On October 6, Congresswoman Jackie Speier and actor Patricia Arquette held an hour-and-a-half long conversation at the Burlingame Main Library. The Burlingame Library Foundation organized the event as the second entry in their speaker series. A general admission ticket to hear the two women speak cost $25, and VIP ticket holders paid an extra $100 to arrive 45 minutes early and speak with Speier and Arquette individually.
The conversation began with a discussion of Arquette’s childhood on a commune in Virginia and her career aspirations. When she graduated high school, Arquette could not decide whether she wanted to become an actor or a midwife. Although she was apprehensive of spending time and energy pursuing a career in acting that could never become successful, Arquette decided to follow her dream of being an actor because she knew she would regret abandoning that opportunity.
“Out of high school, I either wanted to be an actor or a midwife. But, more than being either, I want to be a brave person, and the bravest thing I could do was take one year of my life, try to become an actor, and commit to failing,” Arquette said. “Every time I got feedback, and, boy, did I get a lot of feedback, I took it not as a way of crushing me but instead I saw it as a way to improve and grow stronger.”
Arquette also explained the thought process behind her decision to use her speech time at the 2015 Academy Awards, where she won “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” for her performance in the movie Boyhood, to advocate for equal pay for women.
“I didn’t hire a publicist when I was nominated, and everyone told me that was stupid. But I won, and I guess it was meant to happen so I could get up on that stage and deliver that message. It threw ripples through Hollywood that made a lot of people uncomfortable,” Arquette said.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to politics. Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh had been confirmed earlier that day, and the controversy surrounding the confirmation was at the forefront of the two women’s conversation.
“There really wasn’t a fair, thorough investigation,” Arquette said. “There were other accusers and witnesses that were never interviewed. Really, the FBI’s hands were tied in this process, and that’s like a fake democracy. To the world, we put on this show as if we were giving accusers their due process. But we weren’t; we were denying them their due process, therefore denying American people our due process to be able to properly vet people for one of the most important positions in the whole nation. I think it is a horrific thing for justice. I don’t think [Kavanaugh] told the truth, and perjured himself, and it’s just absurd that we could have a sitting justice who lies under oath.”
After some time, Speier and Arquette began to take questions directly from the audience. A wide variety of questions were asked, with topics ranging from sexual assault to the development of new weapons to the Equal Rights Amendment. The women discussed one particular question about cyber warfare for an extended period of time. Speier expressed her concern that aging voting technology could easily be hacked, even asserting that hackers have the ability to change votes.
Several BHS students were in attendance. Senior Lilli Hirth came to the VIP reception to speak to Speier and Arquette directly, then stayed for the conversation. After becoming more interested in government and politics through her experience as the BHS delegate for California Girls State, she stressed that having honest, open discussions with government officials is very important because it reminds politicians that they are elected to help the people they represent.
“Honestly, I think that people just need to focus on the fact that the government is here for the people, and it’s here to represent the people, and at the end of the day it should be doing as much as it possibly can to help the people with whatever the people need help in,” Hirth said. “I think the fact that there is so much protesting should be a huge red flag to the government right now about what is going on, and they need to, as hard as it would be, ignore partisanship and just start working together for the people.”
The event ended with a passionate plea from Arquette and Speier to vote, a plea that was particularly directed towards young adults, who have the lowest voter turnout of any age group.
“Young people don’t vote, even when they have the right to vote. They have the lowest percentage of voting in any age group, and yet they have the most at stake, since it’s [their] future that’s going to be impacted by decisions made today. When we add a trillion dollars to the national debt, that’s easy for us to do because we’re not going to be around to have to pay it. [Young people] will be, and [they’re] not going to be able to put the resources in other things because [they’re] paying so much interest on the national debt,” Speier said. “Any student who is eligible to vote should do so.”