Why Debra Messing Is Done Censoring Herself When It Comes to Talking About Politics
"I think that women were raised to be taught that there are certain palatable ways of communicating, and I just decided that that shouldn’t be."
Debra Messing knows what it’s like to be attacked for speaking your mind. The president of the United States called her a “bad actress” last year and claimed to his over 87 million Twitter followers that Messing wanted to create a “blacklist” of Trump supporters after she called for a “list of all attendees” of who is donating to and fundraising for Trump’s re-election campaign. And back in July, she received significant pushback from liberal voters when she claimed that Kanye West was trying to steal “Black votes” from Joe Biden, comparing West to Jill Stein. But Messing is done trying to appease everyone. For her, the stakes in regards to the upcoming presidential election are too high to sit on the sidelines and play nice. She’s ready and willing to speak her truth, get out the vote, and do whatever it takes to make her voice heard.
“I made a decision a couple of years ago that I wasn’t going to censor myself,” Messing tells HelloGiggles over the phone. “I think that women, especially women of my generation, were raised to be taught that there are certain palatable ways of communicating, and I just decided that that shouldn’t be.”
Messing says that after making that decision, she received pushback—like the time she tweeted at Susan Sarandon about Trump—something that, at first, made her anxious and upset. She focused her time and energy on trying to clarify her way of thinking and considered ways she could be most persuasive to those with different points of view. “And then I realized that it was really just a fruitless endeavor and just decided to put out into the world whatever my truth is and let people determine for themselves if it rings true for them or not,” Messing says. “And if people are going to judge me, then that’s not really my concern.”
What is her concern—especially after the passing of former Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom Messing looked up to and to whom the title of her politically centered podcast, The Dissenters, pays homage—is making political engagement more palatable to those who would otherwise be turned off or intimidated by the word “activism.”
“I think people get overwhelmed at the word ‘activist,’ and they feel like that’s somebody else, that’s not me,” Messing explains. “And what we are really trying to do with The Dissenters is to show people that all of these mindblowingly inspiring people are just like you and me. They just took one step. And you don’t have to be a leader: Your first step can be helping the helpers.”
For the podcast’s season finale (which will air this Thursday), Messing and her cohost and fellow activist Mandana Dayani talked to a woman who has personally inspired Messing, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Messing describes the episode as a “bucket-list moment,” but it was also a full-circle moment, as she worked on Clinton’s 2016 campaign by attending events and supporting the volunteers. “Having that focused time with [Clinton] was just a gift,” Messing says of the podcast. “We asked her to talk about fascism—that was the theme of our conversation. And hearing her speak with her experience as a former Secretary of State, all of her insight into what has happened in our country, it really was just spectacular, and I think it’s just the perfect way to end the season.”
Another part of Messing’s activism work is turning out the vote and helping mothers to get involved in politics. Inspired by the history-making number of mothers who ran for office (and won!) in 2018, Messing is dedicated to proving to moms who are frustrated by the current administration that they can make a positive, long-lasting impact on the political landscape. One of the ways she’s doing this is by speaking at this year’s HeyMama Summit with Dayani, touching on everything from her “accidental activism” that stemmed from her time on Will & Grace to walking in the footsteps of her political heroes to how other moms can get out the vote before November 3rd.
“I believe that moms will make it clear that they are tired of the chaos and the division and they want some more compassion and love at the heart of our leadership,” Messing says. “And I think if you have someone in the White House who is leading with empathy, you don’t have children at the borders being separated from their parents.”
It isn’t just the power of mothers in politics that is inspiring Messing to keep speaking truth to power, even if it means she’ll continue to become a target of the current president’s ire. It’s what those moms, including herself, are teaching their children to help them lead a life of virtue and activism.
“I hope my son continues to be a compassionate soul, and I hope that he sees a mom—a woman—who is autonomous and has conviction and believes that her voice is just as valuable as his,” Messing says of her 16-year-old, Roman Walker Zelman, whom she had with ex-husband Daniel Zelman. “And I hope that he will grow up to be a father of girls that he will support in a similar way.”
As for Messing’s other wishes, she of course wants to be successful in her efforts to help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. She also says that she hopes that victory will be followed by the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which has only been ratified by 38 states and has yet to be added to the U.S. Constitution, as a tribute to RBG.
“I’m a Jewish woman who grew up in a community that had barely any Jewish people, and to see this diminutive Jewish woman from Brooklyn, which is where I was born, reach the highest [court] of the land was incredibly impactful and very very important,” Messing says. “I hope to honor her legacy by continuing to fight for women’s rights. And hopefully Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be in the White House and we’ll finally get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. I think that would be the greatest nod to her legacy that I can do.”