Like most mothers and daughters, former California Sen. Barbara Boxer and documentarian Nicole Boxer haven't always agreed on everything. Gay marriage and fanny packs are just two examples that come up when I meet them at the Beverly Hills studio where they're recording their new weekly podcast, Fight Back. (To be clear, Barbara came around on marriage equality. Nicole, it seems, still has yet to change her mind on fanny packs.)
On Fight Back, which launches on March 29, the duo plan to give voice to people they see as fighting the "good fight" in the Trump era. Among their first guests: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with whom Sen. Boxer made history in 1992 when they became the first two women to represent a single state in Congress. (Norman Lear, who I spot leaving the studio as I arrive for my interview, is another.)
On the first episode of Fight Back, the Boxers tackle the absurdity of Rick Santorum's "sick" suggestion that teens learn CPR to help combat gun violence, compare the Vietnam War protests to March For Our Lives, and welcome Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock. And their banter — while exceptionally informed and politically aware — has the welcome echo of any great conversation you might have with your own mom. When we sit down to chat, the younger Boxer has just returned from DC, where she attended March For Our Lives, and the former Senator has just wrapped up a day of interviews for their show.
Read on for my conversation with the Boxer women — and give the debut of Fight Back a listen below. (Future episodes will be available every Thursday on PodcastOne and Apple Podcasts.)
POPSUGAR: What's fascinating, looking at this protest movement, is it's really lead by the youth. And I think a cool aspect of the podcast is that you two are a mother and daughter and coming at these issues from different generations and perspectives. Is that something you think is going to be a running theme?
Barbara Boxer: Oh, yes. As I say often, since the day Nicole could say "What?", we have been bantering.
Nicole Boxer: We have a fun story. I got divorced when I was, like, 30 [and] I moved in with my mom with my 4-year-old. And we spent 10 solid years sort of having another crack at our relationship and, certainly, discussing politics. Living with a United States senator: kind of a cool opportunity to knock around issues and things. I would always sort of try to drag her into my point of view. I give her a lot of credit, 'cause she often didn't want to, but she definitely heard what I had to say and it would be like, "Grumble, grumble, grumble." And then, the next day, I'd hear my own talking points . . .
BB: Oh! That's a bit of an exaggeration. Time to time, that'd happen.
NB: Sure, sure. Give her an example or two, mom.
BB: Gay marriage was one.
BB: Well, no. I was opposed to this one for only one reason, Nicole, and I thought you knew that. And that was because I was so afraid of fatalities on the road. But yes, the point is Nicole and I sometimes see things differently and sometimes argue it out and get frustrated. But at the end of the conversation, it's food for thought for each of us.
PS: Barbara, how do you keep moving forward — and what keeps you hopeful — even though under this administration we've kind of seen such a lack of progress?
BB: Well, that's a nice way to put it. I would put it this way: we've seen a president take a wrecking ball to every institution that we hold dear. For me, just because I'm not in the Senate doesn't mean I stopped loving my country or caring. Actually, the idea of doing a podcast was Nicole's. When I was approached about it, I basically put it off for a while, because I was getting my sea legs. I was in elected life for 40 years. Imagine. And then all of a sudden, I was not in elected life.
NB: I knew that it would be a wonderful transition, taking everything that my mom is good at and really broadening her audience, and her being able to cut loose a little bit more than she has when she was asking for everyone's votes every three years.
BB: Yes! Barbara Boxer, unplugged. Unfiltered. Somebody else said to me the other day, "Barbara Boxer, unhinged."
NB: No, not that!
BB: Unplugged is fine.
PS: What is it about the podcast medium that you are excited about? It is a newer, more interesting way to reach people.
NB: What I would say is we get to be ourselves. When I think podcast, I think authenticity. You don't have to pander to a certain audience. It's not like, "I'm on Fox," or, "I'm on MSNBC."
BB: And the people that are interested in coming on our show are so fantastic. People who — women who — have really just been the pioneers in the law, in politics, in health care. This gives us the chance to get these people who are in the fight to talk to us from the heart without being interrupted. We're going to have a few segments in the show, but [Nicole's] segment is going to dive into these amazing people — women and men — who are running in purple states.
NB: We're calling it the "Hot Race of the Week," and my hope is that we'll have mainly women and women challengers. It's possible that, for the first time, we'll see a freshman incoming Congressional class that's a majority women. It really could be 30 women out of 40, and I just keep thinking of Barbara's first photo on the Capitol steps. There were maybe three women and all these men in suits — majority white men.
PS: How would you have felt to kind of get that glimpse into the future and see those possibilities when you were just starting out, Barbara?
BB: Well, when I was starting out, it was impossible for women. Seriously. I talk a lot about the women's movement from the 1,000-foot level. And it really started with the Suffragettes. They don't get enough credit. They were force-fed, arrested, treated like hell, spat upon, and all the rest. And they didn't give up. We got the right to vote just about 100 years ago. In terms of history, it's like yesterday . . . Now we see the #MeToo movement — and I'm skipping all the other moments in feminism, because we don't have enough time to get into it. But this very moment now, where women are saying, "You know what? We have a lot of laws that protect us, but we're not being protected." My view of it is women are sometimes too scared to speak up, too scared to speak out, even though the laws are there.
NB: Yeah, we need culture change. I think that's what the kids are synthesizing through their social media, through their instant posting. It's like, there's no time. Time is now, and it feels like we're harnessing that power and people are stepping right into it.
BB: And I think what these young people are finding out is that we really failed them. We didn't step up and pass the laws to protect them.
NB: Barbara — I just want to brag for a second —
BB: I said we, I didn't mean me!
NB: She did author the original Violence Against Women Act in the House, which became law, and just to update our audience, [Donald] Trump is trying to undo it and let it expire. So I want to give the women before us tremendous credit.
BB: Yeah, when I say we failed, I don't mean certain people in the Congress who have been there time after time after time. Dianne Feinstein — I mean, she's the one who got assault weapons banned for 10 years. And I asked her, "Are you sorry you put a sunset date on it?" And she said she had to in order to pass it. So that's a lesson that Nicole was alluding to.
BB: This is one area Nicole and I have had a lot of conversations. When she said, "Why did this come out this way?", I said, "Honey, because it's the best I could get." The problem is that the special interests rule the day out there. We talk about the NRA and that's obvious. People are scared to death. Trump said, in a meeting with his colleagues, turned to one of them: "You're afraid of the NRA!" he said to one of the Republicans there. "I'm not." Well, in 24 hours, he had backtracked [and] cut back every promise he made about guns.
NB: I tell you, what is happening right now, it's children begging for their lives. There's not a lot of gray area. It's not a debate.
BB: Yeah, exactly. If there was a little child in trouble, every one of us would save that child. We would risk our own safety if we saw a little child walking in the street. These are many children walking to school. And the least we can do is make it safe. But it goes on. The beat goes on. And I think what our show is going to focus on is every one of these battles. People need to get attention when they are doing what I call God's work.
NB: We want people to register to vote, to get involved in their democracy, to listen to people who know what's going on, and then get involved themselves. And not just to run for office, but to work for someone in politics or become an activist.
BB: And you just gave me another idea for a future show. It would be great to have some of my staffers who worked for me for a long time to get a sense of what it's really like for a career. Because a lot of young people listen to podcasts, and Nicole makes a really good point: not everybody is going to get out there and run. It's got a lot of pros, it has a lot of cons, I can tell you. [laughs] I still get trolled whenever I tweet something. I don't know if they're Russians or who the hell they are, but they're out there. And what I want to say to them, if they're listening: keep it up, because you make me feel relevant. At my age, I love it. You're coming after me still.
PS: What I found interesting, on the Emily's List panel you were on, Barbara, is some of the other women there were like, "Reach out! Talk to women on the far right." And you were kind of like, "Let's not waste our time. Some of these people are not going to change their minds." Speaking to how siloed we are, are we're going to get back to the point where we can have these conversations?
BB: Let me put out a radical, not really radical idea. If something is supported by 65, 70, 80, 90 percent of the people, why can't we talk to each other about —
NB: Gun reform.
BB: Take background checks: 90 percent support. Ban on assault weapons: 67 percent support. I mean, it's off the charts. I want to say to somebody — Republican, Democrat, middle, center, left, right — why don't we get together on things people want? I'll talk to someone who's a Trump supporter. If I had the opportunity, I'd reach out, put my hand on their shoulder, and say "Let's come together in peace. And let me tell you why I think this president is not good for the country."
NB: Would you listen to what they had to say?
BB: Absolutely, and I would refute every single thing
PS: What is the biggest challenge and the biggest reward of working together as a mother and daughter?
BB: Do you really want to know? [Laughter] Well, let me put it this way: it's a little bumpy getting started. She'd say to me, "Mom, let's get prepared." And I said, "I don't want to be prepared. Let's just do it! We'll just do it."
NB: I'm much more of a planner.
BB: We generally get to the reward place, but we do go through moments . . .
NB: I wish you would just get a new pair of shoes.
BB: Yeah, she makes a lot of wardrobe interventions, which I do not listen to. One day, Nicole came into the office with this beautiful purse. Beautiful, fancy purse. I said, "What is this?" It was something I would never, ever buy myself, and my assistant, Kelly, said, "This is a gift from the staff . . . and to be honest, Nicole's in on it too." She's the one who did it!
NB: We had to do a purse intervention.
BB: [Throws a black leather fanny pack on the table.]
PS: You know what? They're back in now.
BB: I never put it down. Everything old is new again. So, let's just leave it at that.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.