Celebrities Schooled in D.C. Statehood on Capitol Hill

Actress Hayden Panettiere was the first celebrity Strauss brought into the D.C. statehood movement. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Actress Hayden Panettiere was the first celebrity Strauss brought into the D.C. statehood movement. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 24, 2015 at 5:04pm

Celebrities walked the halls of the Capitol Friday to advocate for funding for arts in education, but they also received a lesson themselves: in District of Columbia statehood.  

Behind a sign marked “Senators Only” (which actor Haley Joel Osment was spotted taking a selfie with), the celebrities lunched in the Senate Dining Room with Paul Strauss, one of D.C.’s “shadow” senators. Strauss is an elected representative who advocates for D.C. statehood, and he hosted the movie and television stars for lunch between meetings. “They’re in my city,” Strauss told HOH. “It’s what a good host does. You feed ’em.”  

“I wanted to make sure they knew that when it came to arts funding, they would have my vote, assuming I had a vote,” Strauss said. He explained to the celebrities that the District’s 660,000 residents do not have a voting representative in Congress.  

“Like so many Americans, they’re shocked to learn of the political inequality,” Strauss said. “How do you explain to rational people that taxpaying American citizens who live in the capital of the United States are denied the equal rights they, as residents of California or New York or whatever states they’re from, have?”  

The lunch was also an effort to recruit the celebs to participate in Strauss’ “51 Stars” effort he launched in February 2014, which aims to create public service announcements with 51 celebrities (signifying that D.C. would become the 51st state) and raise awareness about D.C.’s political status.  

“We are hoping that some of the people you saw might be some of our 51 stars,” Strauss said, though he said none of the stars committed Friday to be part of the project. He said he was in “strategic discussions” about which celebrity would be the next “star.”  He is also looking into airing the PSAs in Iowa, to insert D.C. statehood into the presidential campaign discourse.  

So far, Strauss has recruited three celebrities to film PSAs, including Mario Van Peebles and Evan Handler from “Sex and the City” and Alexis Carra from “Mixology.” (The first celebrity Strauss connected with was actress Hayden Panettiere, who filmed a video in 2008 urging D.C. residents to contribute to the statehood fund.)  

“We think that they are a really effective way to get the message about D.C. statehood out,” Strauss said of courting the celebrity activists. “I mean there’s a reason why using well-known advocates works. It’s why leading charitable causes use it, other issues that benefit from it. And you know statehood’s a combination of celebrity activism, grassroots activists, community members from D.C. Everybody working together needs to make that happen.”  

The celebrities were whisked out of the Senate Dining Room to head to the White House. In addition to Osment, some of the celebs on hand included Jason Isaacs; Gabourey Sidibe, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Precious”; Darby Stranchfield of “Scandal”; Tim Daly of “Madam Secretary”; Michelle Trachtenberg; Troian Bellisario of “Pretty Little Liars”; and Naya Rivera of “Glee.”  

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