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Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote’s ‘Culture of Democracy Summit’ brings together industry leaders across sectors for a national conversation about protecting and expanding democracy ahead of the midterms

(Los Angeles, CA): Today, When We All Vote Founder and Co-Chair Michelle Obama delivered the keynote address at the first-ever Culture of Democracy Summit at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The Summit brought together grassroots volunteers, musicians, athletes, academics and industry leaders across sectors for a national conversation about protecting and expanding democracy.

Mrs. Obama spoke to the crowd about the challenges facing democracy and how each and every American can use their voice and vote to shape the future of our country. You can watch her full remarks and programming for both days of the Summit at democracysummit.org. A full transcript of her remarks is included below. 

Transcript of Michelle Obama’s Remarks for the Culture of Democracy Summit

June 13, 2022

People, what is going on? How is everybody doing?

Oh my goodness, it is beautiful out here. And you guys look amazing for being changemakers, so happy to be with you all. 

Let me begin by thanking Selena for all her wonderful work, for that very kind introduction. It has been great having her on my team doing the great work of When We All Vote. 

I also want to give a special thanks to all of our partners and sponsors who helped make today possible, especially the folks here at Banc of California Stadium. They moved a game so that we could be here today. So that’s amazing. And for any fans, don’t hate us for that. 

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for being here for When We All Vote’s first-ever Culture of the Democracy Summit. Yes! 

Over the past few days, you have been doing a lot of work, immersing yourself in research and data… you’ve been making connections across faith communities, colleges, companies, the entertainment industry, the voting rights community… you’ve heard from leaders like Maya Wiley… Nikole Hannah-Jones… Doc Rivers… Allie Redhorse Young…Wanda Sykes… and so many others

I also want to give a very special shout out to When We All Vote’s incredible executive director, my love, my heart, Stephanie Young. See I say, Stephanie does the work, I show up, she makes me look good, but this event and this organization would not be what it is without her. And I know her family is here and they are so proud. They are proud, as I am, of Stephanie so thank you. 

And this work that you all are doing could not be more important… and I really mean that — it truly could not be more important. 

Because let’s be honest… I would love it if I could stand up here and simply make this a celebration of the work so many of you have done: the records we’ve set… the 155 million voters that turned out in the last presidential election…which was the highest voting rate we’ve seen in more than a century — and that was during a pandemic. 

I’d love to be able to tell you that everything is as it should be… that we have nothing to be afraid of… to stand up here, clear my throat, and say: “The state of our democracy is strong!”

But you and I, we all know, that I can’t say that right now. 

It has been a hard, hard few weeks for our country. 

My heart still aches for all those families and the entire community down in Uvalde who lost so many beautiful young kids and all those teachers. 

I can’t bear to think about all the families in Buffalo… and Tulsa… and Laguna Woods… and Philadelphia… and in my hometown of Chicago… and far too many other communities that are coping with similar tragedies. 

I know there’s a lot of discussion about what can be done and what should be done to prevent these kinds of shootings… and no matter what side you fall on, it is encouraging to see leaders from both parties working hopefully to find some common ground on this issue… but these kinds of conversations get right to the core of what it means to live in a democracy.

I have said it before, but it’s important for us all to remember that it’s not just about who you vote for… it’s not about whether you’re a Republican or Democrat or Independent… no, this is so much bigger than that. 

Because right now, when we look around at everything that’s happening when it comes to voting and our democracy… it is clear that we’re seeing a deep discrepancy between what we tell ourselves about this country… and what we can see with our own eyes.

In this country, we tell ourselves that every vote counts, that every voice matters. 

Then, we hear about harsh new voting restrictions getting passed in Georgia… and then we hear about another law in Texas… and we hear about another in Iowa… and on and on and on. 

Last year alone, 19 states passed bills to restrict voting — that’s 87 million people who might find it harder to vote than they would have just a couple years ago. 

That’s 87 million people, folks.

In this country, we tell ourselves that even if one side loses an election, they’ll have another chance in two years, or four years. 

But then we see states working to change the way elections are administered…  putting partisan actors in charge of voting procedures and certification. 

And then of course we all watched on tv as an angry mob, unhappy with the outcome of the last presidential election, bull-rushed our Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election, injuring police officers… threatening the Vice President to try to stop him from doing his Constitutional duty.  

In this country, we tell ourselves that facts matter… that the truth will win out in the end. 

But then we see all the lies and conspiracy theories floating around until voters don’t know what’s real or what’s fake. 

And finally, here’s the most insidious thing we tell ourselves… that it won’t happen to me. 

We tell ourselves that what’s going on in Texas or Georgia or Iowa, we say “yeah, that’s an outrage… but my vote, oh, still counts here in California… my vote still counts in New York or Nevada or Pennsylvania.” 

We tell ourselves that even though there was an insurrection, the presidential election was still in fact certified. 

We tell ourselves that, well, at least some of those folks who attacked the Capitol are behind bars, taking some small comfort that justice prevailed..

And this is true not just for voting but on so many things… we tell ourselves that our grocery stores won’t get shot up by a white supremacist… that our babies will be safe at school… that my kids will be able to read Toni Morrison in English class… that maybe strongmen are taking over around the world, but it won’t actually happen here… that sure, the sea levels are rising, but I don’t even live on the beach!    

And look, I get it… I mean, this stuff is scary to think about… it just leaves us all feeling helpless. 

And Lord knows, we all need to do some self-preservation just to get through the day. 

Sometimes it’s just easier to look away… to type in a hashtag, feel like we’ve done something, and go about our business. 

But just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s right. 

Look, we are clowning ourselves. 

Because these past couple of months alone have proven that there’s no guarantee that these issues won’t reach every single one of us. 

And there’s no guarantee that what we’re seeing today isn’t going to get a whole lot worse tomorrow.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired. 

I am tired of the way our democracy gets treated — how it’s glorified as an idea, but neglected in action. 

And I’m sure all of you all are probably tired too… It’s why so many of you have dedicated your careers to making change. And thank you for that.

We’re all tired of how short-sighted elections can feel… how we keep hearing “the stakes have never been higher” — quite frankly I am tired of saying it… so I understand why some folks have started to wonder if we’re all just crying wolf.

We are tired of the partisan bickering, tired of the cultural wars, tired of the talking heads distracting us from the one thing that we all should share, all of us, as Americans: the fundamental belief that everyone deserves a voice in our democracy and a vote in our elections.  

So if you believe that, too… if you recognize that protecting and expanding our democracy is the best and only path out of this mess… I think we all can agree that we need to stop playing the same old song. 

We need a remix… we need a strategy.

Because just look at everything our democracy is facing: the harsh new photo ID laws… the polling places closed down… the early voting hours cut… folks being purged from the voting rolls… the House districts that look like a Jackson Pollock painting. 

In Florida, you might get stopped by an election police force before you can cast a vote— an election police force. 

In Texas, you can show your gun ID to vote… but not your school ID. 

Sometimes you’ve just got to wonder… how is this stuff legal? Where are the courts? 

Well, restrictions like these actually started ramping up in earnest because of a Supreme Court case… a case that was decided by a single justice — a single vote. 

Back in 2013, by a 5-4 margin, the justices decided to throw out a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act that protected voters in many states from being discriminated against at the polls, threw it out… and after that, oh, the floodgates opened on voting restrictions. 

See that’s why it is important to know your judges and your justices — because they can determine the kind of justice you get. 

My point in telling you all of this isn’t to rile you up. 

I am just trying to show you that no one has the luxury to sit out or stay at home just because you’re not feeling excited enough… because as I’ve said time and time again, if you don’t vote, other people will. 

I want to show you that nothing happens overnight… that big changes happen over decades —  over generations.   

I want you to see that the court cases that you ignore because they seem boring or arcane can actually have a direct impact on your day-to-day life. 

And even more than that, I want to implore every American who cares about our democracy not to just get angry or dejected… I want you to get active… I want you to get creative. 

We’ve got to change the way we think about our democracy… and we’ve got to change the way we participate in it — not just every two or four years, but as a routine part of the way we all live, just like going to school or checking your phone or flipping on the game after work. 

So I’m calling on leaders from every sector of our economy… from the arts, athletics, academia… from businesses, nonprofits, community groups… I’m calling on anyone who cares about our democracy to stand up for everyone’s place in it.

Because this is not a partisan issue… it’s an American one, and anyone who says otherwise is trying to get you to stay quiet about the threats we face. 

So we’ve got to get back to the basics: We’ve got to make sure that every eligible voter can easily cast a ballot. 

That starts with federal action… yes, Congress needs to act. 

We need them to end voter suppression, protect our right to vote, and expand it even further. 

We need national legislation that allows every voter to register on election day… that automatically registers voters when they’re 18 years old… that ends this unnecessary voter purging… that bans the practice of partisan gerrymandering once and for all.  

And I know maybe some of you are thinking: “Didn’t we have a couple of bills that would do these things?” 

Valid point. And the fact that Congress hasn’t acted while our democracy is under siege should be a source of shame. 

But it should also be a source of motivation.

Because we’ve got to take a long, hard look at how we can make Congress itself better. 

That means changing the filibuster if that’s what it takes to save our democracy. 

It means giving millions of Americans in DC and Puerto Rico a vote in the Senate and the House.  

And on top of these structural reforms, we’ve got to make cultural ones… so our democracy feels more vibrant — more alive — to all Americans. 

And to do that, we’ve got to get real with ourselves. 

We’ve got to step back and ask, “Am I really doing everything I can?”

I want every one of you, right now, to think about what you are uniquely able to do to protect our democracy. 

Ask yourself: Who can I reach? How can I bring more people into the fold? What groups and networks and communities can I activate? 

And I want you to ask yourself those questions not just today when we’re all gathered here in this beautiful place, this wonderful summit, but I want you to ask yourself that tomorrow and the day after and the day after… when you’re back home or in the office… even when you’re out with your friends at brunch or happy hour. I know that’s where you’re going.

So, if you are a business, for example, will you give employees election days off as a paid holiday? 

And I know we’ve got our screenwriters represented here, will you incorporate storylines about these issues into your scripts? 

If you work in tech, will you fight against lies and disinformation… will you continue to partner with organizations like When We All Vote and many others to make sure that it’s easier for folks to register? 

The point is, we need all of that and then some — we need all of your creativity, all of your determination, all of your commitment… and we need you to just go on over to WhenWeAllVote.org right now and volunteer if you haven’t done so.

And the truth is, as much as everyone thinks, or likes to think, that people my age are the ones with the answers, what we really need is the energy and vision of all of you who are a lot younger than me. 

Because we have seen what you can do… when we see how you can snap a cell phone video and change the world… how you can attract millions of followers… how you can shine a light on the causes you care about and help shape the culture of the country we live in.  

Heck, when young people put their minds to it, y’all can sell out big giant retailers in the blink of an eye.

The point is, if you can do all that, you better believe you already have the tools to change the way people think about our democracy. You already know the answer.

 So if you’re wondering what difference you can make, let me tell you about the power of one person and what one person can do on these issues. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Katie Fahey backstage. She’s here tonight — Katie would you please stand because I know you are here? There is Katie. 

Katie, that little bitty piece of a person, she is from Michigan… and back in 2016, she was upset with how much gerrymandering had changed her state’s electoral map. 

And gerrymandering is one of those problems that can feel so out of our hands, right? 

Politicians drawing maps so they can pick their voters… how can anyone make a difference on that, right?

But instead of throwing up her hands in frustration, Katie went to her friends and asked if they’d help her fight. 

She organized volunteers… she put together a strategy… she came up with 425,000 signatures to put gerrymandering reform on the ballot just two years later. 

And the best part? Her proposal passed.

And what she told the crowd on election night… Katie said: “We are our own saviors.”

And that is the power of one person. 

Now, just imagine if Katie had the platform that many of you here have. 

Imagine if she could capture the attention of millions of followers each week like many of you can… imagine if that one person could send a notification to thousands of customers’ phones… or call an entire student body to take action.

See, that’s what I want you to see — I want you to see your power in helping people find their power.

That’s really what this is all about… using that power to strengthen our democracy for everyone… not just for today, but for the years and decades to come.  

Because this isn’t about folks like me… because fifty years from now y’all, I am not going to be up here. In fact, I will probably be in a wheelchair with a blanket over my lap just asking somebody to roll me into the sun. 

But the rest of you… you and your children are going to be living with the consequences of the choices we make right now… you’ll be feeling the ripples of the actions we take — or don’t take.   

What kind of democracy will we be passing on? Who is going to be included in that democracy?  

It’s up to us, right now, to decide how those questions are answered… we are the ones who will decide how easy it is for our kids to vote… we’re the ones who will determine whether government of, by, and for the people truly lives up to its promise. 

So if we all do our part… if we embrace our obligations to our democracy and to our children… then maybe, maybe it takes a few years, okay, maybe it takes a few decades… but remember all those things that we tell ourselves about our country? 

That every voice counts, and every vote matters… and we each have a say in building the country we believe in? 

Well, if we all do our part, those won’t just be things we say. 

They’ll be things we see. 

We will see it in millions more voters heading to the polls… we’ll see it in new laws on the books that make voting easier for everyone… we’ll see it in the people who once again believe that our country’s course is truly set by the voters, and nobody else. 

That’s what we’re working for — making those grand, idealistic, hopeful things we tell ourselves about this country align with what we read in the headlines and feel in our hearts.

That’s how we, too, can be the saviors of our democracy. 

So for all y’all here, are you ready to make this happen? I mean I want you to feel inspired and energized, because no one person can do this on their own. I can’t do it, I need your help. 

So will you continue to partner with When We All Vote… will you sign up to volunteer… will you use every opportunity that you’ve got in your power to help strengthen our democracy? 

That’s what it’s going to take… and knowing that you all are already by my side, and all that you’ve already accomplished… there’s no reason for me to believe that we can’t get this done. 

So I want to thank you all for all of your efforts today, and what we continue to do in the years ahead. 

Stay encouraged and know that I love you all. 

Thank you so much.  

ABOUT When We All Vote: 

When We All Vote, an initiative of Civic Nation, is a leading national, nonpartisan initiative on a mission to change the culture around voting and to increase participation in each and every election by helping to close the race and age gap. Created by Michelle Obama, When We All Vote brings together individuals, institutions, brands, and organizations to register new voters across the country and advance civic education for the entire family and voters of every age to build an informed and engaged electorate for today and generations to come. We empower our supporters and volunteers to take action through voting, advocating for their rights, and holding their elected officials accountable.

In 2020, When We All Vote ran a robust, multifaceted campaign and reached more than 100 million people to educate them about the voting process and get them registered and ready to vote. The initiative also led in voter education, registration, and volunteer engagement and as a result, 512,000 people started or completed the voter registration process, and nearly 500 media, corporate, and nonprofit partners joined its efforts.

Michelle Obama launched When We All Vote in 2018 and is joined by fellow Co-Chairs Stephen Curry, Becky G, Selena Gomez, Tom Hanks, H.E.R., Liza Koshy, Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Megan Rapinoe, Shonda Rhimes, Bretman Rock, Kerry Washington and Rita Wilson.

When We All Vote is a key initiative within Civic Nation, a 501(c)(3) organization, and works with Civic Nation Action, a 501(c)(4). These organizations are homes for changemakers who inspire, educate, and activate people around the issues that will define this generation.

ABOUT Civic Nation:

Civic Nation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit home for changemakers who inspire, educate, and activate people around the issues that will define this generation. Civic Nation empowers and educates individuals, companies, institutions and organizations to drive culture, systems, and policy change, working towards a more inclusive and equitable America. Seven initiatives are a part of the Civic Nation family: When We All Vote, United State of Women, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, End Rape On Campus, It’s On Us, Made to Save and We The Action. Learn more.
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