This has been an unprecedented year on several fronts—and the 2020 election is proving no different.
Recent tallies show that more than 70 million people have voted early, which is more than 50% of total votes counted, early or otherwise, than 2016. That massive turnout extends to the often targeted youth population, with 18 to 29 year olds tripling and even septupling early voter ballots in such key states as Florida and Texas, respectively. The initial concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged mail-in voter suppression tactics would would keep voters at bay seem to be allayed.
On Thursday, October 29, at 9 p.m. Eastern, as a way to celebrate what’s already an historic election—and as a last push to encourage people to go to the polls—CBS is airing Every Vote Counts: A Celebration of Democracy, a nonpartisan special co-hosted by Kerry Washington, America Ferrera, and Alicia Keys featuring a cavalcade of celebrities, Republican and Democratic politicians, and everyday voters.
“We wanted to create a space where it wasn’t about a particular candidate. We wanted to celebrate the idea that what we’re really passionate about is the voter,” Washington says. “‘It’s each person’s ability to have a voice and express their vote, that they matter to their family and their community and their democracy. That’s part of what this celebration is about.”
Although Washington, Ferrera, and Keys have all endorsed and/or campaigned for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, they stress that Every Vote Counts, which is produced by Live Nation, Global Citizen, and Live Animals, is meant to be nonpartisan with the focus on advocating for a fair democracy. Of course, a fair democracy has seemed particularly out of reach in recent years with interference from foreign governments and rampant voter suppression.
“I am amongst a lot of people who are concerned that democracy itself is on the ballot this year,” Ferrera says. “And we can only try to preserve democracy and make our democracy better by standing up in this moment and defending it and showing up as the people that this government is meant to be for and by.”
“Even when we are struggling to have faith in our systems, we need to have faith in each other to hold those systems accountable,” Washington adds. “That’s part of why we wanted to create this special. We wanted to remind people of our collective power [and to] remind our elected officials that they work for us.”
It’s a sentiment that echoes in every election cycle but has been especially loud in 2020, with more and more celebrities doing the shouting from atop their massive platforms. However, the question of performative activism unfailingly springs to the surface for some when celebrities attach their name to a political or social cause. Or if they don’t, it becomes an issue of staying silent and comfortably shrouded within their elite bubbles.
Both Washington and Ferrera agree that it’s not necessarily a celebrity’s obligation to use their platform in ways they both have been doing. That said, the issues they stand for are irrespective of their Hollywood status.
“Everybody has to engage in the ways that feel right to them, and there’s something that everybody can do,” Washington says. “For some people, it might be writing a check to organizations that help to make the world a better place. For some people, it might be volunteering their time. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you have something to offer. So I give what I have, but I don’t give it because I’m Kerry Washington. I give it because I’m an American citizen. I’m a woman. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m a person of color. I give my time because of who I am and what I care about, not because of the platform that I have.”
Ferrera even goes as far as to call criticisms against celebrity activism “a blatant way to attack power.”
“People with platforms have power,” she says. “They have the power to tell stories. They have the power to give information. They have the power to amplify messaging. Those who ask celebrities to shut up and not use those platforms do it specifically to disempower them because they recognize the power of the platform.”
As vital as the presidential election is once again, Ferrera says that her aim in lending her power to something like Every Vote Counts is about a bigger picture.
“The people are the hope of democracy. And we have to care more about preserving all of our access to voting more than we care about any candidate or political party, or we could be in danger of losing that democracy,” Ferrera says. “It’s not about persuading people to vote the way you are voting or persuading people to believe in what you believe in. It’s about defending people’s rights to getting their voice heard. That is why I engage in the process. And that is what is at the heart of this special.”