Alyssa Milano has her hair pulled back, oversized glasses perched on her nose, and a delicate white lace collar accessorizes her black robe. It’s Halloween and Milano is dressed as feminist icon and legal giant, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s particularly fitting now for Milano to pay tribute to RBG a few weeks after her passing, and days after the stunningly fast replacement of Ginsburg with conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett, who’s fiercely opposed to the women’s rights that Ginsburg spent her career protecting. And so, Milano is dressed as the Notorious RBG, a poignant reminder of what she’s fighting for every single day.
At this very moment, in this deeply divided time, Milano, a former child star, may be the hottest celebrity activist and most visible unelected political force in America. She’s the Democratic It-Influencer of 2020. Yes, there’s Julia Louis Dreyfus and Common and a Hollywood crew of others who lend their voices to the Democratic Party and Get Out the Vote drives. But in this weird, coronavirus election season of political campaigning by Zoom and Instagram Live, it seems like Milano is everywhere, because she is.
Just in the past few weeks, Milano joined Rev. William Barber’s Moral Monday virtual march against poverty. She did a Zoom event with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She joined phone banking in Ohio and then Florida. She did an Instagram Live with Prom at the Polls, a group of college activists who are encouraging young people to vote. She raised money for Illinois Congresswoman Lauren Underwood. She moderated conversations with former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Time’s Up CEO, Tina Tchen. She dropped in on more phone banking in Nevada and then Florida. She spoke with Red, Wine and Blue, a group of suburban women who are trying to educate other suburban women about the candidates. She co-hosted events with Women for Biden, Joe Mamas, Emerge Texas and Annie’s List. She also hosted her weekly webinar series, “Own the Vote.”
If politics is about optics then Milano certainly wins for being out there. But she’s more than your typical multi-hyphenate actress-activist with a robust social media presence. She’s proven to be a political ninja working behind the scenes and getting into the weeds on all sorts of issues from food insecurity and voter suppression to election law. She researches the topics she speaks about and even hired a Constitutional law expert to tutor her on the intricacies of the 14th Amendment so when she advocates for the Equal Rights Amendment, she speaks with authority.
“I know what I‘m talking about because I make it my business to know what I’m talking about,” Milano said. “And if I didn’t put in that homework that would be such a waste and would make me uncomfortable and less impactful.”
Before COVID-19 shut down life as we know it, Milano traveled to Capitol Hill more than a dozen times after President Trump was elected. She would meet with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to lobby her issues. But her close relationships, not surprisingly, are on the Democratic side. She mentions New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and California Congressman Adam Schiff among some of her closest political friends. But she’s also in regular contact with more than a dozen politicians including mayors, attorneys general and governors across the country. And maybe this is why so many reach out and ask Milano to lend her voice and support their causes and candidates.
“Alyssa is not the casual activist but is deeply concerned and involved and very authentic,” said Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama and CEO of Time’s Up, the organization formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement. “She is not just parroting someone else’s opinion, or the talking points someone has given her. She speaks from the heart, she understands the facts, and she’s giving you her personal beliefs. And I think that is why she resonates so strongly with folks and why, when she does choose to speak out about something, people believe her. People listen to her. People take actions based upon what she’s saying.”
Milano’s mission right now is to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and down ballot Democrats. Her focus has been on the battleground states. It was 2004, when John Kerry ran for president that Milano first volunteered for a presidential election and was tasked with the swing state youth vote. She traveled in the back of a pickup truck with a megaphone, visiting college campuses and encouraging students to vote. Today her megaphone is her massive social media platform, with 3.7 million Twitter followers and nearly 3 million more on Instagram. Milano is relentlessly committed to using her platform for political good. And she finds it inexcusable when other celebrities are silent or even neutral.
“I get annoyed when I look at a celebrity’s platform and there’s nothing – no human rights, no civil rights, it’s such a waste of fame,” Milano said. “If you’re not going to use it for good, I don’t see a point.”
Milano became famous playing Tony Danza’s daughter, Samantha Micelli, on the hit show Who’s the Boss? that aired from 1984 to 1992. She then appeared on Melrose Place and starred in the CW cult classic Charmed. Milano is still acting and producing and now writing best-selling children’s books, including her Project Hope series. Milano also executive produced her first political feature documentary film, SURGE that recently premiered on Showtime and is airing on Amazon about the record number of female candidates who ran and won in the historic 2018 midterm elections.
Staying famous enough in Hollywood to remain relevant in Washington D.C. is something Milano understands but she also emphasizes it as a way to encourage younger actors to be politically active.
“There is definitely a relationship between my entertainment industry life and my activism, and one feeds the other. To maintain a certain level of relevance I need to keep acting,” Milano said. “I think that relationship is very important for people to see not only for public perception but for young actors to know that you can stand up and have a voice. The reason we don’t see actors standing up for what they believe is because they are afraid of losing their audience. I’ve been at it for 30 years and have had a lovely career. I want young actors to know that they can speak up.”
Milano is nothing if not fearless about speaking up. And this came early at the peak of her teenage fame when she kissed a boy with HIV AIDS on a talk show. She wanted to debunk the myth that AIDS could be contracted through casual contact.
“That moment with Ryan White at 15 years old, gave my celebrity such purpose and new meaning I don’t like to separate the two,” Milano said. “The only reason to have a platform is to effect positive change – I pick a side. Maybe that’s why people respond and I’m effective because there is a line in the sand as far as right and wrong and it’s real clear to me what side I’m on.”
Milano has considered herself an activist for thirty years and has served as a Goodwill ambassador for UNICEF since 2003. It’s those intense 10-day field visits to places like Angola and Kosovo, when she’s been embedded in communities where mothers watch their children die because of poor healthcare that has shaped much of Milano’s activism. It’s the boots on the ground approach where Milano thrives and an understanding that you need to be up close to make it impactful.
This is why Milano typically travels in an election year to places like Alabama and Georgia and red states across the country, where she can have conversations with local people, dig into what matters in their communities, and drive them to the polls on Election Day. This is where she finds the beauty in politics and that’s what she’s missing right now – the in-person, human touch of it all.
“My favorite thing is going into these small districts, there’s just something so Americana about it. It’s almost a romantic way of viewing politics,” Milano said. “When we think of politics, we see dark money, capitalism and all of the bigness of politics. But unless you’re living in these districts, you don’t realize that it’s the small that gets out the big.”
Milano knows has to create big. She’s the reigning queen of the hashtag, a social media savant. Most famously, Milano’s #MeToo hashtag tweeted out on October 15, 2017, ignited a global movement that has upended culture, politics and the workplace. These days her viral hashtags are razor focused on the presidential election and once she posts they often trend. #TrumpLied200KDied #TrumpPenceFailures have been a few that have taken off and that also attracts the venom of the trolls and haters, which is something Milano knows all too well.
“I don’t think I’ve ever separated fighting for what you believe in and not ruffling feathers and pissing people off,” Milano said. “My only concern is when there are young actors or influencers and they see the vitriol. My fear is that would prevent them from using their voice from making an impact.”
It’s easy to see Milano moving from behind the scenes to running for office herself. She has a gravitas about her and an earnest interest in a broad variety of issues. If Zoom has done anything, it’s created a platform for people to participate up close in these political conversations and hear from high profile people like Milano directly. She has also spent years cultivating political relationships across a diverse group of communities. So, will she run? Maybe, at some point, she says, when her kids are older and if opportunities in the entertainment industry diminish, politics could absolutely be the next chapter.
“I’m 47 and it’s hard enough to be the mom of young kids, who is an outspoken celebrity. But I think it’s nice to age gracefully in another space because entertainment is a world that is not too kind for women who age,” Milano said. “But I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket and take I take it one day at a time and search for my happiness to be a complete human. My fulfillment is to give back. I don’t think there is anything worse than having empathy and compassion and not doing anything with it.”