Jess Phoenix, John Billingsley attend "Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix" Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Jess Phoenix, John Billingsley attend “Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix” Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Jess Phoenix is running as a Democrat for Congress in California’s CA-25 district, which covers parts of northern Los Angeles County and Ventura County. Phoenix has three other Democratic opponents, Bryan Caforio, Katie Hill and Mary Gallant. All want to unseat Republican incumbent Steve Knight.

There are several differences between Phoenix and the other candidates. For one, Phoenix is an actual climate scientist. For another, her fundraising events tend to be populated by fan-favorite celebrities.

At one such gathering, Phoenix and some of her supporters talked with Assignment X about why they think it’s important to have people who understand science in the U.S. government.

Phoenix explains, “I decided to run for Congress because I saw that science was under assault from the incoming Trump administration, and also from the Republicans who were pretty much anti-fact, and pushing things that were running counter to the accepted science that we have. So I’m prioritizing bringing evidence into our policy-making. So that means. any decisions that I make, I want to make sure that they’re based in fact, and they have truth behind them. And if we have new data, we change our positions.

“For me, some of the basic things are, obviously, making sure that we do gun reform. And that means not taking away everybody’s guns, but it means restricting the types of weapons that are available to average people, making sure that we have background checks universally, that we have fourteen-day waiting periods nationwide. Specifically, the weapons that I really want to make sure we restrict a bit are center-fire, semiautomatic rifles, and I want to make sure that we’re regulating so that magazines over six for rifles and ten for handguns are not available to the public. I also really want to make sure that, in addition to that, we’re funding the CDC to study gun violence and the causes and solutions, and we make sure that we get healthcare for every American. That is so fundamental to me. Healthcare is a right, and that’s because in our society, we can’t have people producing, and adding to the economy, and taking care of their families, unless we have comprehensive healthcare for everybody. So that’s a big priority, too.

Felicia Day attends "Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix" Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Felicia Day attends “Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix” Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

“At this point, Steve Knight is trying to ignore everyone else in the race, and he’s the incumbent, so he thinks he can ride it out on name recognition, which he gets from his father. His dad was a state legislator. So I’m trying to let people know what his voting record really is, and since it’s ninety-eight percent with Donald Trump, in a district that voted for Hillary by seven percent, I’m just working very hard on showing people that Knight doesn’t deserve to keep that seat.”

How did Phoenix get the array of support she’s receiving? “I think the message of bringing evidence-based policy-making to government really resonated with people. I put out there what I believe and what I want to do, largely on Twitter and Facebook, and those things travel. If someone likes your ideas, they get to share it and spread, and these folks said, ‘This clicks with me.” And then they said, “Yeah, we’ll come.” I said, “Would you want to come to an event?’And they said, ‘Of course.’ The thing is, we’re all connected. Everybody’s connected around the country in some way. And we all share more in common than we have that divides us. From me, you will get reasoning and decision-making that is transparent, that is open, and I’m not taking any corporate money, and my average donation from my contributors is about forty dollars. So I’m not beholden to anybody other than the people I’m trying to represent. So people come to me, and if you’ve donated five bucks, you’ll get as much time as somebody who donates the maximum. And that’s how I always want to be, is accountable to regular people. A lot of people who are celebrities now, they’re regular people, too. They’ve worked their way up, so they get it, they get everyday stuff.”

Wil and Anne Wheaton attend "Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix" Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Wil and Anne Wheaton attend “Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix” Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Actor/writer Wil Wheaton (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, THE BIG BANG THEORY, creator of the TABLETOP series) says that he’s been political for all his life. “Number one, we [Democrats] need to retake the House, and we need to push out really terrible Trump Republicans, who are out of step not just with the voters of America, but they’re massively out of step with their districts. Jess, specifically, is incredibly smart, she’s young, she’s passionate, she’s right on every issue from gun violence to the rights of immigrants to LGBTQ equality and rights, and I’m really proud to support her.”

Wheaton has a multitude of online followers, many of whom share his political leanings. As he relates, “People who are fans of STAR TREK or fans of science fiction in general tend to be progressive. We tend to have gravitated toward science fiction because we appreciate the ideals and we appreciate the warnings that science fiction gives us. I’m really lucky to have an incredibly diverse fan base that comes from everything as diverse as THE BIG BANG THEORY and STAR TREK and TABLETOP and the books that I’ve written. I think we tend to attract what we put out into the world. I’m a real progressive, proud leftist, and I tend to attract that back to me.”

Jess Phoenix attends "Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix" Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Jess Phoenix attends “Ignite for Science with Jess Phoenix” Political Fund Raiser at the IgnitedSpaces Penthouse, Hollywood, CA on March 26, 2018 | Photo Courtesy and ©2018 Eugene Powers

Actor John Billingsley (STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE, INTELLIGENCE, 2012, MASTERS OF SEX, TRUE BLOOD) says, “I support Jess Phoenix because I support scientists running for office in an age when empiricism is scoffed at, when expertise is ridiculed, and when science is kicked to the curb. She is a volcanologist, she is a geologist, she is a college professor, and she speaks extraordinarily knowledgeably about climate change, and the threat to our world, and to our environment.”

Billingsley was one of Phoenix’s earliest supporters. “I got involved with Jess’s campaign almost a year ago. I encouraged her to make contacts within the STAR TREK and sci-fi community, thinking that that would be a natural base for her. So she accompanied me to a STAR TREK convention in Las Vegas, and to another in San Francisco, where I had the pleasure of introducing her to a lot of the STAR TREK celebs, and we then went on to make a couple of promotional videos with Bob Picardo and Tim Russ. I feel as if I know everybody at this event, including most of the catering staff, who are volunteers through PUSH [the progressive organization People Unwilling to Sit on their Haunches].”

THE BIG BANG THEORY co-creator Bill Prady reveals that he bonded with Phoenix over STAR TREK. “Jess called me one day and said, introduced herself and was looking for support for her candidacy, and then we just talked about STAR TREK. And then we talked about STAR TREK for awhile, and I said, ‘I think I’ll support you.’ I happen to know other people who are intense STAR TREK fans. Congressman Brad Sherman is a deep, deep STAR TREK fan. And so is President Obama. So I think it could be a mark of quality.”

Actor/writer Felicia Day (THE MAGICIANS, SUPERNATURAL, creator/star of THE GUILD) says of Phoenix, “I am really interested in her career, because she is a scientist, and she brings a lot of interesting viewpoints and a lot of education to the table. I love the fact that she looks like a superhero, and is very, very smart. She is who I’d love to be if I wanted to be a politician. So I’m very, very supportive of her, and she also has an opponent [Knight] who I think is not good for the country, and so I would love for her to take his seat and make him unemployed.”

Day’s friend Elizabeth Shapiro, who created and starred in the Emmy-nominated History Channel series THE CROSSROADS OF HISTORY, relates, “I started out as a critic of Steve Knight. After the 2016 election, I quickly looked at what else I could do. I canvassed for Hillary in 2016, but after this Republican sweep in November [2016], I looked for what else could I do to try to help get Democrats back in power, and I saw that there were a surprisingly number of Republican seats that were in California, which you normally think of as a very Democratic state. And so I looked at, well, who are the Congressional seats that are near L.A. that I could help do something to help with, and I started to read about Steve Knight’s record, and was really horrified, and then saw him voting lock-step with Trump with every appalling bill that was put forward, and I felt like, I really want to do what I can to help get him out. And then Felicia told me about Jess, and that she’s a scientist, and very progressive, and also, I think that we need more women in power. I really liked what I was hearing, so I wanted to do anything I could to help.”

Actor/producer David Arquette (the SCREAM franchise, EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, producer on COUGAR TOWN) says he’s only come to political activity recently. “The last eighteen months have really been shocking. It’s a different time. I really disapprove of the behavior that’s being done. It just seems super-corrupt, and rational behavior is out the window, and it just seems like a whole upside-down, backwards world. I met [Phoenix] through social media, she just seems like a wonderful person in general. I love that she’s a scientist. I think that we need more facts and real truths in our politics. I like everything she stands for – it’s right in line with what I believe in.”

Actor Chad L. Coleman (THE WIRE, THE WALKING DEAD, THE ORVILLE, THE EXPANSE) is for Phoenix because “She’s authentic. [The campaign] has a real grassroots feel to it that’s emblematic of being about the people, for the people, and I admire her bravery and her sense of, ‘Damn it, somebody had to do it’.”

One of the appeals of Phoenix is her emphasis on facts. Prady believes that writers like himself may be more sensitive to falsehoods when they are presented as facts on the news. “I’m in the business where we lie for a living. We tell stories about people who don’t exist, and pretend that they do. When you do that, you look for consistency in the story, and you try to create a believable world. And so we might be attuned to storytelling that’s being used for evil instead of for good, and people creating narratives that are counter to reality. I think one of the exciting things about Jess is that she comes to this from a fact-based place. Even if she and I were to disagree about policy, we would be disagreeing based on the same set of facts. And that’s a valid discussion, and a valid argument, and a valid conversation. I think one of the things that’s happened in America is, we’re no longer having a valid conversation, because we didn’t start from the same place.”

Asked whether he feels it’s incumbent on him as an artist to be politically involved, Billingsley replies, “I don’t think it’s incumbent on me as an artist, I think it’s incumbent on me as a sentient human being, in an age when, unfortunately, more and more people have turned away from democracy and turned towards authoritarianism. I think it’s every citizen’s responsibility to up their game. I kind of view it like a tug of war. Right now, we’re losing, and that means put your hands on the goddamn rope. That doesn’t mean it has to be all day, every day. Everybody gets to take a break, and I don’t believe that one side ever wins, but we need more hands on the rope.”

Wheaton’s response is, “I think that there are people who are engaged and interested and connected to the politics that make so many decisions for what we can do in our country, and how we are perceived around the world, and whether or not America is going to be a leader or a third-world nation in our government. It doesn’t matter what your job is – anyone can be politically involved. What is fortunate for someone who is as passionate as I am is, my job puts me in a place where I occasionally get to have a voice that’s amplified a little bit. And I want to use that responsibly and use it as passionately as I can.”

For Day, “I think it’s really important. As you can see, at the last election, only something like thirty-two or thirty-six percent of the people turned out to vote, because I think they thought, ‘Oh, all politicians are the same,’ and obviously, you can see from the last eighteen months that all politicians are definitely not the same, and that your day to day lives will be affected and can be affected very drastically by political policy. And if you have things that you want to protect, you want to protect your family, you want to protect the environment, you want to support science as the basis of practice and theory, and the way that we run the government, you have to turn out and support those people. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of apathy in the last decade, and a lot of people who have seats in politics are very radical and I don’t think represent mainstream America. I think the worst thing you can do is feel helpless, or back off and let other people run your life, because that’s what you’re doing when you allow other people to vote candidates in who don’t align with your beliefs.”

Coleman opines, “I think that a certain person has pricked and poked us all to a point where we know that we can’t be passive, that you’ve got to be active, and you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in, you can’t just silently go about your day, being who you know you are. It’s crucial that you say who you are, and you show up for people like Jess, who really want real change.” Coleman is also active with the Working Families Party. “I got involved in them back in Brooklyn. These are the people who believe in what I consider the fabric of America, the working class. And they’re very instrumental in backing people like Jess.”

“I think it’s incumbent upon every American to participate in the political system,” Prady states. “If you read the writings of the Founding Fathers, over and over again, they reinforce the notion that democracy is a participation sport. This doesn’t work if you give up your voice to other people – because you’re uninformed, because you’re lazy, for whatever reason. So I think it’s incumbent on everybody to participate in the process, to learn, and to vote.”

Billingsley adds that people can contribute in other ways. “I don’t think you have to be political to serve. I started a group called PUSH, which is People Unwilling to Sit on their Haunches, and the idea behind PUSH is that there are lots of ways that people can do wonderful, progressive things in their community. I work for a food kitchen. We serve two hundred to two hundred and fifty people a day. I try and rescue food from studio shoots. You can work with an environmental organization, you can tutor people, you can work with people who are developmentally disabled. I think finding your volunteer bliss is an important way to feel like you’re part of a solution to a problem. And the problem is apathy and ignorance and absence of a sense of community spirit, as much as it is absence of involvement in overt politicking.”

In conclusion, Billingsley observes, “It’s an occasion for Jess, so I would like to say that I think those people who are in her district who might be hearing this, obviously, the goal is, get out and vote, get your friends out to vote. She is a wonderful candidate. There are three Democrats running in June. She may be running third, but it’s a close, tight race, and I think if you are a progressive, she is the most progressive of the three people running. If you’re hearing this and you don’t have the ability to support her on the ground, a donation is always welcome, and if that isn’t within your means, consider spreading the word via social media. Follow her online, follow her on Twitter, help build her base. Because even if she loses this election, my interest is in seeing if we can help establish another national voice, an intelligent voice, who can speak out about the issues that are of vital importance to us – our ecology, and the fact that the world is in grave danger because of ignorance and science denial.”

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Article: Jess Phoenix event – Exclusive Interviews


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