Chelsea Handler talks activism and policy objectives at SU

Chelsea Handler talks activism, policy objectives

The author and comedian and The New York Times reporter Megan Twohey discussed the changing landscape of activism under the Trump presidency.
Published: April 7, 2018

Chelsea Handler and Megan Twohey spoke candidly about women’s place in society and activism under President Donald Trump on Thursday evening.

The stand-up comedian announced in October that she was leaving her Netflix show, Chelsea to pursue political activism. As part of that move, Handler joined the political action committee Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women across the country. She also teamed up with The New York Times as a part of their Get With the Times series, aimed at spurring student conversation on political issues facing the world today.

The conversation was moderated by Times investigative journalist Megan Twohey, who, along with Jodi Kantor, broke the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein last year. Her reporting went on to help spur the widespread #MeToo movement.

The Times/University Union co-sponsored event was broadcast to more than 50 U.S. college campuses where students could host watch parties.

First on stage was professional rock climber and skier Emily Harrington, with event sponsor The North Face. She spoke about growing up afraid to be an adventurer and overcoming that fear to be a strong, adventurous woman.

Twohey and Handler were introduced shortly after and the reporter began the conversation by asking if Handler had seen the Weinstein allegations coming. Handler said she had always heard the rumors but didn’t know anyone that had been raped by the producer. She added that she is lucky to have not faced any sexual assault in her own career.

“But if it doesn’t happen to us and it isn’t in our lane, it still happened to the people around us,” Handler said. “To ignore it is to be delusional. You have to say it didn’t happen to me but it’s still my problem.”

To address the increasingly apparent prevalence of sexual misconduct in America and around the world, Handler said she wants women to have a seat at the table. She said she is dedicated to getting women and members of other minorities elected at the midterm elections in November. Her goal is “to get as many ‘first’ people elected to the Senate as possible.”

Trump’s election jump-started her increased activism, Handler told Twohey.

“I think the revelations of the last six months are a complete referendum on Donald Trump being elected,” she said. “I think women are asking what the f–k did we just do?”

That is not to say that anyone that voted for Trump is a bad person, Handler said. After the broadcast ended, the comedian invited a Trump supporter, clad in an all-red Make America Great Again sweatshirt, hat and skirt to take the microphone.

The young woman asked Handler about the plausibility of the wage gap, to which Handler replied with a sarcastic joke about immigrants stealing American jobs. Twohey then added that the wage gap is, in fact, real and backed up with research. In an answer to a question asked by Hawar Haddidi at the College of the Holy Cross earlier in the evening, Handler said she believes the key to narrowing the wage gap lies in making employers make commitments that can be measured.

Handler said conversations like these with people that have different experiences and viewpoints than her are what make her activism worth it. She told the audience that becoming more informed is easy, but you have to commit to listening more to what others have to say.

“I’m known for being combative and reactive, so I have to work really hard,” Handler said. “It’s a training lesson in understanding that people are coming from different points of view. … It’s rewarding to find out what it’s like to not be a white woman in this country.”

Twohey said that Handler is a good person to do this work because she is taking her activism beyond social media. Though there is power in voicing opinion on the internet, Twohey said, she welcomed the opportunity to speak with someone implementing her activism in the real world.

“It is clear that she is somebody that is putting her money where her mouth is,” Twohey said.

Twohey also asked Handler how she felt about politics when she was younger. She said she had no idea what a special election was at 19, but that it is easier for young people today to be informed and engaged. Twohey agreed and commended the young people in America today for their passion.

“I think we are seeing that young people can make a difference where no one else can,” Twohey said. “Their voices can break the gridlock in Washington. … It brings me a lot of hope to see the activism that does exist.”

Handler said that the activism that has resulted from this administration shows that there is room for all women to succeed.

“We are stronger together and need to vote in our best interest and say ‘no more,’” she said. “We’re fearless and we’re forward.”