Ten days after Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a serial predator, Alyssa Milano, borrowing from activist Tarana Burke’s 2006 grassroots movement, sent a tweet before she went to bed: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” By the time she woke, more than 50,000 people had responded with #MeToo tweets. A massive movement was born.
An actress since childhood (Who's the Boss?, Fear, Charmed, Mistresses) and an activist for nearly as long, Milano, has used her celebrity to amplify the voices of the marginalized for 30 years, and she’s just getting started.
As the reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse continues to empower survivors, Milano has devised the #StateoftheDream initiative to counter Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. The effort encourages anyone to create a 60-second (or less) video about their dreams for the nation and upload it to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook; it goes live at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, just as Trump begins his speech.
“I was trying to figure out how we could empower people to have a rebuttal to the president,” Milano said. “It doesn't matter if your platform is 3.5 million people or six people around your dinner table. It's important to use whatever platform you have to affect positive change.”
A fierce ally in the fight against Trump’s draconian immigration stance, Milano named her counterprogramming initiative for the Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children and who face deportation from this administration if Congress doesn't stop it. #StateoftheDream videos can be about anything, though; Milano made her own on protecting children.
Since #StateoftheDream was announced, Milano has not only received requests from organizations on how they might participate, but people have shared their videos with her ahead of the event, some of which moved her to tears.
While giving voice to the people is one of the goals of the initiative, Milano also emphasized her goal for the platform to offer “blue wave candidates — the midterm candidates hoping to flip seats” a way to connect with constituents.
But Milano is so much more than an online activist. She's also proudly participated in the political process in a very pragmatic way.
“I like to drive people to the polls. I've been doing that since 2004. I started with the Kerry campaign and I will go to swing states and hit maybe four or five different states and on Election Day,” she said. “I'm a really big fan of the smallness of the political process,” she added, referencing activities like stuffing envelopes and phone banking, “I will fly anywhere. I just think it's part of a process that really makes me feel patriotic.”
Beyond Milano’s current support of Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia and Laura Moser’s challenge to John Culberson, the Republican incumbent in Texas’s Seventh Congressional District, she has also considered stepping into politics in an even bigger way.
When asked if she would channel her political knowledge and passion into a run for office, Milano told The Advocate, “Down the road, for sure. My kids are still very young and I feel like I don't know what their needs will be when they get older, but I do think at some point that I will run for something.”
She added that her family is “super supportive,” but that she wouldn’t consider running for office before her children — she has a 6-year-old son a 3-year-old daughter — are old enough to understand just what that would mean in their lives.
Milano's political side was ignited when Elton John introduced her to Ryan White, the hemophiliac teen diagnosed with HIV in 1984. At a time of public panic over the disease, Milano joined White on The Phil Donahue Show, where she kissed him to show that HIV could not be contracted through casual contact. His strength and friendship helped shape the activist she would become.
“He wiped out so much stigma. What a blessing it was to this world to have him,” Milano said. “That whole experience really put my celebrity in its right place, because to be a teenager that had everything and was on a hit television show [Who's the Boss?], to have that gift of realizing how this [platform] could really do amazing things.”
Whether it’s speaking at the Women’s March two years running, driving people to the polls, helping to kickstart a movement like #MeToo, or just keeping up with the daily onslaught of terrors doled out by Trump, Milano makes activism look easy. Still, it takes a toll to be exposed, especially regarding sexual harassment and abuse.
“Everything is triggering right now as far as sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. I feel very blessed that I get to share in people's stories and that they feel comfortable enough in sharing their stories with me,” Milano said. “It also has shifted everything in my body. I do feel a little bit like an open wound right now.”
But it would be a mistake to consider Milano’s admission that the state of current politics renders her in any way vulnerable or a “snowflake.” Even within #MeToo, she’s aware that not every movement fits or works for everyone or even in the same way.
“This is not a fragile movement,” she said of those who’ve criticized #MeToo. “But like every movement, there are going to missteps, there are going to be mistakes, shit's going to get broken.”
Her solution is to hear the detractors out and continue to engage in meaningful conversations about where to take the rising tide and energy of survivors.
“Let's figure out how it works for the movement to get done what we need to get done and whether that means ratifying the ERA or whatever it means," she said. "Let’s keep having these tough conversations."
Meanwhile, Trump’s second State of the Union and Milano’s counter to it, the State of the Dream, are imminent. Her personal dream is to hand the people a voice to counter or maybe even drown out Trump’s, at least across social media platforms.
"It sounds so corny, but for me, it's the idea that love is louder," she said. "If we can really just put all of our voices together and show the world that a man in the White House is not representing this country, I think that that would feel very good for many people."