“We need to get extremely brave,” said Jane Fonda, the legendary actor who has spent her 80s fighting for climate change reform.
At the EMILY’s List fourth annual pre-Oscars event on Tuesday, “The First but Not the Last,” Fonda gathered virtually with Regina King, Lucy Liu, Samantha Bee and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on a panel moderated by Zerlina Maxwell. The panelists discussed the importance of EMILY’s List’s mission to elect democratic pro-choice women into office and what it means to be a woman in power.
Chelsea Handler, who joined forces with the organization four years ago, opened the event by detailing EMILY’s List’s recent accomplishments, including helping elect the first Muslim and Native American women to Congress, as well as the first female vice president, Kamala Harris.
Handler said women hold only 25% of congressional seats while comprising over half the population.
“It takes courage for women to run and lead right now, when running for and serving in office often means you get harassed at home and wherever you go,” Handler said. “More women than ever are making the decision to run, and more of them are winning than at any point in our history. So it’s up to us to make sure they know we celebrate them.”
Asked about New Mexico’s response to COVID-19, Governor Grisham said she had to create an environment that allowed for courageous choices, despite the backlash. Under Grisham’s leadership, New Mexico has kept case rates low after the second wave and was one of two states in the country to offer flu shots — imported from Canada — during the pandemic.
“I prepared the entire cabinet for what was going to be a long, exhausting and, unfortunately, very hateful year, where we would be the face of everyone’s fear,” Grisham said.
Applauding Grisham’s leadership during the pandemic, the panelists also spoke more broadly about what women in power look like in practice.
“All the countries that have women leadership and at least 50% or more women in parliament or in their government support climate treaties and efforts to confront the climate crisis,” Fonda said.
However, the panel emphasized that women don’t need to be elected officials to feel powerful. Liu noted that during the pandemic, she felt power in taking control of her life amid global chaos. Home with her 4-year-old son and unable to visit her sick mother in the hospital, the actor used lockdown as a learning experience.
“I took that moment in time where everything was stopped, and instead of being afraid, I embraced it,” Liu said. “I understood it. I didn’t try to run from it.”
The panelists also stressed that we need women in power in the entertainment industry, including getting more women in writers’ rooms and director chairs.
“There’s a version of being competitive in a way that’s lifting each other up, pushing and encouraging each other to feel more compelled about doing the things that we want to do,” King said.