While you may know this actress best for her award-winning role of the hilariously funny, fashion-forward “Joan Clayton” on the hit show “Girlfriends,” these days Tracee Ellis Ross is making her name on the campaign trail stumping for President Barack Obama. As she traveled through Ohio, Ross spoke exclusively with NewsOne to explain why everyone needs to vote, how she found her voice through voting, and why she finds a Mitt Romney win “terrifying.”
NewsOne: Where are you on the campaign trail?
Tracee Ellis Ross: I’m on a little bus in Ohio. I went to Nevada and this is my second trip. Of course the election always happens when I have so much on my plate, but this is so important and I’m willing to show up and fly somewhere and do what it takes if I can be of service.
I actually registered one voter on a campus in Nevada and I remember how exciting it was for me the first time I voted, so I’m thrilled for the new voters, where this is their first election and they get to use their voice. I mean, when I got that “I voted” sticker, I felt like I was the queen of the world.
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NewsOne: What inspired you to stump for President Obama this election?
TER: I stumped in the last election, and it was one of the first times I really got to use my voice beyond just casting my vote and it’s really exciting. And I think for this election, I really feel like there is so much at stake and there’s so much that I feel passionate about, especially women’s rights and women’s issues, and I really want to make sure that President Obama gets back in to office. And if I can do anything beyond just casting my vote and volunteer and speak up and get people energized, then I’m happy to speak up and participate and be of service.
NewsOne: What’s your message to voters?
TER: I think my message is really the message that compelled me. I was taught that self-esteem comes from esteemable acts and it’s about action. And one of the things I was amazed by the first time I voted was how good I felt, and I think that for me that the actual act of voting is one of many ways — but a very important way — that I get to realize that I’m enough and claim that I’m enough to make a difference in this country.
I know what’s at stake and I know what happens in the White House affects my daily life, so I have a choice and I have a voice and I can use it.
NewsOne: We’ve actually been covering Lupe Fiasco and one of messages he has been delivering is that local politics is more important than national politics. What do you think about that?
TER: You know, I don’t know anything about that. Everybody has their own things that they are passionate about. For me, I learned first hand in the last election that one person makes a difference, and if each person thinks they make a difference, then we can all come together and have a large collective voice. I’ve been taught in my life that participation is the key to harmony.
I don’t know if you’ve seen that extraordinary quote from Rep. John Lewis, “Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” When I heard that I was just like, Yes! It is one of the ways that we really get to have a voice, and I have to say that for me, when I was growing up and before the last election, I didn’t have a complete understanding of how I connected to the national election, like, how my voice really did matter or why my voice mattered to me.
I thought I wasn’t political but a friend of mine and I were talking about it and she said, “Of course your political. You care about your community, you care about your country, you care about people, you care about human rights and civil rights and women’s rights, reproductive rights and the right to choose. You care about Affordable Health Care and quality education. You care about freedom and human beings. That’s what politics is and that’s what it addresses, and the more that I came to understand that, the more that I realized that although I don’t know every fact and I don’t know every bill that is being passed, I don’t understand everything but what I do have to understand is that I can make a difference and I do have a voice and my voice matters.
And I get to share that by going to the polls and then taking it one step further and volunteering and showing up outside of my comfort zone to do something that I’m not so comfortable doing and speak up and say to others, Are you registered, do you have questions, can I help point you in the right direction, do you know where to go to get registered, do you know where to go to vote, are you going to be able to get to the polls, do we need to get you help to get you to the polls?
And if this is the way I can be of service as a citizen of this country, then so be it and so it will be.
NewsOne: How do you feel about the prospect of Mitt Romney winning in November?
TER: I think it’s scary. I’m mean, I’m just being honest. I’m not talking about him as a human being or a person, I don’t know him. I’m talking about the politics of what I have seen and what he represents. I feel like my body can identify with what feels true and what feels right to me.
I think the deal for me is that if Mitt Romney were in office, it could give rise to the most-conservative anti-women regime that our country has ever seen and that terrifies me.
TER: I think that the dialogue around women’s rights that’s been happening as this election has come in to full swing is really scary and the fact that we are still having this conversation in this country is disturbing to me. That we would in any way go backward [regarding women's rights] is uncomfortable and not OK for me and one of the reasons I am standing up and using my voice.
NewsOne: Why do you support President Obama?
TER: First of all, my feeling is that President Obama sees the big picture and the long term. For example, [he was] raised by a powerful woman, is raising powerful women, and married to a powerful woman. I feel as though he understands and believes that women are supposed to make decisions for their own bodies. That is really important to me.
President Obama, one of the first things he did for women was to ensure that women will have equal pay for equal work. The Pell Grant and scholarships [show that he is] making education a priority and making sure that everyone could afford a quality education.
These are the things that are incredibly important to me and I think they give all of us as Americans the opportunity to succeed. Freedom has many different definitions but it requires certain circumstances for everybody to feel free and for everyone to be free.
NewsOne: What would you say to a voter who isn’t sure they are going to vote?
TER: I would say that you’ve got to vote. If you don’t know who to vote for, do the research and decide on your own. I’m not here to tell anybody who to vote for; I know who I’m voting for and I know why I’m voting for President Obama. There are people who died and fought for all of us to have the right to vote. There was a lot done for us to get here to be able to have this voice and for everyone’s voice to matter.
And so to me it’s not a question of if you will vote, you must vote. I really feel like people must vote and I feel very strongly about that. Who you vote for is not my place to say.