Actress Laura Dern says she feels “desperate” to try and better the world these days.
The Big Little Lies star, who is one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, works with several organizations that are trying to protect the environment and the rights of immigrants. “For me, there’s so much egregious undoing of hard-fought environmental laws that have been put into place to give us clear air, clean water and a clean environment,” she says of her determination to help. “These should be basic rights and they’re being stripped away.”
Dern, 51, supports the Natural Resources Defense Council in its efforts to create “active change you can see,” she says. “Like you can see that thousands of children were so severely ill from lead-tainted water in Flint, Michigan and the NRDC specifically fought to get the water pipes replaced.”
The organization has also worked with the EPA “to ban dangerous pesticides on our fruits and vegetables and seven different cancer-causing chemicals that were listed as artificial flavoring in food and drinks and won,” adds Dern, noting that the NRDC has 70 lawsuits in place with the current administration. “That’s why I try to put my energy in really supporting them because instead of feeling like you are making a difference in a day, you’re making a difference through law.”
For full coverage of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
Dern is also a strong supporter of groups like Kids in Need of Defense and Justice in Motion, which protects migrant rights across borders to help separated families find each other. “I know for myself with family members and friends who are fierce in their liberal politics and point of views as well as conservatives, all of them talked about their heartbreak when they saw these babies and young children standing in court without legal representatives with their families that were being detained separately and losing each other,” Dern says. “Not only being pulled away from each other but not being able to be reunited. That should not be a political issue.”
Reuniting these families and protecting their rights as immigrants “is God’s work,” the actress adds. “These families that are in terror deserve to find each other.”
As for how people can help, Dern believes it all starts on Nov. 6. “Our greatest voice is our vote in this country and it is making a difference,” she says. “And our other greatest opportunity is to become aware of the fight we care most deeply about. If you want to engage to protect our environment and the people in it, call your representative. Calling is the best way to get them to hear you and your voice actually matters. Have deep conversations with your friends and family because the planet and human beings should not be a part of an issue.”