Las Vegas: On Sunday, as apart of When We All Vote’s National Week of Action, Co-Chair Michelle Obama spoke to over 2600 volunteers and eligible voters in Las Vegas, NV at Chaparral High School about the importance of their voice and their vote.
Transcript of Michelle Obama’s Remarks for When We All Vote Rally – Las Vegas, NV.
September 23, 2018
Wow. Yes. Yes. Oh, my goodness. Oh. Wow. You guys. All right. All right. This is Sunday. I know. You all came out on a Sunday. So I don’t want to keep you because y’all are already fired up. I think you all have the message. But let me just thank you all so much.
I have to start… we just have to take a moment and take in what Aaron just said. I mean, I was backstage almost crying over the passion that young man has. That’s what we have to remember… that’s at stake in every election and this election. So I’m proud of young people like Aaron who are taking that loss and turning it into something powerful. And that’s the choice we all have to make again and again. So let’s give Aaron a big round of applause. So proud of him.
I also want to thank Principal Jones here at the Chaparral High School and all the administrators for allowing us to be here tonight. But most of all, I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy lives on a Sunday to come here and be a part of this effort. I love you all too. I love you, truly.
So we know why we’re here. Six weeks until Election Day. But I’m not here to campaign for any candidate. I’m not here to tell anyone how to vote. I’m here today to talk about why voting matters and why we all need to get registered and ready to vote this November.
And I have to tell you that this all feels a little too familiar to me. You know? I’m having a bit of weird deja vu at the moment. I haven’t done this in a while. Because sadly though, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about the importance of voting. Over the past decade — really over the past decade — and election after election, I’ve traveled across the country telling folks the same thing. Voting is a fundamental right. And our vote is our voice. I’ve said it again and again. It’s our way to have a say in the issues we care about. It’s how democracy works. It’s our stake in our children’s future.
I’ve said it again and again. Nothing has really changed. It still matters. And I’m not the only one who’s traveling around talking about this issue. My husband, once again. We like him. And trust me, he was looking forward to putting his feet up, kicking back, and not having to do this again and again and again. But he’s out there.
And we’ve got a whole slew of community leaders and athletes and celebrities who have been talking about voting again. Every two years. We have all kinds of registration drives and rallies like this one. And thousands of people, like many of you, work your hearts out to get people to the polls on Election Day.
But after all that effort, here’s where we end up: still, in presidential elections, only about half of eligible people bother to vote. That’s in a presidential election. In midterm elections, like the one coming up in November, when no one is running for president, the turn-out is even lower. It’s the truth. That’s where we are. And right now, one in five eligible people in this country are not even registered to vote.
So here we are. And I have to tell you, I’ve been asking myself, “What’s going on? What is going on? Why are some folks still not showing up to vote?” And I know it’s not because people don’t care. That I know. We all care about what happens in our communities. Right? Especially when things go wrong, we care.
And it’s not that folks don’t have opinions on the issues, right? I know that at kitchen tables and barber shops and beauty shops and sports bars and diners all across the nation, people have a whole lot to say about the state of this country. We all have opinions, right? Every parent has an opinion about their child’s school, whether there’s enough resources to ensure that their child is getting the best education possible. Every parent wants their kids to be safe, whether they’re at school or at a concert. And we all have opinions on issues like healthcare, the economy, how much we’re paying in taxes.
But even with all that said, there are still millions of people who think that voting isn’t relevant to their lives… or they think voting won’t make a difference… or they think the system is rigged, so why bother? Or maybe they feel overwhelmed, like the issues are too complicated and that politics is just too ugly. So they just don’t want to get involved.
Some folks are real busy. They’re like, “Hey, I got so much going on. I’m just trying to get my kids to daycare, trying to get to work, maybe get some sleep.” They just feel like they don’t have time for anything else in their lives.
And trust me, I get it. I get being busy. I definitely get feeling frustrated. Because, believe me, I am frustrated too. I am sick of all the chaos and the nastiness of our politics. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s depressing.
So I understand wanting to shut it all out and just go on and try to live your life, take care of your family in peace. But here’s the problem, while some folks are frustrated and tuned out and staying home on election day, trust me, other folks are showing up. Democracy continues with or without you.
They’re voting in every election from city council to governor to president because the folks who are voting know the impact that these leaders they pick can have on every single part of our lives.
Those sheriffs that we elect, they decide how the streets are policed. The school board members we vote on, they determine how our kids’ schools are run. The mayors we send to city hall, they can fix those crumbling roads and the public transportation system, or not. The folks who represent us in Congress pass laws on everything from job creation to whether we go to war. And those are just the candidates on the ballot.
This November across America there are also what are known as ballot initiatives on everything from supporting housing for veterans, whether we promote renewable energy, to improving facilities for our senior citizens. Those things are on the ballot, and the people who show up to the polls this November will decide what happens on every single one those issues.
So really, when you think about it, not voting is like letting your grandma pick your clothes out. Now, no offense to grandma. My mom is with me today, and we love grandma. I love when grandma comes to visit. I love spending time with her… eating her pie… eating her chicken.
But how many people here, especially those of you under 30, would let your grandma decide what you wear to the club? How many of you would drive the car that grandma chose for you to drive, or live in an apartment with furniture grandma picked out for you?
All jokes aside, my point being (and I’m being funny) is that not many of you would want somebody who’s not you and doesn’t live in the same space as you, doesn’t see the world in the same way as you, even when they love you and love them, you wouldn’t let them do that for you because you know that grandma’s choices for you are not the choices you’d make for yourself.
What Grandma thinks is good for you isn’t necessarily what you think is good for you. With all the love in the world. You certainly wouldn’t go to some random stranger in the streets somewhere, somebody who doesn’t know anything about your life, someone who doesn’t care about your community, doesn’t understand it, doesn’t know it, and ask that person to pick your doctor. Or have that person figure out whether your daycare is safe, or whether the water you’re drinking is clean. You wouldn’t expect somebody else to take care of your stuff. But when you don’t vote – and that’s the thing I don’t understand – when you don’t vote, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
You’re letting other people make some really key decisions about the life you’re going to live, the place you’re going to live, how it’s going to work out for you. You’re just saying, “you do it.” And you may not like what they decide. You might not like living with the consequences of other people’s choices. But that’s what happens when you stay home. You’re essentially putting your future in the hands of others.
And the truth is, that’s exactly what some folks are that hoping you’ll do. They’re hoping that you’ll just let them make these important decisions for you. “Just sit back, let me figure this out for you.” There are people out there right now who are making it harder to vote. But we have to kind of sit with that for a moment because you’ve got to ask yourselves, in this democracy, why on Earth would anybody, regardless of party, want to make it harder for people to participate in the democracy?
But that’s happening right now all over the place. They’re closing down polling places. They’re making it harder for volunteers to get people registered. They’re finding all kinds of ways to keep you at home, hoping when you hear about all those things, you’ll just give up and just think voting is too hard, that it will take hours of your time, that it requires some special skills and expertise that you don’t have. That’s what they want.
And you can see how those kind of tactics can make people start feeling like, “this is too hard for me.” We all know someone who feels like that. Regardless of party. We all know someone who thinks that way. An uncle, a neighbor, someone you grew up with. And that’s why we’re here today. We know that’s going to be up to folks like us who will come out on a Sunday for a rally like this to help those folks out, to help tell the truth about voting.
And the truth is that registering to vote just isn’t hard. It doesn’t take long. It’s just a few minutes. And once you’re registered, in many states, including here in Nevada, you can vote by mail. I do that all the time. I vote by mail in my house. In my jeans. In my sneakers. Comfortable. Not rushed. Not hunkered over. Fill out the ballot at your kitchen table and just drop it in the mail. And it works. It’s just that easy.
And voting in person can be just as fast. In fact, in 2016, the average length of time voters waited in line at a polling place was about eleven minutes. Just eleven minutes and that’s an average. Some places, it was even shorter than that. Just think about it. You spend eleven minutes on your phone watching videos on a given day. You spend eleven minutes choosing the Instagram filters to text your boo, right? So the thing we have to tell ourselves is, we have eleven minutes to do a lot of stuff.
If we have eleven minutes to do stuff that does nothing for our daily lives, then we’ve got eleven minutes to vote. And trust me, here’s something I want to make sure people understand: voting doesn’t require any special expertise. You don’t have to have some fancy degree to be qualified to vote. You don’t have to read every news article to be qualified to vote. You know what you need to be qualified to vote? You need to be a citizen. You need to be a part of this country. You need to have opinions about the issues in your community. That’s what qualifies you to vote.
Caring about your kids’ future qualifies you to be a voter. Wanting a say in what happens in this country qualifies you to be a voter. So don’t be intimidated. Don’t let somebody intimidate you from being a part of this process. I’ve been voting since I was 18 years old. And trust me, I didn’t know nothing about nothing at 18 years old. Right? But what you do know is what you care about. For all the young people, you do know you have a voice. You do have opinions about what goes on. That qualifies you to vote.
And it’s not that hard. Plenty of folks of all ages are registering to vote for the very first time. And that should be a source of pride. That should be as important as getting your driver’s license, right? So those young people know they want to have a say about what goes on in their neighborhoods. And they know it’s time for a change. That’s how folks all over this country are making change in their communities.
Just to give you an example, there’s a little county in Missouri, Boone County. There were families there struggling to get their families the mental health care they needed. Hundreds of families had been requesting counseling services for their kids, but the resources weren’t there. The folks in Boone County came together. They came up with a plan to fund children’s mental health care. They gathered signatures they needed to get their issue on the ballot, and then they got out and voted. Today, just a few years later in Boone County, they’re providing counseling for kids who need it. They’re doing mental health screenings for every child in the county. They’re doing mental health screenings for every child in the county. They’re teaching childcare advocates to better support kids with challenges.
This all happened because folks in that county in one part of this nation believed their kids deserved better. And they knew the vote was the way to make it happen. Don’t let anybody tell you that vote doesn’t matter. Those folks in Boone County could have sat back and said, oh my god, this is awful. Our kids aren’t being treated well. What a shame. Everything feels so hopeless. I’m just going to stay home. They could have done that, but they realized it’s actually the other way around how our democracy works. They realized the only way to make change in this country is to get out and vote for the change you’re looking for.
When they showed up to vote, things happened. And the same things can happen on every issue everywhere in this country. That’s how change happens in America. So our vote matters. It always does, but only if we use that vote.
Let’s just imagine… what if this year we actually did that? What if this year every eligible American decided to step up and be a vote? What if each of us found at least one candidate we liked on a ballot, one initiative we care about, and that was enough to get us into the polling place? Let’s think about that for a minute. What can actually happen when we all vote?
For starters, the folks we elect will have to listen to us and do something about the issues we care about because we put them there. And the next election they’ll know we can either keep them there of vote them out. There’s power in that. That is the power when we all vote.
When we all vote, Imagine the kind of schools we can demand for our kids, schools that aren’t falling apart… schools that don’t have to hold bake sales to buy textbooks… schools that give all of our kids, and I mean all of our kids, education worthy of their promise.
When we all vote, imagine what we can demand for our communities… safer streets, cleaner water, after school programs for all of our kids. All the thing we’ve been wishing and hoping for.
When we all vote, imagine the kind of leaders we can elect. Leaders who share out values. Leaders who understand, in the deepness of their bones, the struggle and hopes of all of us. Leaders who want the best for all of our families, not just the handful but all of us. That’s how democracy works here in America. We get the leaders we vote for. We get the policies we vote for. And when we don’t vote, that’s when we wind up with government of, by, and or other people.
And that’s not what we want. So listen up. If you are not registered to vote, please just get registered. Please. I’ll say it again. Please just get registered. I don’t care who you vote for. Be registered. Be involved in this. Don’t be intimidated by it. Don’t think you can’t make it happen. Just be registered. And you’ve heard to do that today, take out your phone and text WeALLVOTE to 97779.
You can do that right now. You can learn to register online or request a registration form with a prepaid envelope to be sent right to your house. Don’t even need a stamp. Fill it out, have it done. And if you’re registered to vote, I want you to— to reach out to everyone you know, whoever is in your life, because here’s the thing — this is what we’ve learned from all the studies. Look, people don’t really want to hear from celebrities and athletes and famous people, because they don’t know us. They don’t necessarily trust that I really care. Maybe some people have learned over the years that I actually do care.
But here’s the thing. In all fairness, people listen to the people in their lives, right? Family members… you know you’ve got a brother, an uncle, somebody who likes you, who respects you. You’ve got colleagues, friends, young people here. You all know you have a couple of people who listen to you over a bunch of stuff you don’t know nothing about. You can have a bigger influence over the people in your lives more so than I can, more so than anyone really can.
So for the people who are registered, who are here, who are focused, do not take for granted that getting a few more people registered and getting them to the polls won’t make difference, because it will. It absolutely will.
I say this in election after election because so few people vote. Elections in precinct by precinct can be decided by 10 votes, 20 votes, I mean really 50 votes. Presidential elections in districts are decided by 50 people who decided not to. It’s that small of a margin. And people feel like, it must be millions and millions of votes. No. When so few people get involved in the democratic process, the people who are involved have way more control over it. So don’t ever underestimate the power of pulling more people in. So we want you to go out there and find other people.
We need you guys. And I am here asking you for this. I am here asking you for this. You all stop this now. Here’s what we have to do. If we want qualified people who we trust… if we want qualified people that we trust, then people have to vote. Because you can’t vote some of the time and then sit out.
We saw that happen. We experienced that. We had a great president, but every couple of years folks sat out and said, “Well, I did my part. I voted once. I’m done. I’m out.” And I’m just telling you that democracy doesn’t work that way. As I said earlier, democracy doesn’t wait for you to be bothered. It moves on, as it rightly should.
And therefore, the people who vote determine the direction of the country. They determine the mood, the tone, and the people who stay out don’t get a say. And I want every American to feel the power of that choice so that no matter what happens, people aren’t thinking if I could, woulda, and maybe I shoulda. We all have that responsibility, and we have to figure out what’s happening where people don’t want to exercise that. The has got me in a quandary.
I wonder, what is it? What will it take for people to decide that it’s worth it? So I’m here today because I want to see what this country can do when they know what their power is. Because it doesn’t matter what leaders you elect. If they don’t have your vote behind them, there’s only so much they can do. It is not about the leader. The power of our democracy is in us.
The person that you’re looking for is standing in your shoes. You’re the person who can save yourself from this. We are our heroes. We are our leaders. That doesn’t change, and it doesn’t matter who runs. It’s on us.
So you all have your marching orders, right? And let me just say, Nevada, I love you. I know you’re going to get this done. Election Day is coming right around the corner. I want you all to take this energy, and not just have this moment here with me, but to take this energy and run with it. There’s a limit of time to get this stuff done. This room here, if everybody in this gym were fired up and motivated… Wow. That’s enough to make some real change. So let’s make it happen. You guys are amazing. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedules. I love you all so much. Let’s get it done. Thank you.