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.
“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.
Seddy Dumont, 16, attended with his father, Sedwitz.
“I grew up with Barack as president, when I was younger, so he was one of my main role models along with this man right here,” the younger Dumont said.
His father, a New York transplant who’s been working to fight voter suppression in the country since 1992,was by his side.
The 16-year-old junior has eagerly joined the fight in the last decade.
“He’s been bored to death with me since he was 3 years old bringing him to all these different events,” Dumont joked about his son. “But it’s important for me, because I saw the insidious ways in which they were trying to keep people from getting to vote — even back then and even back then. And it’s gotten progressively worse.”
Obama’s continued efforts to engage Americans in the political process appear to be a natural offshoot of the initiatives she undertook while in the White House — where she was highly regarded for her national advocacy for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education access, and international adolescent girls education.
The When We All Vote initiative is supported by 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.
Among the topics discussed by various political leaders and celebrities during the Summit’s final day were the history of democracy in the United States and its current state, social responsibility in the entertainment industry, the criminal justice system and the impact professional sports have on society and democracy — though Obama’s keynote address was no doubt the most highly anticipated event of the day.
And the crowd wasn’t disappointed — they honored the first lady with a standing ovation on her arrival and exit.
“If we all do our part, and we embrace our obligation to our democracy and to our children, all those things we tell ourselves about this country — those won’t just be things we say, they’ll be things we see,” Obama said.
Staff Writer Brennon Dixson contributed to this story.