Although they met 10 years ago, it was a more recent vacation at a mutual friend’s home that rekindled entrepreneur and former Rachel Zoe vice president Mandana Dayani and Will & Grace actress Debra Messing’s friendship.
“It was love at second sight! We quickly realized how much we have in common and have spent way too much time together since,” Dayani says.
But since then Dayani and Messing have done a lot more than enjoy animal memes (an obession the two share that is always good for a laugh) — they work together on Dayani’s “I am a voter” project (a public awareness campaign that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement), and, in May, started a podcast called “The Dissenters,”, which focuses on everyday heroes who have found a way to create real change in the world around them. The first season’s 20 guests run the gamut from Hillary Clinton and Adam Schiff to Shannon Watts, a stay-at-home mom who took on the National Rifle Association, and Amanda Nguyen a former Harvard student who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to craft and pass the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act.
“We wanted to learn about the people that inspired our own journeys, and through that exploration, we organically came to the inevitable dream of wanting to meet and honor them,” Dayani says of starting the podcast. “We are the megafans of these heroes. And we are telling these stories through that lens — as vulnerable, grateful, geeky, starstruck hosts.”
While some of the Dissenters — the title was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s famous “I dissent” slogan — already possess some social power, Dayani says the goal is to focus on those like recent Bay Area transplant Shannon Watts, who became fed up with gun violence and started Moms Demand Action, taking on the NRA from her living room.
“Shannon is one of our biggest heroes who has inspired most of our own activism. She is the ultimate example of anyone can do anything they believe in,” Dayani says. “She recently wrote a book called Fight Like a Mother, which is an incredible resource for anyone who wants to get off the sidelines and pursue their passion.”
Dayani calls herself and Messing “accidental activists” and sees that quality in many of their guests. “Almost all of the Dissenters we interviewed had no intention of becoming a hero or building a foundation. They started because they experienced an injustice and they took an action,” she says.
According to Dayani, one of the program’s most important quotes, one that really set the tone for the show, came in the first episode during a discussion with Glennon Doyle, a bestselling author and creator of Together Rising, an all-women-led nonprofit organization supporting women, families and children in crisis. “Activism is not something we turn over to a group of people. The most important activism happens at the bus stop, at the dinner table, on the phone with your mom,” Doyle said. “That’s the stuff that changes the fabric of the country.”
A second season of “The Dissenters” is already being planned and the hosts are looking for potential guests and encouraging suggestions on the show’s Instagram account @thedissenters. Have your say! Learn more about “I am a voter”.