[Exclusive] Michelle Obama: Going High When Others Go Low Doesn't Mean Ignoring Reality Or The Power Of Your Vote
The former first lady spoke exclusively to Blavity about important information to remember this election and every other.
Michelle Obama is charging millennials to pursue an important mission: Make democracy work for you.
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It’s one of the crucial calls to action she made in an exclusive email interview with Blavity on Sunday. The interview is one of few the former first lady has conducted this midterm election, likely because she has otherwise been busy rallying voters to the polls through her non-partisan, non-profit campaign “When We All Vote.”
Over the last few months, Obama and her team have released several videos and initiatives calling on people everywhere to register to vote and to make their voices heard at the ballot box. She has teamed with organizations like the NAACP to increase Black voter turnout and encouraged folks to assemble their crew and gather their voting squads before heading to the polls.
Obama’s efforts to encourage people to vote are unmatched -- and in granting Blavity an exclusive interview, it underscores her desire to drive impact among young Black voters specifically. In Obama’s responses, she shares a special message to millennials who may feel discouraged or disappointed with America’s political system as well as other compelling information about Election Day. Read her answers in full below:
Blavity: A lot of Americans wish that your family was still in the White House. What would you say to those who have given up on politics since Barack left office?Michelle Obama:
Here’s the thing: If you let your frustration get the best of you, and you silence yourself on Election Day, the truth is there are a lot of people who are still going to speak up. If you stay home, others are still going to make their voice heard at the polls—and you probably won’t like what they have to say. Chances are that they probably see things differently than you do. They might not understand your lives or the kinds of challenges you’re 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 life.And as I’ve said before, you wouldn’t give your grandmother the power to decide what clothes you wear to the club, would you? You wouldn’t let your crazy uncle 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?
Blavity: As a mother to two young Black women, what do you say to other young women who feel like Washington doesn’t care about their voices or their bodies?Obama: I can understand the frustrations because there have been a lot of troubling news stories lately. But the thing about this democracy is that it ultimately does listen and respond—but only to those who participate. So you have the power to change Washington—and your state house and city hall. But if you sit out of the process, you can’t be surprised when your elected officials don’t reflect your values or respect your community.
Here’s some helpful data: Generation X, millennials, and the post-millennial generation make up a clear majority of eligible voters. There are more women than men in this country. So to all the young women out there—the numbers are actually on your side. You’ve just got to make that real at the polls. That means you’ve all got to show up tomorrow—before work, after class, over your lunch break, whenever—just vote. Bring your friends, bring your family, and create your voting squad to make sure everyone you know makes their voice heard. And if you need more information on when and where to vote in your neighborhood, go to whenweallvote.org.
Blavity: Recently, others have put a different spin on your “When they go low, we go high” phrase. Since we’ve seen others remain low, do you still agree with that saying? What do you say to those who say they don’t want to take the high road?
Obama: I absolutely still believe that we’ve got to go high—always and without exception. It’s the only way we can keep our dignity. Because if we lose our dignity, what do we have left? I know that when someone calls you a name, it’s a lot easier to call them one back than to hold your tongue. When someone’s trying to pull you down into the mud, it takes a lot less effort to give in and join them in the muck than to keep yourself upright, standing tall. If you allow yourself to play on their terms, they win. It’s what they want you to do. You can’t give them the satisfaction.
What Barack and I have always tried to do is this: When the haters come our way, we don’t let them distract us from our purpose. We brush them off when we can, and we deal with them when we need to. But we never lose sight of our goal. We never stop working. And we never stop trying to set a good example for the next generation—not just for our two daughters but everyone’s kids. Do we want the next generation to be angry? Do we want them to be spiteful and petty? Or do we want them to live by the values that our parents taught us—values like honesty and generosity and respect?I think the answer is easy enough. And it’s an answer that always applies, not just when it’s easy.
Blavity: What are some of your favorite Election Day traditions or memories?
Obama: When Barack was running for president, we went through a lot of Election Days—not just in the general election, but a whole lot during the primary season, as well. So we had our Election Day routines down pat. Barack would always play basketball in the morning. And then in the evenings, we’d wait for results to come in as a family, usually surrounded by friends and staff.
There’d be trays of appetizers sitting out. The girls would put on pretty dresses, and Barack would prepare his speeches—he had two: one for a win and one for a loss. Those nights could be pretty tense—it’s when all the pressure from the previous months and years came to a head. Thankfully, most of those nights turned out to be pretty good memories.
Blavity: What advice do you have for those who feel like the system doesn’t support them? Or millennials who think there is not a place for them in politics?Obama
I think we’ve seen good examples recently of communities taking action and making democracy work for them. We’ve seen everything from counties deciding to fund better mental health care for children to communities voting in prosecutors who they think will better reflect their values.
I know that a lot of times, it feels like the deck is stacked against you. But no matter what, you’ve got to keep the faith. You’ve got to vote, and you’ve got to get others to do the same. If you check out of the system, you’ll be even worse off.
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