Why I Voted for Michelle Obama
Written by Shawn R Lee
Let’s make this very clear from the start: I am a registered independent voter from California. The reason for this disclaimer comes as a result of numerous conversations that I’ve had with people that contentiously argued that I, along with others that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in the recent election, was the reason that she lost. I’ve had numerous claims of indirectly supporting racism, bigotry and misogyny because of my choice to write in a person that was never even mentioned the entire process, so I offer this explanation.
Many of the Republican candidates I’d heard speak about their positions for quite some time already and so it didn’t require much to move past as a viable head of the U.S. Government. It wasn’t until a conversation that I’d witnessed involving the aspect of improper representation in the government that my overall thinking had began to shift. Between the numerous vitriolic arguments, where heavy terms such as racist and sexist were abused more than a public toilet, and the excessive use of non-platforming that my experience as a child of divorce came front and center for me.
An issue that I encountered more times than I wish to count was a general unwillingness to even converse. If a fundamental point wasn’t agreed upon, suddenly the opposition had lost their humanity and was therefore no longer worth talking with. There was a clearly defined line between the sides, lines in the sand became chasms in a volcanic world or armies on a muddy battlefield. It reminded me, at times, of standing helpless as my parents argued in the parking lot. Surely they were both arguing about substantive things, but it always seemed as though the main focus was to air grievances in order to make a point to sway the other side to change an outcome that was never in their control. Their dislike and resent of each other based purely on an existence defined by their interactions, both directly and indirectly, never quite reached or included the focal point of their argument.
For quite some time, I had mulled over who I’d be voting for as the primaries began ramping up, but it wasn’t until I had arrived in Germany as part of the University of California’s student exchange program that I’d began to be skeptical of the reasons why I wanted to vote. In the past, it was because I had succumbed to the narrow defeat that this is all we have and therefore I should take part. Not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I should. It was akin to walking through Costco and deciding if I should consume the samples simply because they are there and not because I hungry. My time here put much of that into perspective for me as I was, and still am, asked on numerous occasions to share my view on the election by Europeans. Of course a good number of them were German, but also being a student that also knows folks from around Europe garnered me the unique opportunity of being in much more private spaces where these conversations would normally occur back in the U.S.
Or so I thought.
As my time traveling around Europe has increased with the now 5 months of remaining primarily in Berlin, a few things progressively began to stand out to me. Not only were these conversations occurring inside the home with a variety of ages involved in the conversation, but also outside the home as well. I would be speaking with one person and suddenly another person would join in that may not have been an initial part of the conversation. Combined with a very unique sense of community that I’ve experienced in not many places I’ve been, I’d realized that these types of interactions and conversations were much more commonplace than I’d ever expected. I had been conditioned for so long in the U.S. to keep these types of conversations private in fear of offending someone, that I’d never imagined that by doing so, the conversations about the community were de-platformed because a private residence was not my society.
In understanding a little bit of German, I could listen to conversations on public transportation and know that they were talking about matters of politics, some of which would be very hearty debates. In Denmark, I spent hours discussing differences in political systems, social and cultural concerns and why these were important to them. We certainly could have spoken about other, more light hearted things like the weather, but as it was with my experience in Germany, there was little use in talking about things that just were. As one person said to me, “We cannot change the weather, but we can change the government.”
Internally, quite of bit of this struck a chord. Bernie Sanders, whom I admired because his entire career circled around the same concerns – the care and welfare of as many people as possible – had lost the primaries while at the same time Donald Trump had won the Republican Primary, I began to look elsewhere. A common argument against Sanders in the primary was one that boils down to, “Yes he’s been fighting for [insert cause], but notice that he really hasn’t gotten much done,” which I found to be one part defeatist, one part reality-checking, and two parts oblivious. While true in the grand notion of the U.S., it was oblivious to the importance of starting a conversation in order to keep the needle moving towards equality and justice for all. Here was a person in a place where he was liked, but often ignored by the establishment, being ignored or dismissed by the very people he was working for. So came the question as I removed my mail-in ballot: With the person I’d like no longer in the official running, who should I vote for?
I had bounced around a bit as I listened and relistened to the candidates. I agreed with some talking points of the Libertarians, but I disagreed with the means in which these things should be achieved. I listened to the Green Party, but couldn’t stand behind the willingness to join in on the bashing that was occurring in spades between the Donkey and the Elephant. Enter Michelle Obama. Every speech she gave was powerful, moving and chalked full of a veracity for the well-being of all U.S. citizens that I hadn’t heard since Bernie began to campaign for Hillary Clinton. She spoke about the positions she’s had since she became known to the world, and did so with a sharp and commanding oration skill that I would argue surpassed Barack. It wasn’t focused around pot-shots or identity politics, it was focused around addressing the evils that plague the every day of every person regardless of background or aesthetic. I wished that she was the choice for President of the United States of America.
One of the greatest things to come out of Trump’s election victory is that it reinforced that political experience does not require the inclusion of direct involvement. I considered heavily the options that were listed on my ballot, as well as the fading hopes of Bernie supporters that stated they’d write him in, but I wasn’t thinking large enough and I knew it. With the thought of representation perpetually prodding my subconscious as I sat at my desk, my mind began to race with the idea of potentiality. I’d argued for months now that the first and most important step in any democratic process must involve a willingness to converse, yet I felt with the choices given that I wouldn’t be able to explain myself to the masses before I was ultimately attached with some type of pejorative. They wouldn’t allow me to stay true to my ultimate academic goal of becoming a Professor that asks the students to not put their imagination in a box, to not just ask why but to also explore the infinite of outside possibilities, but also to support a person that I believe will be a force for good for years to come.
In making my choice I’ve been able to have conversations with a multitude of people about my decision. Most had, what seemed to be, prepared statements if I had responded with my choice being any of the 4 candidates on the ballot. They were ready to pounce when I said that I’d written in my candidate because they assumed that I chose Bernie Sanders, as I’d advocated thoroughly after his loss that it was my right to write him in, and instead they simply asked why. A couple lambasted me for choosing a person that wasn’t even considered, but what this did for me was one of the reasons why I chose Michelle Obama in the first place: I got to explain the problem of not considering something just because it isn’t directly in front of us.
We as U.S. citizens are in a very unique position of not only seeing the world affected, but also recognizing how the minutia matters far beyond our sights. We can agree that something needed to change and that options were far from ideal. We knew that the world was watching as a whole, but also that we’d been individually watching intently for the past decade or more. We knew all of this, but remained unwilling to step outside of the limited menu we were shown because consuming the convenience of our echo chambers provided enough hollow “this is how it is” sustenance to keep us focused on the choices we were given. So I made my own choice, one that was never just about now, but what I’ve always argued for: the future.
Shawn Lee is a student at University of California, Irvine studying English Literature. He is originally from Oakland, California and published “Dark Matters (or Nothing is Everything).