Ashley Judd is in the news again. When the actress and activist spoke a few weeks ago at George Washington University, she said “yes” when asked if she was still considering running for Senate to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At WVFC, we’re less interested in the political horse race than in one woman’s determination to ignore partisan signaling and focus on rarely addressed, important issues. That determination is the reason why the political establishment went mildly berserk.
McConnell’s re-election committee made a major ad buy, with a monthlong run of a commercial wooing women voters, following up on a series of scathing ads from the Republican SuperPAC American Crossroads. The recent Conservative Political Action Committee featured a comedian making Ashley Judd rape jokes. (What was I saying the other day about rape culture?) The Democratic pros weren’t much better: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made clear that Judd was just one of “a handful of quality” Kentucky candidates; Bill Clinton is openly wooing a different female candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Grimes. Still, others rooted for Judd to run, knowing that it means that she will pour millions into the state.
Most of this chat reflects what makes Judd different, and it’s not her country-music lineage, or even her newly acquired Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Judd’s talk was at GWU’s School of Public Health. If you watch the whole video of just this talk via CSPAN, you see her glide easily among topics, from her early interest in public health issues, violence against women, global poverty, and education. She spoke freely and openly at GWU about the fact that she is a three-time survivor of sexual assault, claiming her trauma as a source of strength. Even her dialogue with students below speaks to how, for women, health is impossible without honesty and depends on the work of countless professionals, organizers, and supporters.
Ashley Judd in an informal Q & A after her March 1 talk at George Washington University.
But this one talk is just an example. Judd has given a speech on human trafficking at the U.N. General Assembly and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is on the advisory council of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Demand Abolition, and Women Thrive Worldwide. She has manifested her commitment abroad; with Women for Women International, she went to Thailand and Africa and blogged about it; with Population Services International (PSI), she served for two years as global ambassador for PSI’s HIV education and prevention program; with the Enough Project in 2010, Judd explored the ramifications of the “conflict minerals” inside the electronic devices we all use.
All of her activism has been fodder for establishment politicos to attack her “extreme views’ or to accuse her of being un-serious, unlike the very serious Democrats and Republicans they know. There’s also the sorta-legitimate issue of whether she’s a Kentucky resident, though she appears to qualify under state law. But I suspect that should Judd choose to run, she’ll tap a constituency across the country for her brand of politics.