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Michelle Obama urges LA Summit crowd to help ‘expand democracy’

Former first lady Michelle Obama closed out the four-day Culture of Democracy Summit at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park by calling upon individuals and organizations alike to help inspire a cultural shift in how Americans participate in democracy — specifically when it comes to voting, on Monday June 13.

Related: LA voting summit’s lively conversations focus on democracy

“I want to implore every American who cares about our democracy not just to get angry — but to get active. We’ve got to change the way we think about our democracy and the way we participate in it,” Obama said. “Not just every two to four years, but routinely. I’m calling on anyone who cares to step up for our democracy.”

Organized by When We All Vote — a nonprofit organization co-founded by Obama and an array of celebrities in 2018 — the summit began with a series of online discussions Friday, then continued on through Monday.

Actress and singer Selena Gomez, the co-Chair of When We We All Vote and who recently earned strong reviews for her role in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” introduced the former first lady and spoke about the success of the initiative thus far — and said its of the utmost importance that the culture around voting shifts.

“The people in elected positions impact all of us and make decisions on the issues we care about, and this November we will decide who will serve,” Gomez said. “But we can’t ignore that a lot of people don’t vote — that’s why we’re here, to change the culture around voting in each every election.”

Obama echoed that sentiment, arguing that recent events — including the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, laws challenging voter access across the country and recent bursts of gun violence — have disenfranchised voters on an unprecedented scale.

“Right now, when we look around at everything that’s happening, when it comes to voting and our democracy,” Obama said, “it is clear we’re seeing a deep discrepancy in what we tell ourselves about this country and what we can see with our own eyes.”

When We All Vote — founded in 2018 — ran a multifaceted campaign that reached more than 100 million Americans in 2020. That initiative led in voter registration, the website said, and as a result 512,000 people started or completed the voter registration process.

But those efforts were not enough to counter recent efforts to limit voting rights, Obama said. Last year alone, she added, 19 states passed bills to restrict voting rights — making it more difficult for 87 million people to cast their ballots.

States with GOP-controlled legislatures have adopted tighter rules following the 2020 presidential election, following former President Donald Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on his election loss.

“We’re all tired of how short-sighted elections can feel, how we keep hearing the stakes have never been higher,” Obama said. “Quite frankly — I’m tired of saying it.”

But, Obama added: “If you recognize that protecting and expanding our democracy is the best and only path out of this mess — we need to stop playing the same old song. We need a remix.”

The former first lady called upon individuals to think about how they, uniquely, can help reframe the societal narrative about voting. And, Obama called on several industries to do their parts as well — asking tech companies to better better monitor misinformation, and asking entertainment and social media stars to use their clout to inspire others to be active participants in the democratic process.

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