Michelle Obama: You don’t have to feel inspired to vote


Producer Shonda Rhimes interviewed former First Lady Michelle Obama for Harper’s Bazaar’s Hope issue. They ended up spending most of the interview talking about voting. I’ve been pretty depressed lately because I really don’t know what will happen in the general election in November or all the regional elections leading up to it. I’ve spent many election seasons nervous my candidate wouldn’t win, but I have never lived through anything as catastrophic as the last three and a half years. So it struck me as overly optimistic to have Shonda and Michelle talking about hope in the next election when all I feel is fear. After reading the whole interview, I like the spin they put on it. Both women say that we all need hope but that it won’t win any victories. Voting is essential, whether someone is ‘inspired’ to do so or not.

Shonda Rhimes: You and I have talked about voting a great deal over the years, and I am here to tell everyone that Michelle Obama explains voting’s importance better than anyone I know. But it’s not as easy when the rest of us try to explain voting to our own friends and family. So for everyone here, can you give us some clear, simple talking points that we can use on why voting is so important?

Michelle Obama: Talking about issues, our duties as citizens, the impact our votes have—that’s all important. But for me, when I’m talking to young people, I like to ask them a simple question: 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. 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.

SR: I remember after the last election hearing anecdotal evidence that some people did not vote because they did not feel “inspired by” or “excited by” the candidate choices. What do you think about this need for inspiration? Should it influence voter turnout?

MO: Voting is so much bigger than one election, one party, or one candidate. 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. 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. And meanwhile, the world moves on without you. But when we all vote, in all elections, we get the kind of responsive leadership that speaks for our families and our communities.

[From Harpers Bazaar]

We’ve talked a few times about how we wish our candidates were more experienced before they ran for the big-ticket items like presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial offices. And yet, most voters only vote in those elections. We, as voters, need to invest in our own communities as much as our country. I think many of us would be surprised at what’s going on in our own backyard. So I love what Michelle is saying about just getting out there and doing it, regardless of whether you’re inspired. I live in Los Angeles County and I just moved to a new home last summer, my property taxes are outrageous. That’s the price of living here, yes, but I should be fully invested in where that money is being spent. The sad part is that the upcoming general election, I am not inspired so much to vote for someone, but I am truly inspired to vote against someone. But, like Michelle said, inspiration is not the point. It’s so much bigger than me and who I wanted on the ticket; this is about all the elections that will come after it for at least the next four years. We all need to focus on that.

Elsewhere in the interview, Shonda and Michelle talk about getting kids excited to vote by bringing them to the polls and how registering to vote should be a ceremonial thing, “celebrated like when you get your driver’s license or go to prom.” My guess is many of us have brought our kids to the polls with us. Most places make it fun for kids too, like an alternate sticker to give unregistered kids to wear. My folks did this with me as well. This practice is another casualty of the mass polling place closures happening throughout the country in a calculated voting suppression move to keep certain parties ::coughGOPcough:: in office. Parents aren’t going to bring their unregistered kids to wait 5-8 hours in line to vote. Instead of doing anything to make voting more accessible, they seem to be doing everything to make it as arduous as possible.



Photo credit: WENN/Avalon and Backgrid

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12 Responses to “Michelle Obama: You don’t have to feel inspired to vote”

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    In Michigan (for example) everyone can vote by mail and you don’t have to give a reason (since 2018). It’s states run by the GOP where lines are long and machines fail and there’s no alternative, in *specifically Black areas* (Georgia!). Or look at Wisconsin, which forced people to stand in long lines to vote, in the middle of a pandemic! Such a barefaced attempt at suppressing the liberal vote.

    Voting should be easy! It’s a democratic right. Voting by mail should be universal.

    Also this is obvious, but Biden is so uninspiring. That does worry me. Obama was hugely charismatic and that was definitely part of why he won…

  2. Lucy2 says:

    Vote by Mail for all!
    I love her idea of celebrating a kids first election.

  3. Kiera says:

    I think it also should be said that it is a privilege to feel like you only have to vote if you are inspired. I have always felt like this was a problem with Hillary. I know for many people my age the first time we could vote it was for Obama, same for the second. We took it for granted that we would be inspired by a candidate because that is all we knew. And when they weren’t they stayed home and didn’t bother voting or voted their third party candidate.

  4. Jo73c says:

    What I originally came here to say was that any time I see a photo of Michelle Obama, the first emotion I feel is loss. I miss the Obamas so much. I’m not even American. I’m originally from Australia, where voting is compulsory, and live in the UK, where it is not. I’ve always viewed voting as a privilege and a duty. The right to vote is important, and was only won after a long struggle (for everyone except wealthy white men.) If you don’t vote, you have given away your chance to participate in democracy, including the right to complain about how the country is being run.

  5. SamC says:

    On my 18th birthday, at my family dinner, just before cake my dad got very serious and said now that turning 18 brought important responsibilities. We all looked at him totally confused and a bit nervous as we had no idea where he was going with it. It was about the responsibility and importance of voting. Both his parents were immigrants and he spoke about their pride the first time they voted, the impact of voting in all elections, not only the big ones. To this day, many, many years later, I’ve only missed one election day (was a local one for town council).

  6. grabbyhands says:

    I love what she said.

    I have always been annoyed by the world weary declarations of not being inspired to vote or saying that all candidates are the same so you’re sitting an election out to send a message. It used to be only youthful naïveté and now it is just foolish, willful ignorance and arrogance and never has it been on bigger display than the 2016 election and it has pretty much cost this country everything. That there are people still mouthing these tired platitudes even today, is maddening.

    I have said for years that you have to use your voice if you want things and people to change and that means doing more than showing up every four years to whine about how none of the candidates “speak” to you, or about how they haven’t detailed your perfect utopia which basically makes them as bad as the worst person in the running. If you want the candidates more aligned to your beliefs, that means voting in every state and local election, which is where these folks come from. Apparently this needs to be stated since people act like they just spring from the earth every four years. You have to vote in these elections because if you want there to be a good president/Congress balance that represents your views, you have to vote these people into those positions.

    People need to remind themselves that the vote has more far reaching effects than just the office – 45 was able to do long lasting damage via the Supreme Court and lower courts that have lifetime appointments, which was the goal the whole time. They know everything else is reversible chump change.

    So yeah, she is spot on about voting and why is it important. People have literally died to be able to do it and that that sacrifice is wasted so a bunch of lazy assh*les can have the privilege of saying they’re not inspired or making ridiculous false equivalencies makes me want to scream.

    We are quite literally out of time and out of chances and you can thank everyone who either sat out the last election or posted shit like how we need a revolution (looking at you, Sarandon). If we make it to and through the November election and are able to get a new president, everyone better wake up and start participating.

    • Amy Too says:

      And when something like only 30% of Americans vote, then the politicians are going to be catering to that 30% and doing exactly what those people want because those are the people who can keep them in power. Politicians aren’t going “oh man, 70% of Americans were uninspired to vote for me, I better do everything I can do to win those people over!” No, they just assume those people are apathetic and don’t care about politics, and they’re fine with that because it keeps them in power. You’re not sending a wake up call or a strong message to anyone in politics by not voting. The only message you’re sending is “Eh, I don’t care. Do what you want.”

  7. Veronica S. says:

    Thank you, Michelle. It’s not supposed to be “fun” or “exciting” – it’s a f*cking responsibility to yourself and the people around you. It’s one of the big reasons I’ve come around to the thinking that democracies can really only survive when voter registration is automatic at age 18 and voting is mandatory across the board, the way it is in places like Australia. You don’t want to vote, fine, but then you can pay a fine for the privilege of your apathy. The whole reason we’re in the mess we’re in is because of a combination of voter apathy and massive amounts of voter suppression aimed at the minority groups who are actively engaged in changing things because their lives literally depend on it. Look at the polls for where Americans lean politically in cold calls – if everybody voted, the current Republican party wouldn’t even exist! In a lot of ways, white voter apathy is the biggest tool of patriarchal white supremacy in this country.

    It’s so infuriating when I meet anyone who doesn’t vote here, but it’s just baffling when it’s women and minorities. Black men didn’t have the right to vote until the fifteenth amendment. Women didn’t get it until the nineteenth in 1920, and black women in particular had their suffrage rights severely hampered in most places until the 1960s. Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote in every state until 1962 – and weren’t even considered citizens of their own native land until the 20th century in the first place! In their cases, I get it – when has American ever given POC a party to believe in? And how often do states intentionally suppress their votes??

    But white women? The worst offenders. You’ve had your rights for literally only a century as of this year, and you’re going to throw that away because you’ve got just enough white privilege to fool yourself into thinking the door won’t close in your face? I can’t imagine not voting as a woman because it’s so insulting to the women who fought for my right to vote, and as a *white* American, it’s a responsibility for me to vote to protect people who can’t vote or whose votes they attempt to suppress. It’s just maddening.

  8. Case says:

    I’m glad she said this. People my age had the honor of voting for Obama in our first presidential election — a wonderfully kind, intelligent, inspiring man — and many seem to think if it’s not always like this, it’s not worth voting. I wish all politicians were like him, and I wish we held MUCH higher standards for the people we nominate to become president, but we don’t, nor do we have a political system in place where a third-party candidate is a realistic candidate (unfortunately). In order for these things to change, we’d need a complete overhaul of our political system. I hope that happens in my lifetime, but I doubt it. We need to be realistic and work within the confines of our present reality, and VOTE, even if we don’t love everything about the candidate we vote for. I’m personally pissed that my choice is between two very old men with sexual assault accusations against them. But between a dictator who is literally getting us killed and a man with actual experience and respect for the American people — yeah, there’s literally no comparison, and no reason why you’d call Biden “the lesser of two evils” when Trump is LITERALLY evil.

    It’s incredibly privileged and ignorant to not vote. Even if you don’t love the exact person you vote for, think about the policies they’ll put in place, and think about the politicians you DO like who they’ll be willing to work with. It’s so much bigger than just the one person who becomes president, or governor, or mayor.

  9. jferber says:

    A lot of young people don’t vote. ANYTHING that gets people to vote is the right thing. I hope Joe Biden picks a VP who will catch fire with the young people and have them go with the momentum and VOTE. I remember at a certain point in the last election, young Bernie voters did catch fire. I still don’t know if they would have voted for him, though. We’ll never know. Also, celebrities with big followings should preach to their followers to vote. LeBron James, Steph Curry, etc. should do public service messages, etc. Young people like Selena Gomez, Arianna Grande, etc. would be good, too. Michelle Obama, of course, and George Bush should to a public service message together to vote Biden (especially since they have a good relationship).

  10. adastraperaspera says:

    Amen. Compromise involved at all levels of politics. Also, voting has to be taught by parents and high school civics classes. Otherwise it just becomes a popularity contest and we end up with woefully unqualified candidates.

  11. Jessica says:

    So glad I live in a vote by mail state (Oregon). It’s let me be civically involved and vote on everything from dog catcher on up for decades now.