Image Source: Getty / Kevin Winter
Michelle Obama delivered the keynote speech at the “When We All Vote” conference. Summit Culture Democracy June 13, delivering a poignant speech emphasizing the need for federal and individual action to protect and expand voting rights in America.
She began her speech by acknowledging the grief that has defined the past few weeks, citing recent shootings in Uvalda, Buffalo, Tulsa, Philadelphia, her hometown of Chicago and “too many other communities coping with similar tragedies,” she said. . But the conversations sparked by those shootings, she says, are a reminder that “it’s important for all of us to remember that it’s not just about who you vote for. because right now, as we look around at everything that’s going on when it comes to voting and our democracy, it’s clear that we’re seeing a profound disparity between what we tell ourselves about this country and what we can see with our own eyes,” she continued.
She went on to refer to the recent voting rights restrictions currently in place across America. “Last year alone, 19 states passed voting restriction bills. That’s 87 million people who may find it harder to vote than just a couple of years ago,” she said.
“This is not a partisan problem. This is an American problem. And anyone who says otherwise is trying to silence you about the threats we face.”
She went on to emphasize the fact that decisions made in elections affect us all. “That’s the most insidious thing we tell ourselves – that this won’t happen to me,” she said. “We tell ourselves that even despite the uprising, the presidential election was still confirmed… We tell ourselves that our grocery stores will not be fired upon by the white supremacist. That our children will be safe in school… That the strong men might take over the world, but not here. [Sure]The sea level is rising, but I don’t even live on the beach, she said. “We’re fooling around because just these last couple of months have proven that there’s no guarantee they’re one of us.”
Recognizing the exhaustion and helplessness that can come with dealing with these problems and dealing with the chaos of American democracy in general, she stressed the need for collective action and strategic radical change. “We need a remix. We need a strategy,” she said, referring to new voter identification lawsreduces the time for early voting, redrawn residential areas, and other voting hurdles recently adopted across America. All of these restrictions, she said, were made possible by one Supreme Court case “which was decided by one judge.” She was referring to the 2013 court decision that shot down a key tenet of the Voting Rights Act of 1954 that protected voters from discrimination for decades, opening the door to nationwide voter suppression.
All this, she said, should mobilize every citizen to pay attention and take action. “No one has the luxury of sitting out or staying at home just because you’re not excited enough,” she said. “If you don’t vote, others will.” She then urged voters not to give in to anger or hopelessness, but instead to make participation in democratic processes a part of everyday life, using whatever community, audience and media they have access to. “This is not a partisan issue. This is an American problem,” she said. “And anyone who says otherwise is trying to silence you about the threats we face.”
She then urged Congress to take concrete action to protect voting rights, such as passing a law that would allow voters to register on Election Day; it would automatically enroll 18 year olds to vote; to legitimize statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico; and it will get rid of filibuster is a loophole in the Senate that, once passed, requires a 60 percent majority to pass legislation.
Finally, she called on everyone and everyone to think about how they can fight for democracy, calling young people to action in particular. “We see how you can make a video on your mobile phone and change the world,” she said. “You’d better believe you already have the tools to change the way people think about our democracy.”
When We All Vote is an organization dedicated to encouraging people of all races, classes, and age groups to vote. Among other things, the organization works to register voters, build an educated electorate, and encourage voters to take massive action in their communities. It is led by an all-star board of co-chairs, including Selena Gomez, who delivered the Obama speech. The board also includes Lisa Koshy, Shonda Rhimes, Megan Rapinoe, Tracy Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington and Rita Wilson, who joined co-chairs Tom Hanks, Faith Hill, Janelle Monáe, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Chris Paul in 2022.
The summit, which ran from June 10 to 13, welcomed Lakers icon Magic Johnson and spoke with Gomez, Monáe, Ross, Wanda Sykes, and more. The discussions covered everything from the history of voting rights in the United States to the current status of Rowe W. Wade.
Obama founded When We All Vote in 2018. Since then, When We All Vote has helped hundreds of thousands of people start or complete the voting process. He has also taken initiatives such as Vote loudthat encourages youth to vote; My School Votes, which helps create voter registration clubs in high schools across the country; and Civic Cities, which provides city leaders across the country with resources to encourage and mobilize their communities to vote. The organization also encourages and helps voters hold their elected officials accountable, among other important efforts.