Michelle Obama

Voter Registration Rally - Sept. 28, 2018

Michelle Obama
September 28, 2018— Miami, Florida
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Well, I'm happy to be here. Are you all happy to be here? [cheers]

Let me let me start by thanking Gabi. Didn't she do a great job for that wonderful introduction? And I hope there are more Gabi's out there who are going to be voting for their first time, yes? [cheers] I love to hear that.

And we also have to thank the Miami Northwestern High School marching band! [cheers] I was getting my little groove on back there, too.

And I want to thank everyone from the University of Miami for hosting us here this afternoon [cheers].

I also want to recognize all of the artists and athletes who are here with us today. Keegan-Michael Key – that man has been working hard this week. My good friend Kelly Rowland and Erica Campbell. Angela Rye. We got Fat Joe in the house! Piper Perabo as well as Titus O'Neil. Thank you all so much.

I want to thank all of them for joining us here, as well as everyone else who's helping us out throughout the country on this effort. And most of all I want to thank all of you for joining us today.

Now as you all know, it's just a little over five weeks until Election Day and we're rounding out what has been a wonderful week of action for when we all vote, and I couldn't be more thrilled about everything that's been happening across this country this week. We've had more than 2,000 grassroots events in everywhere from Honolulu to Boise to right here in Miami. So we've been everywhere. [cheers]

The rideshare company Lyft has helped to register thousands of riders and drivers, so they've been amazing. In my home state of Illinois, volunteers [cheers] – we've got Illinois in the house, alright! – we've had volunteers from Bradley University who held a registration event at a naturalization ceremony where they helped some of the country's newest citizens get ready to vote.

We even heard about a 72-year-old Texan who registered for the very first time. Isn't that amazing? In 72 years he has never voted. And he was so proud that he asked for two stickers.

So those are the kind of stories that we're hearing across the country, and I'm so grateful to thousands of organizers, all of my co-chairs who've made this week such a success. Everyone who has hosted a house party or stood outside on the corner in the rain, everyone who helped us get the message out that voting matters – not just in this election but in every election. [cheers]

And as you guys know I kicked off the week in Las Vegas, where I once again reminded folks that voting is a fundamental right. It is the only way in our democracy to have a say in the issues we care about. Essentially, it's our stake in our children's future. And I said that over the past decade, in election after election, I've been saying the same thing.

Now maybe some folks assumed I was only out there because my husband was on the ballot so I had some skin in the game. [cheers] But here's the thing – my husband is no longer on the ballot and neither am I, and I'm still here. [cheers]

And I am NOT here to tell anyone who to vote for. I'm not stumping for any one candidate. To be completely honest…[cheers]…to be completely honest, I am here because it feels like we are locked in a dangerous cycle when it comes to voting in this country, a cycle that goes something like this: we tune out of politics, frustrated that it doesn't reflect our values. Then election season comes along and millions of dollars are spent bombarding us with political ads telling us why this particular race is so important and how this particular candidate has all the answers we've been looking for. Then a bunch of athletes and celebrities and famous people like me travel all across the country telling everyone how crucial it is to get registered and to vote. And after all that effort, money, time and energy, for a whole host of reasons some say they're too busy, some too cynical, some too disconnected – whatever the reason, only a fraction of the population actually bothers to vote. Then time passes and sooner or later we're right back where we started, with folks tuned out, frustrated that our politics don't reflect our values, and we repeat that cycle again and again and again. So is there any wonder why we're so frustrated and tuned out of our politics?

When a huge chunk of the population sits out of the process, why are we surprised when our politics don't reflect our values? In the 2008 election, Americans cast more votes than ever before. But even when we set a new record for voting, more than 80 million people still didn't vote. That's 80 million people. Those are real numbers.

In midterm elections like the one coming up in November, the numbers are even worse. Only about 40% of people vote. In fact, in the last midterm election in 2014 we saw the lowest percentage of Americans turn out since World War II. It was all the way down to below 37 percent.

So let's think about what those numbers mean in practice. If a candidate gets elected with less than a 37-percent turnout rate and we assume their opponents get some of those votes, then that means the percentage of people who actually voted for that candidate is even smaller. So if you're an elected official who wins on those margins, who are you looking out for once you're in office? Who are you listening to when it comes time to make hard decisions? If a storm hits and the lights go out, which neighborhood are you going to make sure gets its power back on first? [cheers]

Now we could take our chances and hope that every elected official will look out for everyone the same, whether they voted or not. But as a citizen wouldn't you want to be absolutely positive that the folks elected to make those decisions about our daily lives – decisions that range from whether or not the trash is picked up on time to when we send our troops to war, how victims of sexual assault are treated [cheers] – wouldn't you want to be sure that those elected officials were thinking about all of us, not just some small percentage of us when they're making those decisions?

Well here's the truth – voting is the only way to ensure that your concerns matter. Period. [cheers]

And I know we all care about this stuff, right? Y'all wouldn't be here. We all care about what's happening on so many issues, right? And I also know that it can feel too overwhelming at times. People are struggling just to get through each day in one piece. They feel like they don't have time to keep up with all the issues and the candidates' points of view. And it's hard to see how what happens in the state House or the halls of Congress is really relevant to what's going on in our daily lives. So I can see how folks think their votes don't make a difference.

I know folks are frustrated that there isn't more progress on the things that affect our daily lives. Or worse yet, I know some folks think the whole system is rigged, so why bother at all?

So Miami – I get it, you know. I get being busy and I definitely get feeling frustrated. As I said at the beginning this week, I am frustrated, too. I am tired of the daily chaos, the pettiness, the meanness that too often dominates the political discourse [cheers]. We all are. It is exhausting, and honestly, it is depressing.

But here's what keeps me invested. Just when I feel like it might be time to shut it all out, I think about my dad. For anyone who's known anything about me, you know that my father had MS, a disease that would ultimately take his life. And despite his illness, my dad was a hard-working man. For most of his life, he worked at the city's water filtration plant in Chicago, checking gauges and monitoring the pumps. And every morning he put on that uniform – his blue work shirt and pants, pair of dark shoes – then my dad would grab his crutches and he would carefully make his way down a flight of stairs to head off to work. And my father was proud of the fact that in more than two decades on the job, he didn't miss a single day of work. Yeah, that's my dad – and many men out there like him.

And whenever election season rolled around, I saw him do the same thing. Every Election Day, he grabbed those crutches and inched down that same flight of stairs to vote. When he could he'd take me with him, and I remember walking slowly with him down to that church basement – that was where our polling place was in our neighborhood – and he'd steady himself for a few minutes as he waited in the line, no matter how long it was, and he'd smile and chat up all the folks checking him in because everybody knew him, and then he'd take me into that big voting booth and the curtain would close – see, that was back in the day, young people, when there was a real booth and a curtain – and then he pulled down on these mysterious levers that we used to have back in the day. I didn't really know what any of it meant back then, but I knew it was important, because no matter what was going on – whether it was raining, whether he was in pain – my father made his way to the polls.

And I don't share this story because my father was perfect. I share it because he wasn't and he knew it. My father wasn't a wealthy man. He knew the rules were not stacked in his favor. He knew he didn't work in an industry where high-priced lobbyists would grease the wheels in Washington on his behalf. He knew he didn't earn the kind of money or have the kind of clout to assume everything will work out for our family. So for him, he went to vote for the same reason he went to work – he did it to provide for his family. He knew that his vote was the only way he could be heard in the halls of power. He knew his vote could impact the amount of money in his paycheck. He knew that his vote could affect how safe the streets were when his kids were walking home from school. It could determine whether he could help send his kids to college. That's why he showed up. And he showed up when he was happy with what was going on in City Hall or in the state capitol, and he showed up when he wasn't. He showed up to vote in every election because he showed up for his family in every way that he could.

See, my dad was a voter not because he was rich or has some fancy degree or had some special skill or expertise. He was a voter because he was a father. It was part of who he was. And that's really what this is all about – getting every citizen to make voting a part of who they are. It's about helping everyone recognize something that feels important to them, even if it's only one thing, and it can be anything.

I know that every parent here has opinions about their kids' schools and whether there's enough resources to ensure their child is getting the best education possible. I know that. I know everyone commuting to work has opinions on the traffic and the bus routes. I know every parent wants their kids to be safe, whether they're at school or at a concert with friends. And Lord knows we all have opinions on issues like health care and the economy and how much we're paying in taxes.

What we need to do is bridge the gap between caring about that kind of stuff and actually doing something about it. [cheers] That's our job. Because if you care about something but you don't make your voice heard, trust me, as I said last week, this democracy will move on without you. That's how it works. That's how it should work.

While you're staying silent, frustrated, mad, thinking the system is rigged, other people are speaking up. And you might not like what they have to say. They might not see things the way you do. They might not understand the kinds of challenges your family is dealing with. They might not have any problem leaving you and your family behind.

So when you don't vote, what you're really doing is letting somebody else take power over your own life. And as I said last week, you wouldn't give your grandmother the power to decide what clothes you wear to the club. You wouldn't give your crazy uncle the power to post a picture to your Instagram feed. So why would you give a stranger the power to make far more important decisions in your life? Period. [cheers]

So we got to give folks thinking about taking some of their power back. We got to get folks thinking about what's important to them. And even if they've never voted before, even if they've only voted once in a while, we need to get them fired up about voting as soon as possible. And that starts right now with this election on November the 6th.

And what's important for you all to know is that you all will be better at getting this done than I ever will be, and I mean that seriously, because we've seen studies that show that the most effective way to reach somebody who doesn't vote is by talking to them face-to-face. Folks who don't vote don't really want to hear from just athletes and celebrities and famous people on TV. They'll just tune us out, but they'll listen to their friends. They'll listen to their family members. They'll listen to their neighbors. They'll listen to somebody who they believe understands them, somebody they trust.

And that's where all of you all come in. And this is what I need you to do. I need you to reach out to every person you know who you think might not be planning to vote in November. Could be a brother, a sister, your friend, somebody on your soccer team, your neighbor, somebody you walking the dog with, anybody, whoever they are. I need you to ask them what they care about, engage them. I need you to help them figure out how to cast their ballot.

And as you know, if they're not registered – you all know this by heart – how can they get started? What do they text – WeAllVote – to 97779. Miami is good – you guys are good on that [cheers]. They've got to do it by the deadline in their state, and here in Florida that's October the 9th.

And then after they're registered, I want you to help them get ready to vote. Tell them about how they can go to an early voting location. There's so many ways to do this. They can vote by mail from the kitchen table – that's how I vote every year – or they can vote in person right in their neighborhood on the 6th.

So do you guys think you can do that for me? [cheers] Because you wouldn't be here if you weren't ready to do that, right? [cheers]

And here's the thing, Miami. As you all are getting out there, just remember this last thing – do not underestimate the power of bringing more people into the process. Elections can be decided by just a few votes per precinct. Sometimes they're decided by just a handful of votes altogether. In Florida, you all know something about this. [cheers] I'm not just talking about presidential elections. Back in 2016, a city commissioners' race in Cocoa Beach was decided by eight total votes – the whole thing, eight people. That's like your house. The race for mayor in South Daytona was decided by five votes, y'all – five.

And I want you all to hold on to that, because that's true. When I was campaigning for Barack, [cheers] there would be 50 votes per precinct, ahundred votes per precinct. So every vote matters, it really does. Nobody can say that their vote doesn't matter. If they're saying that, they just don't understand the numbers.

So you never know – in a few weeks, you and your brother might decide who the mayor is. You and the group of your friends texting emojis – you might elect who represents you in Washington. You all have that power. And we got to start dreaming, because who knows what would happen if we did that. Who knows what the world might look like when we all vote – not just this November but in every election, every time, all the time.

When we all vote, imagine the kind of schools we can demand for our kids. [cheers] Imagine the things we can demand for our community – safer streets, cleaner water, better after-school programs – all the things we've been hoping for.

When we all vote, imagine the kind of leaders we'll elect – those who share our values and who understand our lives and who set a good example for our kids. Imagine the level of respect and dignity we can ensure for all of our citizens, no matter what we look like, who we worship or whether we happen to be a woman. [cheers] It is all within our grasp.

But we got to do the work. It ain't easy. We've got to do the work. So I want you all to take this energy that you're feeling right here and run with it. I want you to go out there for the next five and a half weeks and make sure that everyone you know is voting on behalf of something they believe in. Make sure everyone is as fired up as you all are right now. [cheers]

And then I want you to go out there after November. Because this is not about one election. That's the only reason I'm doing this – because this is not about one election. We cannot stop now. We need to keep talking about voting until every single person in your life makes being a voter part of who they are. We got to make voting trendy. We got a hashtag it. We got a sing about it.

And for all the young people in the room – this is your future. It's time for us to move out of the way and let you lead. But if you don't take that power and you don't understand what that power means, then we'll be back in that cycle. And we don't want that for any of our young people. We want you to have the futures that are worthy of your dreams.

This is no longer about me. It's not about Barack. It's about you. This is the country that you will grow into. It will be the country that you raise your children in. [cheers] So you have to decide what it looks like. How do we treat each other? What do we value? What do we care about? That's for your generation to decide.

So I want you all to get on it. Make it happen and don't stop until this is a forever proposition.

Thank you guys. God bless. [cheers]

Source: NBC News [nbcnews]. (2018, Sept. 28). Michelle Obama speaks at voter registration rally. Retrieved on July 16, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4vZJgpitJI&t=44s.