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These Women Activists Were the Real Stars of the Golden Globes

Learn about the activists and campaigners who graced the Golden Globes red carpet with some less important celebrity dates.

by Zing Tsjeng
Jan 8 2018, 6:08pm

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC

The 75th annual Golden Globes was a night of statements. First, there was host Seth Meyers’ opening monologue: “It’s 2018, marijuana is finally allowed and sexual harassment finally isn’t. It’s gonna be a good year!” Then, Natalie Portman introduced the candidates for the Best Director award with the words “here are the all male nominees,” and Barbara Streisand pointed out that no woman had won the category since she directed Yentl back in 1984. And finally there was Oprah, who displayed more presidential gravitas in her 10-minute Cecil B. DeMille acceptance speech than Donald Trump in the 352 days since he got sworn in.

But the first indication that the Golden Globes were not quite business as usual this year came on the red carpet, when eight actresses eschewed the usual Hollywood date etiquette to bring leading activists as part of the ongoing Time’s Up initiative. All were there to raise awareness of the sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination that women face in their respective fields.

Let’s be clear: It is not particularly revolutionary to put on an expensive frock and walk the red carpet to be subjected to interviews about your nail colour and dress. By 2015, Hollywood actresses were already calling out the usual sexist questions from entertainment anchors.

Still, there was something magical about watching Hollywood A-listers gently but firmly insist on giving up their red carpet air time—to the displeasure and confusion of various E! News hosts—to migrant rights advocates and anti-domestic violence activists alike. Despite the fact that these activists make a difference to thousands of lives a year, the closest most advocates might come to Hollywood would be as the subject of a biopic. In the spirit of passing the mic, we profile these campaigners and organisers—and not their celebrity dates—below.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC

Afro-Latinx community organizer Rosa Clemente and Susan Sarandon

In 2008, Rosa Clemete ran for Vice President on the Green Party ticket with presidential hopeful Cynthia McKinney. The pair lost to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but not before making history as America’s first all-women of colour presidential ticket.

Clemente credits the black and Latino student movement for educating her on racial oppression and setting her on the path to becoming an Africana Studies scholar and community organizer who has most recently been raising awareness on behalf of Puerto Rican residents who still lack clean water, post-Hurricane Maria.

“You don’t wake up one day, go to a protest and [suddenly become] an organizer. You’re an activist and an advocate,” Clemente told the Cornell Sun in 2017. “To be an organizer requires immense dedication, scholarship, activism, intellectualism… That sense of family and relationship building and even the idea of radical love is what is desperately needed in this time.”

The South Bronx-born organizer told Access Hollywood that she was at the Golden Globes to “let people know that to this day half of the people on this island are without power and 90 percent don’t have access to clean water… This is 3.5 million American citizens that this government has neglected, and this is almost 110 days after Hurricane Maria has hit.”

Photo by Steve Granitz

#MeToo founder Tarana Burke and Michelle Williams

In 2006, Philly activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement as part of a campaign to empower and support young women of colour who were survivors of sexual assault, rape, and abuse. “My work started in support of black and brown girls in the community in Alabama,” she told Yes magazine of setting up her nonprofit Just Be Inc. and its Me Too campaign. “And it grew to be about supporting black and brown women and girls across the country. And beyond that it grew to be about supporting marginalized people in marginalized communities.”

She was later credited by Alyssa Milano as the source for the actress’ viral tweet: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Twenty-four hours later, there were over 12 million responses and posts about #MeToo online.

“It's deeply humbling,” Burke told E! News on the red carpet on Sunday. “This is something I started out of necessity and something that I thought my community needed and it's grown over the years, but I never could've envisioned it growing like this.”

Burke continues to run Just Be Inc., and is also senior director at Girls for Gender Equity.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC

Domestic Workers United founder Ai-jen Poo and Meryl Streep

When Ai-jen Poo was at Columbia, she was dismayed that the university didn’t have a department for ethnic studies—so she and a coalition of students of colour went on hunger strike and occupied the library. Three years later, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race opened as a direct result of Poo and her fellow students’ efforts.

Poo has spent the last few decades organizing immigrant female workers as the founder of Domestic Workers United, a New York-based organization that was instrumental in the state legislature passing the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees domestic workers, nannies, and cleaners rights like overtime pay and protection from discrimination.

Poo went on to receive the 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant for her work, and was praised by the committee for creating a “vibrant, worker-led labor movement” and a “compelling vision of the value of home-based care work”.

“I’m honored to attend the Golden Globes representing the 2.5 million nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers that care for our families and homes,” she said in a statement. “Domestic workers, as some of the most at-risk and invisible workers in the nation, want to send a clear message: from the casting room to the kitchen, all women deserve dignity and safety where they work.”

Photo by Steve Granitz

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas co-founder Mónica Ramírez and Laura Dern

As the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, Mónica Ramírez was raised by her family to care deeply about her identity and heritage. “My parents raised me and my siblings to be proud of our Latino culture,” she told Huffington Post in 2017. “They taught us about social justice issues, including issues affecting migrant farmworkers, and they stressed the importance of giving back to our community.”

While on a postgraduate fellowship, she funded the country’s first legal project aiming to support migrant farmworker women on issues like workplace discrimination and harassment. With help from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Ramírez was able to turn her project into a national campaign, Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Legal Initiative, which hopes to eradicate sexual harassment of all immigrant women in low-wage jobs. Ramírez is also the deputy director for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and the co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization for farmworker women that recently signed a letter of support standing with Hollywood women on sexual harassment.

Ramírez told E! News on the Golden Globes red carpet: “Farmworker women pick, pack and plant the food that we eat and have a long history of combating workplace sexual violence. When we learned about what was happening in Hollywood our members felt very strongly that they wanted to send a message to the women in this industry and all women who are experiencing sexual violence in the workplace that they are not alone.”

“Part of our work as an organization is to fight gender equality along all lines… So that every person's voice will be valued and every person will have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Photo by Paul Archuleta

Indigenous rights activist Calina Lawrence and Shailene Woodley

Squamish Tribe member Calina Lawrence was raised in the Pacific Northwest and was one of the 15,000 protesters at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota, where she delivered winter clothes and equipment on behalf of her fellow students at the University of San Francisco. There, the musician also lent her voice to the prayers and songs performed by indigenous rights activists to protect the land and ward off the construction of the hated pipeline.

“Pipelines do break,” Lawrence told her university on her return from Standing Rock. “It’s not if—it’s when. Standing Rock and other Native nations who are fighting Big Oil have no choice but to stand up and fight to protect their water.”

Describing herself as an art-ivist on her website, Lawrence has travelled the country to advocate for Native treaty rights and to raise awareness of Standing Rock and the #NoLNG253 campaign led by the Puyallup Tribe to stop the construction of a Liquid Natural Gas plant in their local area.

Lawrence said that she was on the red carpet to highlight the epidemic of violence against indigenous women in the US. She told LA Times reporter Jen Yamato at the Golden Globes: “It’s an honor to stand as a representative for missing and murdered indigenous women in solidarity with the women who are empowering the #TimesUp movement and beyond.”

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC

Imkaan executive director Marai Larasi and Emma Watson

Black feminist organization Imkaan was founded almost two decades ago to address the problem of violence against women and girls of color, and is the only organization of its kind in the UK. Larasi has over 23 years of experience in the fight to end gendered violence. “BME [black and ethnic minority] women have always been central to my practice,” she told UN Women in December. “Even before I had the language to describe ‘intersectionality’, I somehow understood that the journeys of BME women and girls were being shaped by exclusion and marginalization in different ways to our counterparts.”

“If we are to end violence against women and girls, and create a truly equal world, we need to start to create seismic shifts across our social norms. This is not just about transforming belief systems and behaviours in terms of gender; it also means addressing other norms – for example, around ethnicity, class and disability – all of which contribute to holding other oppressive systems in place.”

On the red carpet, she credited women in Hollywood for speaking out and changing the conversation around sexual harassment and abuse. “There is a wall of silence around violence against women and girls and every time somebody speaks out, it just creates a bit of a crack in that wall.”

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United co-founder Saru Jayaraman and Amy Poehler

When Saru Jayaraman was a high school student, a teacher told her that she and her Latino classmates should consider themselves lucky if they ended up pregnant or in community college. Instead, Jayaraman got into Harvard at the age of 16. (She ended up going to UCLA to live near her parents, and attended Yale Law School afterwards.)

One of Jayaraman’s first jobs was supporting restaurant workers who had been employed at a World Trade Center restaurant that was destroyed in 9/11; their former employers were refusing to give them jobs at their new eatery. Jayaraman forced the company to do a U-turn when she organized ex-workers to protest its new restaurant’s opening. It prompted her to create Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization that advocates for the rights of low-paid staff in the food and beverage business. In 2017, Bloomsberg described Jayaraman as an “alt-labor leader,” with her group’s tactics of “blending lawsuits, demonstrations, and media stunts” winning big settlements and concessions from the industry.

She is also the author of two books, The New Urban Immigrant Workforce and Behind the Kitchen Door: The People Who Make and Serve Your Food, which exposed the sexist and racist abuse and harassment faced by people in the restaurant business.

“It’s a majority female workforce having to live on customer tips to feed their families,” Jayaraman told ELLE at the Golden Globes. “You can get rid of that by providing these workers with an actual wage. California requires that, six other states require it, and they have half the rate of harassment of the rest of the country. So just get rid of that lower wage for tipped workers, make restaurants pay workers a full minimum wage, and you can cut harassment in half.”

Photo by George Pimentel

Equal pay and LGBT rights advocate Billie Jean King and Emma Stone

When multiple Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King took on self-declared “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs in their infamous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tennis match, she beat him 6-3, 6-3 in front of a sellout crowd and 50 million people watching on TV. That wasn’t the only thing she did in 1973 to take on the men in her sport. That year, she became the founding president of the Women's Tennis Association and threatened a boycott of the US Open unless the US Lawn Tennis Association paid male and female players equally. The governing body was finally embarrassed into paying $25,000 to both winners after King herself found a sponsor to make up the difference.

King went on to found the Billie Jean King Initiative to encourage equal pay across all industries and to advocate for a more diverse and inclusive workforce. "Tennis is a platform," King said in 2009, when Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. "And I fight for everybody."

She was on the red carpet with Emma Stone, who plays her in the biopic Battle of the Sexes. “I think it’s one step at a time. Every generation has to fight for equality and it’s now Emma’s turn with her generation,” King said. “And it’s great to be here tonight wearing black. We really have to — it’s gotta stop, it’s gotta stop now. And we have to help each other and it’s everybody, all genders together.”