: I am. I was sick in March of last year, and I got to tell you, I feel like this is the first month that I feel somewhat back to normal. It was that long, and I still have weird symptoms every now and again. I’ll have shortness of breath or, like the other night, I was just lying in bed and my heart started racing. And I have anxiety too, so when that happens, I’m like, is this anxiety or… But it didn’t feel like my normal anxiety, so it’s a tough illness to feel better because it attacks so much of your body and in so many different areas. I still have this ringing in my ear, which I feel like is the most frustrating, annoying symptom that I still have. Like, if I didn’t have that, I think I’d feel back to normal.
HER POLITICAL LIFE
Watson: Do you come from a very progressive family, or what’s your family like politically?
Milano: I come from a very politically active family. My parents in the ’60s were very moved by the Vietnam War, and my dad was part of the student strike. And so I was raised to be incredibly aware, and that being a part of the direction of the country was a responsibility that we had as adults. And I was definitely one of those kids that could not wait to vote.
That’s how I’m raising my children as well. But I was always … politically aware, and I considered myself more of a humanitarian really than an activist. I’ve been an ambassador since 2003 for UNICEF. And so my activism or my advocacy work was really about traveling the world and ensuring that children had a fair, equitable and healthy childhood — whether that meant getting them vaccinated or figuring out the infrastructure for feeding sites, because of how impoverished some of the places that I’ve been were and are. So I was more of a humanitarian.
Then in 2000, when Al Gore had the election stolen from him — which I still say, just like that — I started to get more politically active. In 2004, I was a surrogate for John Kerry and really worked my butt off to try to get him elected. That was my first taste of campaigning and going to colleges in the back of a pickup truck with a bullhorn and telling everybody why he was the man. And ever since then, I’ve been incredibly just… active.
Then when you think about the work that you do with UNICEF on these field visits, they are an intense couple of weeks of work where you see the best and worst of humanity — and this hope. And then you leave with a real appreciation for what you have and what we are as a nation. So to deal with the last five years, it felt like I was in a five-year field visit, only in my own country.
Watson: Oh, what an interesting way to put that.
Milano: Yeah. So in all the things that we fight for as far as clean water and sanitation and health care and getting people vaccinated and conspiracies and corruption and all of this stuff — misinformation that we fight for as a UNICEF ambassador — we were fighting here in our country. So it’s been exhausting. I did it the only way I knew how.
Watson: You know what? Everybody should be able to say that at the end. What are some of the most interesting places, whether it’s interesting good or interesting bad, that you’ve been to?
Milano: So in 2000, I lived in South Africa for three months, and that was incredibly life-changing for me. It changed me on a cellular level. I got very… It was 2000. It’s only nine years after apartheid was abolished. So… the nation was struggling with how to assimilate their new freedom with the oppression of the past. The year I was there was one of the first years that white children and Black children were going to school together.
So, they were still going through a lot of political struggle, and I volunteered in a township in a children’s hospital there. I just got so incredibly caught up in the movement, and Bishop Tutu had this reconciliation group that were really … aggressively dealing with their past in a way that felt like there was going to be great progress.
Watson: Tell me a little bit about #MeToo. And I realize that’s such a big conversation. I realize it’s a conversation that thankfully you’ve helped drive and shape and been in. But having been so close to it, having been so active, having put yourself at risk, I feel like in so many different ways … As you look back, what have you learned?
Milano: Well, I think it has affected how I have been raising my children for sure. I have a boy and a girl. So we’ve had a lot of conversations, not around sexual consent, but about the idea of consent. You have to ask your sister if you want to play with her toys. Just ask her. And if she says no, then you can’t. And no means no. So to raise kids with that understanding now, I think, is something that I’ve been able to take away. …
I think the really interesting thing about the whole thing for me was, well, first of all, I sent out a tweet. I never thought that it was going to turn into what it turned into. And it’s interesting because at the time, I wasn’t aware of Tarana Burke’s work at all around this. …
So as the days went by and we were still trending at No. 1 and people started basically saying, “This isn’t your thing. Tarana Burke has done this, been doing this for 10 years,” I reached out to Tarana. … I was so relieved to not be in this position of leadership of something that’s important, and to have a mentor and someone who had worked with victims her entire adult life and really dedicated her life to transforming victims into survivors.
She works with trauma victims. And about, I don’t know, maybe two weeks into it, because we were, in the beginning, talking every single day, she said to me, “Hey, you know, how are you doing?” And it was the first time I realized that this was a personal thing for me. And maybe subconsciously people knew that.
That’s why it was as impactful as it was, but it was really overwhelming to have that kind of responsibility. Four days into it, my rep from UNICEF actually called and said, “I just want to let you know that this has reached Ethiopia.” And I’m like, “I’m sorry, what?” And she said, “Yeah. Two little girls who were being hurt by their teacher went to the authorities and turned him in.” And they said, “Me too, me too.”
That broke me. That really broke me. But it was also such wonderful, almost validation that the way in which I choose to use my social media was making an impact but also was something that people were taking seriously. Because you never know. You send things out and you don’t want it to just be a megaphone. You want it to feel organic to who you are.
But when you look back throughout history and you realize there has never been a time where women have not been abused sexually or harassed or discriminated against, it’s quite an awakening. And that shifted my activism a little bit. My baby right now, the thing that I fight every single day for actively, is the Equal Rights Amendment, which is written by Alice Paul in the early 1900s. And it basically says that we have the full weight of the Constitution behind us and that Congress can legislate based on being against discrimination.
People don’t realize that women are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, that the 14th Amendment has been able to… Lawyers have been able to spin it so that it also includes women, but obviously, that was five amendments before the 19th Amendment, which gave us our right to vote.
So clearly the 14th Amendment wasn’t protecting women. So that has been my focus. I believe that we will see a time — I’m hopeful in my daughter’s lifetime and I pray that I’m around to see it — that women are protected in the Constitution. And what a great message that will send for not only our little girls but also our little boys.