What Michelle Obama Taught Me About Activism

Last month, at the peak of the collegiate graduation season, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered insightful remarks devoid of political affiliations or party ties. During this thirty minute address at Oberlin College, Mrs. Obama strove to encourage the next generation of activists–the backbone of the approaching innovative era–to reform the polarization and gridlock that too often characterizes our political and civic life.

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As an aspiring activist, I am inherently aware of the various struggles our country faces. This nation is threatened by a governing body that is satisfied with the status quo and unable to function with efficacy. Pew polls in the past decade place public trust in our institutions at historic lows. Furthermore, the dysfunctional nature of the governments of our parents’ generation has placed great burdens on our shoulders, whether it be student debt, the climate crisis, or education reform. Before I could vote–before I had a voice in my own government–public policy was determining, and jeopardizing, my future. I feel that the struggle to change the course my generation is traveling in is independent of partisan politics and rests squarely upon our shoulders. However, the feeling of perpetual chaos is often times discouraging, and it is overwhelming to begin to comprehend the magnitude of the issues at hand.

The First Lady’s remarks on activism at Oberlin College outline these immutable truths. She draws parallels with our journey towards reform by citing the difficulties faced by activists such Martin Luther King, Jr., President Franklin

D. Roosevelt and others, encouraging us to “run into the noise” as they did. Mrs. Obama also calls upon our generation to realize the civic duties that citizenship in a democracy implies. “You cannot fully achieve your goals of service and social justice if you turn away from politics and public policy,” she states, “climate change, economic inequality, human rights, criminal justice –these are the revolutions of your time. And you have as much responsibility and just as much power to wake up and play your part in our great American story. Because it is absolutely still possible to make a difference. The great moments of our history are not decades in our past; theyre happening right now, today, in our lifetimes.”

By delving into the implications of Mrs. Obama’s comments, I was able to ease my growing apprehensions and outline the cornerstones of my journey as an activist. Firstly, I determined that it is an imperative that we educate ourselves to better handle the burgeoning hardships of years to come. Our plate is full; income inequality threatens to polarize society, corporate spending infects the democratic system, and the Constitution’s relevance in the modern age is questioned. With an irresponsible media and lack of quality investigative journalism, we must rely on ourselves to stay informed on the issues that matter. It is only then that we may collectively fulfill our civic duty to rally for change, engage in meaningful discourse, and participate in democracy.

I was also able to draw conclusions on civic duty and change from Mrs. Obama’s dialogue concerning true citizenship. If we are to truly become invested citizens as our nation’s Framers envisioned, we must also embody a basic principle that is the foundation for the democratic experiment of America: the power of the individual. As Mrs. Obama describes the trials and tribulations of the great activists who preceded our lives, it is evident that meaningful change occurs incrementally. She makes the valid point that in an age dominated by instantaneous information, it is difficult for our generation to comprehend the piecemeal processes of reform. These processes are nearly universally catalyzed by small groups of individuals who engage in the struggles of their time. It is time for us to do the same.

So how do we, as individuals, enact meaningful change in these large-scale issues? Stay informed, join a campaign, start a club; grassroots movements are defined by the resourcefulness and devotion of its vessels. As Michelle Obama suggests, “every city ordinance, every ballot measure, every law on the books in this country that is your concern. What happens at every school board meeting, every legislative session that is your concern. Every elected official who represents you, from dog catcher all the way to President of the United States they are your concern. So get out there and volunteer on campaigns, and then hold the folks you elect accountable. Follow whats happening in your city hall, your statehouse, Washington, D.C. Better yet, run for office yourself. Get in there. Shake things up. Dont be afraid. And get out and vote in every election not just the big national ones that get all the attention, but every single election. Make sure the folks who represent you share your values and aspirations.”

This is how we will rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of our time.

Written By: Evan Mehta

Find out more about Evan here.

Watch the First Lady’s full remarks at Oberlin College here.

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