Sarah Silverman Shares How Her Mom Inspired Her Political Activism

Sarah Silverman has never been shy about tackling politically charged issues in her comedy. Here, she shares how her mother’s lifelong activism has inspired her own.

Sarah Silverman
Photo: Sergiy Barchuk

My mom, Beth Ann, wasn’t a big jewelry person. I think she owned only one pair of earrings. But she did have an entire jewelry box overflowing with political pins. When she passed away in 2015, her pin collection was the one thing I really wanted to keep.

Growing up in New Hampshire in the ’70s, I was automatically involved in the political process because that’s where all the candidates go first to campaign. They would come to our town, Bedford, and stay on locals’ couches to show that, yes, they’re real people too. Both my parents were always active, outspoken citizens. They’d let campaign volunteers sleep over and then we’d all go together to listen to the candidates speak.

When my mom was pregnant with me, she was a photographer for George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. She kept hundreds of pins from that time. Throughout the years, she would pick up pins at practically every rally she went to, from JFK’s 1960 run for the presidency to women’s-movement marches to Hillary Clinton’s recent campaigns.

She wasn’t trying to force a message on other people—it was just her way of expressing herself. She loved a particular bright orange pin that said “Uppity Women Unite.” I always thought there was something so badass about it. And during the AIDS crisis, she would wear “I’m Straight But Not Narrow.”

Her “Question Authority” pin was the one she probably put on the most, either on her overalls or her jacket. It’s a message that has always resonated with me because it’s something I do all the time. My mom taught me the importance of having a voice, but she also taught me to listen to other people’s opinions. I try to do what I can to create change and not just when my own rights are being infringed on.

It’s crazy how much I’ve become like her. She would get so wound up about politics. The last few years before she died she would watch the news and The Rachel Maddow Show all the time. I would tell her, “Mom, sometimes you need to change the channel and watch Bones or something. Clear the palate! Otherwise, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack.” Now I’m the same exact way.

When you’re younger, it’s easy to roll your eyes and be like, “Mom!” but I’m so proud to wear her pins today. They’ve helped me understand her in a lot of new ways. I have her “Keep Your Laws Off My Body” pin on my backpack right now. It’s from 1972, but it’s never been more relevant.

Silverman’s comedy special, A Speck of Dust, premieres May 30 on Netflix. For more stories like this, pick up InStyle's June issue on newsstands and available for digital download May 12th.

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