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Why Michelle Obama’s DNC Address Was What America Needed To Hear


The Democratic National Convention looks a little different this year. Jam packed arenas with hundreds of red, white and blue balloons while speakers and the official party nominee dazzle crowds are non-existent in a COVID-19, 2020, political landscape.

Instead, the DNC has unveiled a modern, four night virtual extravaganza, with a standout lineup of speeches from party icons like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Michelle Obama, which is being lived streamed on a series of platforms as well as broadcasted on CNN. 

Monday night—the first night of the Democratic convention—showcased several incredibly powerful and poignant moments including George Floyd’s family leading a moment of silenceBernie Sanders making an impassioned plea to his base to get behind the Democratic party, a slew of 2020 primary candidates recounting their positive experiences with Joe Biden, and citizens around the country who have been struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic

However, Michelle Obama’s 18 minute and 26 second speech at the end of the program was not only one of the most powerful speeches of the night, but was also one of the most passionate speeches ever given by a former first lady regarding a candidate or president of an opposing party.

The speech was emotional, raw, passionate, and, through the hardships that have been exacerbated and produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, is what Americans needed to hear. Literally spelled out by Obama’s gold “Vote” necklace, her message was firm, concise and, unsurprisingly, extraordinarily articulated: Michelle Obama wants Americans to get out and vote not like their lives depend on it, but because they do depend on it

Obama starts out by acknowledging the fact that this particular moment in history is an extremely difficult one that Americans are going through and she understands why people would want to turn their backs on politics. 

Yet, Obama asserts how she has met thousands of Americans and how she is speaking because she believes in America, despite the hardships that it is facing. Obama speaks to “the story of America” based on “sacrifice and overcoming” to achieve more. Obama eloquently connects the story of America to that of the upcoming election and strongly declares that it is this upcoming election that will determine if America sustains that story, that legacy, and “chip away at injustice.” 

That first minute of Michelle Obama’s speech was pivotal because it established a few particulars about her role of the night. 

First: to exert her unique power of connecting with the American people. 

It is Obama’s eloquence, her natural ease with public speaking, the way she tells it as it is, the way she can articulate a moment perfectly and be vulnerable enough to connect to people’s vulnerabilities while also maintaining an unrelenting optimism that draws people in. Despite detesting politics, Michelle Obama has sustained a staggeringly high approval rate as well as remaining an icon that people trust because of all of these factors. Michelle Obama acts as a voice that transcends politics and speaks on behalf of the American conscious, and does what so many can rarely do naturally: get people to listen

Second: to urge people to vote for Joe Biden. 

While Obama states that she understands the want of people to turn their back on politics, she also implies that if Democrats turn their back on the upcoming election and do not turnout as voters failed to do in 2016, not only will a chance at a Biden presidency be gone but Trump will remain in office. Obama is speaking to passionately urge voters to exercise their right to do so, as she states that voters could vote early, in person, “or request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they’re received.” 

Third: to unapologetically take down Donald Trump. 

Obama’s message is clear: Donald Trump needs to be voted out of office, and the only way to do that is for Democrats to mobilize and vote against Trump. Obama confidently stated, “let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” 

Her words regarding Trump are ones that immediately began circulating social media the moment they were aired; a war cry for the Democratic party to assemble and plead with voters to vote Trump out. 

Obama’s message mainly targets the majority of those who are unhappy about Joe Biden receiving the nomination and, thereby, may be disenfranchised to vote for Biden or to participate in the election at all. Obama emotionally asserts that “we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it. I know Joe, he is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic, and lead our country. And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science. He will make smart plans and manage a good team, and he will govern as someone who lives a life the rest of us can recognize.” 

Obama presents Biden as someone who may not be all voters first choice, but does present a stark contrast to President Trump and, as she states, can lead America out of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession to come.  

“If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can” are words that echoed a call to action to voters on both sides of the aisle, arguing that this election is not a partisan election but a moral and fate-sealing decision. 

The argument that Obama is making is based on morality, on not tear gassing or demonizing peaceful protestors while coddling white supremacists, on not holding children at the border, reflecting, “a nation that’s underperforming not simply on matters of policy but on matters of character.” 

Michelle Obama is a powerhouse, and her speech from Monday night’s convention solidified that she remains her role as one of the most effective speakers of the 21st century. She appeals not on the basis of hate, but on one of her most famous lines, “when they go low, we go high.” 

As Obama assured the American people in her speech, “so what do we do now? What's our strategy? Over the past four years, a lot of people have asked me, ‘When others are going so low, does going high still really work?’ My answer: going high is the only thing that works, because when we go low, when we use those same tactics of degrading and dehumanizing others, we just become part of the ugly noise that's drowning out everything else. We degrade ourselves. We degrade the very causes for which we fight.”

She furthers her “when they go low, we go high” point by stating, “but let's be clear: going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top. Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we've got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences. And going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can truly set us free: the cold hard truth.”

Her message is stern, confident and one that the American people needed to hear. 

On November 3rd, when they go low, we go high. 

Writer, Ted Talks curator, crisis-line volunteer. Probably writing, probably caffeinated.
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