The most historically important day in Presidential election history thus far is less than two weeks away. But while we’re all eagerly anticipating the day that might lead to the country’s first black president ever, we’re also in awe of the intelligent, driven (and fierce!) woman by his side: Michelle Obama.
Few potential First Ladies in history have been as involved in the upcoming election as Michelle Obama. However, it’s her unwavering devotion to both her family and her job that make her an inspiration to women everywhere.
In light of her long-standing quest to encourage voting among youth (especially through voter registration and information site voteforchange.com) and our tireless effort to encourage young African Americans to vote on November 4, I had the pleasure of grabbing an exclusive interview with Mrs. Obama for HelloBeautiful.com.
But I didn’t want to make this totally about politics – I’m sure you ladies are curious about how she handles being a working mom so effortlessly, too! Below, read about what our lady of the year has to say about her role in one of America’s most important campaigns, and later, find out about how she balances working, being a mom, and keeping that ‘do so shiny!
HB: How old were you when you first registered to vote?
MO: I registered to vote as soon as I could. From a very early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of voting. My father volunteered as a precinct captain for the Democratic Party in our neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and some of my earliest memories are of me tagging along as he went from door to door, registering people to vote. If our neighbors needed absentee ballots, he arranged it. He helped them figure out how they’d get to the voting booth on Election Day.
He did this because he believed in the value of each person’s voice in the political process. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. And everywhere I go in this country, I urge people to exercise their right to vote, to learn about the issues at stake in this election, where the candidates stand on the issues, and what their plans are for our future. And then, once they’ve become informed, they’ve got to get active, and make their voices heard on Election Day, by voting.
No matter who you vote for, you’ve got to vote. It’s one of our most sacred responsibilities as citizens. When we vote, we strengthen our democracy and our nation.
What kind of America would you like to see for Sasha and Malia?
That’s what keeps me going through this campaign-thinking about that better country and world that I want to help create for my children and all children. When Barack first started talking seriously about running for President, my initial reaction was something like, “Absolutely not! Please don’t do this!” I thought politics was a mean, rough business. And the last thing in the world I wanted was to turn my girls’ lives upside down.
But then I took a step back, and I thought about the world I want my girls to grow up in: a world where they’ll be paid fairly for their work. Where they won’t have to choose between their kids and their careers. Where they can dream without limits and achieve those dreams without a glass ceiling ever standing in their way.
It’s a world where no one goes bankrupt because of an illness or injury… where anyone who is willing to work for it can make a good living and support their families… and where every child gets the opportunity to go to good schools, no matter where they live or how much money their family has.
I realized that if that’s the world I want for my girls, then I had to do my part to ensure that someone like Barack would be president. Because he is the person who can lead us to that better future. I believe that with all my heart. And that’s why, over the last 20 months, I’ve traveled across the country talking with people about why I know Barack will make an extraordinary President. I truly believe that helping Barack become President is the best investment I could ever make in my daughters’ future, and in all our children’s futures. Because I want all our sons and daughters to have opportunities that we as parents and grandparents could only dream of.
Describe a typical day as a mom/political wife/overall busy woman.
When I’m campaigning, my days typically start between 5:00 and 6:00 am. I get up, get the girls up, and help them get ready for their day. Once I drop them off to school, I try to fit in a workout, so, if I can, I’m off to the gym for about an hour. By mid-morning, I’m boarding a plane to campaign for my husband. A lot of my days on the road include hosting roundtable discussions with working women or military families, speaking at rallies, and meeting with community leaders. Just this week, I spoke at four rallies across Florida, and two in Ohio, encouraging folks to vote today since early voting has already begun in both states.
In between all of that, I make calls to local radio stations, and have interviews with television and newspaper reporters. So, needless to say, my campaign days are very full! And at the end of the day, my staff and I head back to Chicago. And when I get home, I’m greeted by two beaming little faces that I’ve been thinking about all day long.
On days when I’m not on the road, I’m spending time with the girls, getting them to school, soccer games, dance recitals and pizza parties – typical mom stuff.
What advice do you have for parents trying to get their children interested in politics? What about for parents who don’t know much about politics themselves?
I think that a lot of children will follow their parents’ lead. As I said earlier, my earliest political memories are of me tagging along with my father as he went door to door, registering our neighbors to vote, and helping folks get involved in the political process. And I didn’t realize it then, but his influence instilled a sense of pride and responsibility in the right to vote. One of the incredible things that we’ve seen throughout this election are the families across the country who have come out to campaign events and volunteered at the local office together.
For those parents who don’t know much about politics themselves, or haven’t been politically active, I would urge them to get involved. Take a few minutes each day to read the paper with your children, or watch the news instead of a movie or TV show, and talk with your children about what’s happening around them. This is an historic election, and an exciting one, so it’s a great opportunity to get involved. And participating in our democracy, and working together to bring the change we need, is what this campaign is all about.
So I urge all parents out there to bring their children with them to the polls on November 4th. Let them watch you vote.
Why do you think kids were so in the dark about politics before this year’s election?
Well, I think that so many young people – and plenty of not-so-young people – have become cynical about politics. So often, the political conversation isn’t about the issues that matter to people’s lives. It’s about the back-and-forth between the different sides, which really isn’t what most people care about. And you can see the effects in the policies that Washington has implemented-for the past eight years, we’ve had policies that really haven’t valued families or supported hardworking Americans. But that’s changing now, with this campaign. And that’s one of the greatest things that I’ve seen over the last 20 months – folks who were never involved in the political process are becoming interested, and investing their time and money in Barack’s campaign, because they believe in his message of change, and want to bridge the gap between the “world as it is” and the “world as it should be.”
Young people are worried about how they’re going to pay for their college education, or if they’ll be able to get a job when they graduate. They want to see the war in Iraq come to a responsible end. But most of all, I think people want to have a leader in the White House who understands the everyday challenges of everybody Americans–somebody who gets it. And Barack gets it.
Young people have been the backbone of this campaign from the beginning. They’ve been our most passionate and inspired volunteers. I think that’s because they know just how much this election matters, and seem to know better than anyone else that if we come together and work together, we can finally bring the change our country needs. And that begins with casting their ballots for change on November 4th.
Every First Lady has a cause (Nancy Reagan was anti-drugs, Hillary Clinton was healthcare, Laura Bush – heart disease, etc.). What’s yours?
Well, my first responsibility will be to my girls. It’s a big transition to move to a new city and home, so I’d focus first on making sure that they’re comfortable and happy.
Once they’re settled, I would keep working on finding ways to support working women and families. To me, policies that support families aren’t just political; they’re personal. They’re the issues I carry in my heart every single day. And that’s why, since very early in the campaign, I’ve been hosting roundtable discussions with working women and military families to hear firsthand the concerns of women in their communities, and to help communicate Barack’s plan to support America’s families.
These discussions have been amazing. I’ve really treasured these conversations. It’s been so important to me to hear their voices and their stories. As First Lady, I would keep these conversations going, and bring stories back to my husband and his staff. Our president needs to understand the challenges that working women and military families face. So in an Obama White House, those conversations will keep happening… so that women and families can have more of a voice in our government, and government can help ease the burden they carry every day.
Then, I’d like to bring more people into public service. At the beginning of my career, I left corporate America to help start Public Allies Chicago, a leadership training program affiliated with AmeriCorps. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Public Allies has trained more than 350 young people for careers in public service-creating ripples of change that spread through communities across Chicago. I would love to use the White House as a platform to encourage more young people to get involved in their communities, and use their skills and talents to invest in places where their help is needed the most.
How would you sum up your youth voting campaign into a sentence or two?
For months, I have been talking with young people across the country about the importance of participating in this historic election. Young people have an opportunity here that doesn’t come along very often. It’s an opportunity to choose new leaders, change the direction of our country, shape our future. It’s a chance to change the world. We don’t want to wake up on November 5th wishing we’d gotten involved. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by.