In the final stop of When We All Vote’s Week of Action tour, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke Friday at the University of Miami’s Watsco Center. Her goal was simple: to encourage every person there to go out and vote.
Freshman Juliette van Heerden said she decided to go to the rally as soon as she heard that Obama would be there.
“I have always had so much respect for who she is and what she’s accomplished,” van Heerden said. “The fact that she was coming to the University of Miami to talk to us was so exciting.”
When We All Vote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization created to spark conversations about civic rights and responsibilities, with an emphasis on increasing voter registration. But even though Obama is a co-chair, she said she’s not telling anyone who to vote for.
Instead, she said wants to change today’s dangerous cycle of frustrated people who get angry at the current political system but do nothing to change it.
“Some folks think the whole system is rigged, so why bother at all?” Obama said. “I get it. I get being busy. I get being frustrated. I’m frustrated, too.”
But Obama said that this frustration and disdain for the status-quo should motivate people to head to the polls, not keep them away.
“Voting is a fundamental right,” Obama said. “It is the only way in our democracy to have a say in the issues we care about. Essentially, it is our stake in our children’s future.”
She told the crowd that even in the 2008 election, when voter turnout was at its highest, more than 80 million didn’t exercise their ability to vote. In midterm elections, turnout is typically even lower, with less than 40 percent of eligible voters showing up at the polls.
Obama said that low voter turnout results in underrepresented populations, because only a small percentage of people are choosing who will represent the entire community.
“As a citizen, wouldn’t you want to be absolutely positive that those elected officials are looking out for all of us and not just a small percent?” Obama said.
She said that people shouldn’t leave it to others to decide who will represent them in government.
“You wouldn’t give your crazy uncle the power to 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?” Obama said.
Other speakers at the rally delivered similar messages, including former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, gospel singer Erica Campbell and “Key & Peele” star Keegan-Michael Key.
Asides from the speeches, sophomore Anastasia Cafatti said her favorite part was that Obama was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.
“It makes you feel much closer to her, even though she might be at a much higher level in terms of the power she holds,” Cafatti said. “I believe that through this, she was trying to make a point that we are all people, and every single one of us is important, therefore every vote matters.”
Isabella Aires, a junior from Brazil, said that even though she can’t vote in the United States, Obama’s speech inspired her to get involved in Brazil’s upcoming elections.
“I wasn’t sure if it was worth voting,” Aires said. “Now I know I will vote.”
Freshman Ishaan Chatterjee said he was also inspired by the event and that although he was already planning on voting, he didn’t think about the importance of his vote until Obama began to speak.
“I have never felt so genuinely inspired to do something before,” Chatterjee said. “Much love for the Obama family.”
Students can register to vote by texting “weallvote” to 97779. The voter registration deadline in Florida is Oct. 9, and the 2018 midterm elections will take place on Nov. 6.