In an intimate interview for Harper’s Bazaar with award-winning writer and producer Shonda Rhimes, former First Lady Michelle Obama explained the importance of voting and how people can make an impact in their communities.
The 56-year-old activist acknowledged today’s political and social climate, pointing out the overwhelming current events, including the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to record-breaking unemployment rates since the Great Depression, and the recent killings of Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. The deaths led to resurgence in a movement for racial and social justice and equality. Obama said she understands people are confused, scared and angry.
The Former First lady said the events have “pulled the curtain back” on political and social issues, adding that she still has hope, particularly in the younger generation.
“I think a lot about the younger generation growing up right now, about how they’re seeing just how fragile even the best-laid plans can be,” Obama told Rhimes. “In this tumultuous period, they’ve been learning something that often took previous generations years, or decades, to understand: that life can be unfair. It can be unjust and more than anything is always uncertain. But if you live by foundational truths—like honesty, compassion, decency—and if you channel your frustration into our democracy with your vote and your voice, you can find your true north even in times of crisis.”
Rhimes asked Obama what she would say to people who are hesitant to vote because they don’t think their vote makes a difference.
“You know, some folks don’t see the impact of their vote on their day-to-day lives—if the trains still run, the kids are still going to school, and they still have a job, what difference does one vote really make, right? When you get whole families thinking like that, whole communities, then you start to see how the impact multiplies. So every single person out there needs to ask themselves, do they trust the folks in charge to make the right call? Whether it’s school boards or statehouses or those in Washington—are my neighborhood’s interests being represented, or are they being ignored? They’re questions we should be asking every year, in every election, and at every level of government. Because when a crisis hits, there are no do-overs.”
When asked about why voting is so important, Obama said she likes to ask young people simple questions.
“Would you let your grandma decide what you wear on a night out to the club? Would you want her picking out the car you drive or the apartment you live in? Not many people want someone else making their decisions for them, especially when that person might not see the world the same way as they do,” she said. “That’s what happens when you don’t vote: You are giving away your power to someone else—someone who doesn’t see the world the same as you. You’re letting them make some really key decisions about the way you live. And the truth is, that’s exactly what some folks are hoping you’ll do. They’re hoping that you’ll stay home so that they can make these important decisions for you.”
Obama said she knows that some people are conflicted because they don’t fully support any one candidate. In those cases, you should still vote, she said.
“It’s great to feel inspired by candidates and the visions they put forth, but it is by no means a prerequisite to casting a ballot,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, someone is going to be making the decisions about how much money your schools get and how tax money is distributed. Voting gives you a say in those matters. It can also be your way of saying that you care about your community and the people in it, that you are going to keep showing up and making your voice heard, even when the candidates don’t set your heart on fire. Because if you wait for that to happen, you might be waiting a long time.”
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