Q&A: Actress Tracee Ellis Ross Says Everyone's 'Gotta Vote'
Star of 'Girlfriends' and 'Reed Between the Lines' hits the road for Obama on voter registration bus tour
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross took her infectious smile and laughter across the state of Ohio on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign. Ross, of TV fame for the hit UPN sitcom "Girlfriends" and most recently of BET's "Reed Between the Lines," made several stops around the battleground state Monday to register voters ahead of today's deadline for the Nov. 6 election.
Ross spoke to Loop 21 about the importance of every voice and every vote in the 2012 election.
LOOP 21: Tell us about the bus tour. You all are racing toward a voter registration deadline in Ohio.
TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: Can we talk about the bus for a second? The bus is fantastic. [It’s] incredibly photogenic…the outside of the bus is painted… You drive by on the streets and you see people’s faces.
LOOP 21: So it’s definitely not a mangy commuter bus. What got you involved politically?
ROSS: It’s really [about] using my voice beyond just casting my vote… to speak up for the reelection of President [Barack] Obama. And in the name of democracy. And in the name of being an American citizen who can use my voice. And really [to] remind people why it’s important to vote and what some of the deadlines are. Ohio is incredibly important and that’s one of the reasons I was willing to, in the middle of my schedule, fly here. Not just do my part in my neighborhood, but extend my voice further than just Los Angeles.
LOOP 21: What’s been the response from people you’ve encountered on the ground there? You all visited a few college campuses [on Monday]. What have you been telling students?
ROSS: I remember the first time I voted. And I remember somebody saying to me, “Self esteem comes from esteem-able acts.” And I really feel that voting is an esteem-able act. It’s one of the ways that I know that I’m enough. It’s one of the ways that I get to say I know what’s at stake. I know that I have a part in what happens in my government and this is how I use that voice to make a difference. I think that’s the same thing for everybody. That’s one of the main things that I’m encouraging everybody to do and to remember…what it took for everybody to be able to have a voice and vote.
LOOP 21: Most polling estimates say youth engagement this time around will be significantly lower. From what you’re seeing, are those stories overplayed?
ROSS: I think we always underestimate people. In general, this is a different election than the last one. President Obama has been our president, so we’re not being introduced to somebody new. There’s a different energy because [this is] a different time, so that might be viewed in a different way. My experience, from what I’m seeing, there is a lot of young people involved.
LOOP 21: That’s got be encouraging the see.
ROSS: It’s strange to me that I can’t call myself one of the young people. (Laughs). I’m not 18. I know that the people in my age bracket, we’re also participating. I have a group of friends that’s on their way to Virginia. They organized their own trip. I know that a lot of people that I have come into contact with in my generation…I think the women’s issues and the healthcare and education have been incredibly important in this election and the threat of Mitt Romney in office and that kind of conservative government has really gotten a lot of people energized and fired up in a way that looks different that four years ago. But it’s still creating the same kind of participation.
LOOP 21: Without grading President Obama’s performance in last week’s debate, what does Vice President Joe Biden need to accomplish in Thursday’s debate?
ROSS: I’m really mindful of the fact that I’m not a politician. I’m not a seasoned vet in this area. I am an American citizen who is volunteering and showing up to do my part. I have my personal opinions, but I don’t think that’s really the right way to use my voice in this arena.
LOOP 21: Certainly there are issues you want to hear the candidates discuss?
ROSS: Well, let me backtrack and say this. Last election, I was very wary of campaigning because I didn’t feel like I know enough. I don’t read the newspaper every single day. And in having a conversation with a friend about this, she said, “Tracee, you are a political person. You care about people in your community. You care about human rights…civil rights…women’s rights…reproductive rights…you care about a woman’s right to choose. You care about affordable healthcare and quality education.” I didn’t realize that. That’s my relationship to what this election is about.
LOOP 21: How do you personally measure who you support during an election cycle?
ROSS: One of the ways that I’ve been connected to the Democratic candidates, is they speak in a way that I can understand. They don’t make me feel like I’m less than. They don’t make me feel like I’m not worth it. And [they] make me feel like they actually get what’s happening in our country. That’s really important for me. At a certain point I have to ask myself what feels true to me. What feels like it’s really speaking to me.
LOOP 21: What do you recommend for people who can’t participate in a bus tour like you did?
ROSS: What I would recommend for everyone is to ask, what is it that you can do. This is a moment, in our lives and in our time, when there is a lot at stake and stretching outside of your comfort zone is important. I remember my mother telling me there’s no stupid question. And I’m really grateful she said that. I feel comfortable saying, “I don’t really understand what that means.” I encourage people to really be kind and gentle with each other in how we talk about these things. Not to shame anybody else. Not to make anybody else feel bad for what they don’t know or what they haven’t yet done. Who you are is enough to make a difference.
LOOP 21: And for those who aren’t convinced this election really matters?
ROSS: I feel that the amount of apathy you have is an indication for the amount of action that you need to take. If you feel that apathetic, then that means you need to get up and get out that much more, so you can see for yourself how this election really does affect you.