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Though Dawson missed the Republican National Convention this year, after having attended both parties conventions in 2008, the actress did step out at the Democratic National Convention this week as both a solo act and as part of her organization. Speaking on The Huffington Post’s “What is Working: Solutions to America’s Job Crisis” panel, alongside will.i.am, LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue, Startup America CEO Scott Case, moderator Tom Brokaw, and more, Dawson brought her star power and unique perspective to the Ritz Carlton ballroom in Charlotte, N.C.
Following the panel, Dawson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the DNC then and now, what’s changed since President Barack Obama took Office and why she didn’t vote until the 2004 election, despite being eligible in 2000.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why was it important for you to be here at this event and at the DNC in general?
Rosario Dawson: I got to go to both the RNC and the DNC four years ago,and I’m bummed that I missed the RNC this year. But I’m really happy to be here and seeing the energy I think it’s really important when people say ‘nothing comes out of politics’ and ‘nothing ever changes,’ it’s like, well what about the Tea Party and Sarah Palin?
The last four years have been drastically different than the four years before that, and definitely in my lifetime. I see that continuing to be the issue, so for me it’s really exciting to be able to see so many people who are getting engaged, getting involved, trying to do it in creative ways, and taking advantage of the fact that we’re all here to do that. For protests, to dreamers, to code pink, to different organizations and corporations coming out and our politicians and our representatives coming out and the delegates, this is an opportunity that should not be wasted. For me it’s invaluable to be able to be here.
THR: What are the main differences between the last DNC and this one?
Dawson: I felt like there were a lot more celebrities, and I felt like it was really huge. It was like a whole other kind of experience. Those two years leading up to that election were so intense. I think there’s been a lot of things that have been going on the past four years, and we have seen changes like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and obviously the Iraq War, but also civil liberties being taken apart and immigration issues. The economy has been really bad, so I think people have come out of that hope change conversation and what they were looking for coming out of the Bush years and are in a different place now that’s a little bit more–not vulnerable–but definitely a little more disquieted. Not as exuberant and excited.
I think you had a lot of people who were coming into the process who hadn’t been there before and I think these four years have been very telling of showing what the process really looks like. It showed up on him [Obama]. That’s the thing we always joke about, how when anyone becomes president, after they get debriefed, suddenly they just go gray.
This icon of hope and change with black hair is now white haired and it can happen in four years because this is tough work and to roll up your sleeves and try to get into it is gonna take a lot more than people taking a couple months off to knock on doors or someone filling the office for four to eight years. It’s going to take a commitment for our lifetime we know that with Voto Latino, you need to vote three times to be a voter for life. So that’s why we have to get people not just registered but voting and participating and engaged where they understand that this is a right and a necessity to participate in because there are still people dying around the world for that right.
THR: Do you remember the first time you voted?
Dawson: I did with Voto Latino, which is interesting because it was in 2004 and I could have voted four years earlier, but I didn’t. That is interesting, because my mom votes and my family votes, so I think that was one of the things I really connected to with Voto Latino, was ‘why didn’t I vote?’ I was an activist and there was just something even as an activist that’s sort of outside of it, going ‘politics is separate. activism is this’ and doing absolutely nothing is a whole other group.
I had the satisfaction of being an activist and doing other things and working hands on in small groups and doing that sort of community organizing thing that was actually made a mockery of in 2008, which we’re seeing a huge resurgence of now in a totally different way, especially with Netroots Nation, that is really showing us that organizing is vitally important. So I had that as my background and there’s almost a distrust in the activist community going ‘they’re never going to pass legislation on this, we just have to be out here, on the ground, doing this work’ and for me it was really important to take on something else.
Activists unfortunately end up spending way too much time filling out paperwork and trying to get people to pay attention to the issue, when if you can combine your efforts and do activism but also work within the political system and befriend the right people you can pass legislation that can save you years of time and energy so you can get to other work.
THR: How are you feeling about the Voto Latino event tonight?
Dawson: It’s gonna be awesome. Tonight’s gonna be awesome.
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