A Speech to Tennessee Democratic Women


My mother is an accomplished public speaker, it is how she now earns her living, and I have often heard her talk about how she weaves humor into presentations. She comes out and starts with a joke, then proceeds to make fun of herself and folks in the audience throughout, thereby disarming the crowds’ expectations of some lofty teaching and really getting their attention off her boobs. She has found that’s how she really gets through to people.

So, seeing as how I get so much of myself from my mother (whether I like it or not…if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!), I, too, shall begin this auspicious address to the great women of the Tennessee Democratic Federation, with…a joke.

Jesus goes into a bar.

In said bar are a Scottish lass, a French matron, and a gal from Tennessee.

The lass sends Jesus a glass of wonderful 14 year-old Highland Scotch.

The matron sends Jesus a carafe of the house red win.

The Tennessee gal sends over a shot of Jack Daniels.

Jesus enjoys his libations, and afterwards, approaches the Scottish lass, saying, “My child, thank you for the drink. The land from which you come is indeed special and good, and I can taste my Fathers (we’ll work on inclusive language in Christianity another day) magic its waters. Thank you. I notice you have a cane by your side…would you like to be healed of your infirmity? Naturally, the lass says, “Aye, my Lord,” and Jesus lays his hands an her knee, and she takes up her cane no more.

He then goes to the French matron and shares with her a warm smile, the scriptures teaching us Jesus sure liked his red wine. They have a knowing between them, and without speaking, he lays hands on shoulder and cures a persistent bursitis. She swings her arms in unfettered joy.

Jesus then approaches the Tennessee gal, but before he gets too close, she stands up, backing away from the Lord in obvious terror. And just as Jesus begins to say, “My child, be not afraid,” She shouts in explanation: “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me, I’m on full disability!!!!!!!!!!!”

Now, how in the heck is this joke even vaguely relevant, much less appropriate, for this event for which you are gathered here today? I’ll tell you how: MANY OF THE WOMEN OF TENNESEE ARE DISABLED. They are civically and electorally disabled, on political participation disability; they are in collusion with their own socio political disability, some of which is their fault, some of it not.

I have never made a speech before. By now, that should be fairly clear to you all. So in preparing for today, I had to do some research, and it was research that made me very, very angry.

According to the excellently researched and wildly helpful book, blah blah blah, the name of which I cannot cough up right now which erodes my credibility with you but whatever, progress not perfection, right? Anyhow, trust me, it is true that at present, women in Tennessee rank 36th in the nation in voter registration. And, we ranked 42nd in female voter turn out in the last presidential election. People, that is worse than even Kentucky. Kentucky, in fact, has us all beat to hell on this, ranking 21rst in the country in women voter registration and 32nd in voter turn out. But back to Tennessee: so, we’re 36th in the country in voter registration, then only fraction of those registered women actually voted. That is totally pathetic and it is our job to make sure that never happens again.

And how do we prevent that from happening again? I am no expert, but Gloria Steinem is. So I called her (no, you may not have her number), and this is what she said:

We make voting in this country so difficult, which obviously dates from white males trying to suppress part of the electorate: women and minorities. And while women’s right to vote was passed 28 August, 1920 (19th Amendment), and the Civil Rights Movement knocked down the last legal barrier, which some scholars actually consider the full birth of the Republic, because only then was the whole of our population franchised at the ballot box. But subtle barriers and insidious schemes still persist in making it too difficult for much of the population. In India, a country of tremendous inequality and prejudice, and where women’s rights are virtually non existent, 70% of the population votes. In South Africa, a country with a largely illiterate population who live far away from polls, there was just last week yet another successful, fair, and free election which overcame tremendous obstacles. How can these countries do it, and great U.S of A. cannot? What is their secret? They make voting easy. Polls are open for a week. In America, the polls are open for one short business day, heavily discouraging those who are most desperate for change, for a government to understand their needs and support them, people who work more than one job to make ends meet, single working mothers, and minorities. The poll day favors those who already vote and want things not to change: older, rich, white people. And in terms of honest and fair elections, why don’t we ask a task force from South Africa to come supervise this November’s elections?! Let’s see what the Sub Saharans have to say about “dangling chads!”

So, if extending the voting period would make it easier to vote, what would make it easier to register? I went to church Sunday and was very pleased to see a voter registration table there. But how about movie theatres? How about online dating services, with an outreach slogan such as, “You’re taking charge of your personal life, now take charge of your political life?” How about going door to door, as government officials in Canada do, to give people the opportunity to register right then and there at home, before they go out and get busy, get distracted, get too tired, they baby starts to cry in the back seat and they work too late? How about making voting for young people as much of an exciting rite of passage as the Senior Prom? Hey, I do my part. I shot the July cover of “Marie Claire,” a women’s fashion magazine noteworthy for its excellent articles on women’s rights around the globe eac, and they asked me to do an extra photo. Now, that happens a lot. Usually, it’s the photographer trying to convince me to take my clothes off, just this once! This time, however, it was to put something on, a t shirt that said, “If you think fashion makes a statement, try voting!” Yea rah, “Marie Claire”

Now, onto the Democratic Party. It is my belief that the party has faltered because it has moved towards the center away from its base; tried to capture uncommitted voters at the center betraying the larger group on the left, which is committed to issues, but who now don’t believe anything will change. If the party would get back to its roots, embrace its once passionate but now disenfranchised base, re-find the courage of its conviction, THINGS WOULD CHANGE. The “disabled” women of Tennessee would had advocates in government and progress would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The key to this next election is single women. Single women (widows, divorced, never marrieds) are ¼ of the electorate. If just 3% more of these women had voted in last election, Gore would have won in a landslide. The younger the woman, the less likely she is to vote (except in TN, where they just don’t appear to vote at all). Married women are more likely to vote against their own interests! They vote for a party that doesn’t think they’re smart enough to know when to have a child!!!!!!!!! And, by the way, when they do vote in Tennessee, they have no women to vote for…Tennessee ranks 47th in the country in number of women in elected offices. One last note on this: Gloria said the dream of her lifetime is that white women would take voting as seriously as African-American women, that black women recognize who is their friend on sex and race while white women don’t.

So there’s a meat and three sized portion of what is wrong. I bet your thinking, well, this Ashley Judd, she’s a barrel of monkeys. Why couldn’t she just come here and wear something tight and act like a movie star? Help us to feel good about ourselves? What is hopeful about all this? Well, you are here today, and today is when the good news begins. You’ve got President Kennedy’s spiffy quotes about the new generation, the passing of the torch, and all that, you’ve got this gorgeous springtime to help you feel that anything, even Democrats who do what truly needs to be done back in the highest elected office of the land, that it’s possible, that this current regime, which has half the country living below pollution standards, which has a president lying about Roe vs Wade not being endangered, which fought a war for oil, can, and will, GO. BUSH AND HIS MINIONS MUST GO. The disabled women of Tennessee and everyone else, need him to.

In case you didn’t know, when women got the right to vote, it was passed in Congress by one vote, and who was that guy? Oh, a man from Tennessee, who changed his vote because his mother told him to. At any level, one vote counts. Therefore, voter registration drives, count. And so….let’s go get those voters. Let’s eat free ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s in Franklin when they sponsor voter registration day, and encourage and patronize other business to sponsor such civically responsible practices. Reach out to women and teach them that their vote counts. Teach young people that their vote counts. That’s what you and I are here to do. Grassroots movements make a difference, and I am eager and proud to be a part of this one.

And now, a word from our sponsor, Planned Parenthood! Look, the more you suppress medically accurate sex education, the more difficult you make it for women to access modern family planning so they be intentional about the number and spacing of their children, the more need you create for abortions. President Bush has created the need for hundreds of thousand of abortions—and less safe ones at that—in this country and abroad because of legislation and the Gag Rule. I am so sick and tired of the Right’s assault on women’s reproductive rights and the incredible vilification of Planned Parenthood and other services, so sick of their maligning emphasis on abortion services. These organizations offer FAMILY PLANNING, women’s reproductive health care and medical advice. No one ever woke up and said, ‘Gee, it’s a nice day, I don’t have much else going on, hmmmm…..I think I’ll go subject my spirit, my body, to an abortion.” But, when sex education and family planning is not available to women, they are more likely to get pregnant, get in a pickle and all the horrible socio economic downward spiral crisis that accompanies this scenario, and need, what a big surprise, to terminate an unintended pregnancy. And there is so much misinformation out there. I used to get a kick out of a TV show, “Talk Sex with Sue.” Sue Johannson, a nurse and sex educator, takes calls, and boy, does she get some doozies. If you want to know just how much ignorance and misinformation is out there, and what a dire need there is for sex education in this country, just watch this program. And then be thankful for Oxygen Channel, which is brave enough to broadcast it. Here is one sample call: Eazy, a caller from California, wanted to know, and I quote, “Whether or not it was true that a woman could pregnant if you had unprotected sex with her up the butt.” My remarkable friend, Kate Roberts, who founded and runs YouthAIDS, which provides a life saving message of sex education and behavior modification, with an emphasis on prevention of HIV transmission to young people in 160 countries around the world, describes what she is seeing with Bush’s ABC as a reproductive health holocaust. And of course, the president pledged 4 billion dollars in this State of the Union address to fight HIV/AIDS where it is destroying entire countries, and Congress has only paid out 2 billion. Bono would be cross with me for if I didn’t acknowledge his PEPFAR funding is a giant step up from any of his predessors. Back to our message: Throughout history, men have tried to control the means of reproduction, which means trying to control woman. This president is a modern day Attila the Hun.

So, we’re back to, God, this Ashley, she’s such a drag. Why didn’t she just bring Salma? Aren’t they like best friends or something? What’s with all this doom, man, she kicks ass in the movies!

Well, again, I do have good news. Fabulous news, in fact, about how one simple thing, like one year of early childhood education, can radically change a life. In sub-Saharan Africa, for every year a girl stays in school, she delays the birth of her first child, and has fewer children. Her child is more likely to be born healthy and survive infancy, because the mama has more human capital to contribute to the child’s welfare; more time to generate an income that makes the difference between living on $1 a day, or double, triple, or more, that. The mother is more likely to be literate, and is less vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The same principles of empowerment, of the multiplying effect of one women having the dignity and autonomy to regulate her fertility, apply here in America.

So, greater social good comes down to one thing at time…One simple vote, one normal year it school. Such small things become iconic and change the course of history. It can be done. And it must be.

Thanks for asking me to speak to you today. I have enjoyed being horribly nervous about preparing this speech, I was delighted to speak the truth as I see it. God bless. Hope the rubber chicken isn’t too bad.