On the 19th Amendment's Centennial, Michelle Obama Urges Us to Honor Women's Work in Securing the Vote

Former US first lady Michelle Obama arrives to attend an event for the Obama Foundation in Kuala Lumpur on December 12, 2019.
Former US first lady Michelle Obama arrives to attend an event for the Obama Foundation in Kuala Lumpur on December 12, 2019.
Photo: Mohd Rasfan (Getty Images)

Just like our forever First Lady Michelle Obama, we are not going to stop talking about the importance of voting this election cycle—no matter how unenthused you might be. While there were many factors that led to the outcome of what we’d feared would be a disastrous 2016 election (Electoral College, we’re looking at you), apathy was among them, and it’s not a risk we can afford to take again—especially with so many other present risks to our democracy and lives.


In the case of Black people, and Black women, in particular, these are rights our ancestors fought for us to be able to exercise. On August 6, we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was the hard-won result of the deadly civil rights movement of the mid-last century—and significantly, marked the day that Black women were fully enfranchised to vote. It was the completion of a battle that had begun 45 years earlier when the 19th Amendment was ratified, which ostensibly gave American women the right to vote by stating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

While we know the 19th amendment didn’t include all women (read: us), it has nevertheless been 100 years since its passage; a date Mrs. Obama’s two-year-old When We All Vote initiative commemorated Monday morning in an exclusive video with Harper’s Bazaar, which appropriately acknowledged our exclusion, noting:

Continued organizing and activism pushed for a democracy that included all races and genders—and the fight continues today, one hundred years after the historic amendment’s ratification.

The video features many of our foremothers, including pioneering activists Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Pitman Hughes and more.

“It took decades of marching, organizing, and standing up to folks who thought that democracy should be of, by, and for only some of the people,” says Mrs. Obama (h/t Bazaar). “And then we had to fight for decades more to ensure that women of color could cast their ballots as well. These victories were hard-won. But the struggle was worth it because our foremothers knew that our vote is our voice. It gives us the power to determine the course of our lives and the direction of our country. And this year in this election, we cannot take that power for granted.”


She further notes that even in these very bleak times, we have good reason to be encouraged—and momentum to build upon. Along with the “blue wave” that took over the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, as previously reported by The Root, a record-breaking number of Black women are running for seats in Congress this November.


“In 2018, women showed up to the polls in a major way,” says Mrs. Obama, who last week urged us to prepare early to vote by mail and protect our votes. “We all know that some people out there are just hoping that we decide to give up our power and stay home on Election Day. But we can’t let that happen. Not this year, not any year. We owe it to ourselves, and to our kids and grandkids, to make our voices heard. That’s what our mothers and grandmothers did for us. And now it’s our turn.”

Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?