By Michael Cass, The Tennessean
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ashley Judd came to politics naturally, and there's never any question about which side of the aisle she stands on.
been a Democrat for a very long time," Judd said. "Family lore says
that my beloved great-aunt, Pauline, who lived on a farm in Lawrence
County in Eastern Kentucky, named all her dogs after Democrats."
This week Judd, a famous actress, activist and Williamson County resident, is taking her partisanship to a new level as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention
in Charlotte, N.C. She's an at-large member of the Tennessee delegation
and a campaign surrogate for President Barack Obama, speaking to
supporters on his behalf.
And she says her ties to the party run even deeper than those born of family lore.
party platform is one of a social justice gospel and faith. It became
my party based on a sense of equality and fairness, hard work and
advocating for people living at and below the poverty line and helping
them strive toward our fabled middle class."
It won't be Judd's
first convention. She was in Denver in another capacity four years ago,
when Democrats first nominated Obama for the presidency. She called it
"a life-changing moment, absolutely electrifying."
But Judd, 44,
said she hadn't realized she could be a delegate until Todd Sharp, a
party activist in Williamson County, nominated her for the role this
Sharp said Judd has helped the Williamson County Democratic Party
register voters. She also helped with an event for a state Senate
candidate, and she recorded a robocall to remind voters of candidates on
the general election ballot and tell them about an Obama infomercial in
Judd's attitude, Sharp said, is "What time do I need to be there?"
"It's kind of extraordinary for a person of Ashley's stature to show up," he said. "Usually they say no."
Judd said she'll take the same approach to the three-day convention.
"I take the service very seriously," she said. "I'll be there to work."
is scheduled to participate in a discussion of women in leadership
hosted by Emily's List, an organization that works to elect progressive
women. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also will be on the
Judd also will speak at an event hosted by the National
Democratic Institute, which works to foster democracy around the world.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is among the other
participants in that discussion.
Judd was in Iowa on Friday, riding the Obama campaign's "Heartland Tour 2012" bus.
good people of Waterloo, IA are fired up about this election!" she
tweeted that afternoon. "Great dialogue about positive changes under
Obama & refusal to go back."
While the Tennessee Democratic
Party has said it looked far and wide to find a viable nominee for a
U.S. Senate seat this year, Judd said she wasn't approached. But she
said she wouldn't have run anyway.
When she earned a master of
public administration degree from Harvard University in 2010, she
realized she was doing the right thing.
"The way I'm doing my service right now is the best use of me," she said.
A record of service
Judd has been an outspoken, well-traveled activist for feminist and
humanitarian causes, including gender equality, public health and
alleviating poverty. While she backed out of a Peace Corps assignment to
central Africa more than 20 years ago because she was worried she might
never get to try acting, she now collects "very emotional narratives
from people in brothels and refugee camps and labor camps" and shares
them with the United Nations.
She said she's started writing a
book on recovering from childhood grief, though she doesn't know if
that's what she'll end up with. She wrote a widely discussed online essay
for The Daily Beast last spring about criticisms of her appearance,
saying such complaints about women's bodies represent a subtle form of
violence. She spoke on the same topic at a Nashville fundraiser in April.
a phone interview Tuesday after she landed at the Nashville airport
from a trip to Europe, Judd said she had been surprised by the nerve she
touched with the essay. She said a woman approached her while she was
having tea in London to say she had been "profoundly moved" by it.
knew I was onto something universal and archetypal, but I really
couldn't have anticipated the extraordinary response," Judd said.
said she was appalled by the recent comments about rape by U.S. Rep.
Todd Akin, a Republican Senate candidate from Missouri. Akin said a
woman's body can stop an unwanted pregnancy caused by a "legitimate
"Barbaric," Judd said. "Inane. I went from being completely
speechless to laughing. And unfortunately - and this is what people are
really starting to grasp - his views are not unique to him. And
although there is some scrambling from Republican leaders to distance
themselves from his statements, it's what their platform is."
Republican Party's platform, adopted at last week's convention in Tampa,
Fla., doesn't differentiate between types of rape but calls for a
constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, with no exceptions for rape
Judd said she believes women tend to support
Democratic candidates because the party's platform is stronger on
reproductive health and education, with a doubling of the nation's
investment in Pell grants. She said 1.3 million private-sector jobs for
women have been created during Obama's term.
"Women know that," she said. "They're going back to work."
Mitt Romney's campaign has said 92 percent of the jobs lost during
Obama's first term were held by women. Some pundits have called that
Judd, however, said Obama is a particularly appealing candidate to female voters.
a man married to a very smart, beautiful, caring woman. They've got
those two little girls, and (he was) raised by a single mother. The
whole quilt of his life story speaks to girls and women."
who is married to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti,
said she's considering attending Vanderbilt Divinity School. She said
she brings empathy to "the public space," but that's not the only thing
"I personally can't live by emotion alone," said
Judd, who was a French major at the University of Kentucky. "I need a
certain intellectual rigor and framework and structure."
A 'unique brand'
Sharp, who nominated Judd to be a Democratic delegate, called her "an
especially unique brand: a modern Southern-bred woman who makes no
bones about her political views and actions."
"Ashley has a unique blend of strength, courage and eloquence to speak up, speak out and walk the walk," he said.
said she's not concerned about putting her celebrity at risk through
her partisanship or activism. She said she doesn't want attention -
which she acknowledges "doesn't make a lot of sense."
don't keep up with all that," she said. "It's none of my business what
other people think of me. I just have to act, as each of us does,
according to my principles and values.
"Does a lifeguard have to
have those considerations? Does a bus driver? Does someone who works at a
local meat-and-three? Does a banker? We're all granted the exquisite
privilege of participating in our civic life, and it's something I've
chosen to embrace since I was 18 years old. And I don't think there are
any different rules or risks or rewards, actually, for someone like me.
"It's a duty, and it's an honor. Wherever they place themselves on the political spectrum, I hope others will join me."