Janelle Monae is fresh off her Dirty Computer tour, about to hit the big screen in Welcome to Marwen, and heading into the studio to record Lady and the Tramp. But as the Nov. 6 midterm elections are nearly upon us, she’s also carved out a chunk of time for politics, specifically as a board member and public motivator for When We All Vote, a new national nonprofit that encourages civic engagement.
“Voting is personal for me,” Monae tells Yahoo Lifestyle (whose parent media company, Oath, is a supportive partner of When We All Vote). “I grew up in a family where the matriarchs — my mom, my aunt, my grandmothers, my ancestors — could not [always] vote. And it’s a promise I made to my grandmother before she passed that I would continue to go to the polls in her honor, and in the honor of folks who died for the right to have a say in our democracy.”
Monae had also been inspired to join When We All Vote through working with organization co-chair Michelle Obama, “the forever first lady,” Monae says. “I remember in our private conversations just having so much passion about voting, and that we come from backgrounds with working-class families, and the things that I cared about she cared about. I knew that, personally, she was invested in making sure that people were aware of voting and registration and how important the midterm elections were. So this is just organic, and it just made sense for us to partner and collaborate and help get the word out.”
Other co-chairs include Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw.
While Monae is passionate about exercising her right to vote, she knows that’s not the case for many young people in America, particularly young people of color, and understands why, largely from her travels with When We All Vote.
“In those conversations at [historically black universities] Spelman, at Clark, Morehouse, one of the things [the students] remark on is, for the first time, they’re finally seeing candidates that share their values,” she says. “And for a very long time, and even right now, they don’t feel seen, they don’t feel heard, by those who are representing them. And that just stops them from being passionate about going to the polls.”
There is also a lack of understanding about the midterm elections, in that “they’re just as important as electing a president, as these are the people who empower and can enable the president once they’re in office,” she said.
Monae says she’s definitely been encouraged by the growing diversity she’s seen in races across the country. “There’s so much black girl magic on the ballot, and [more] women who are on the ballot this time around,” she says.
It’s still hard at times to stay positive and hopeful, she admits, especially as “a young black queer woman who grew up with working-class parents in America.” Recently leaked news that the Trump administration wants to define sex as “immutable,” which would negatively impact transgender Americans, has particularly angered Monae.
“It’s evil, it’s divisive, you cannot erase trans people,” she says. “My trans brothers and sisters are human beings, and I will continue to do everything I can to fight on their behalf. And I think we have to elect officials who value trans people … and will continue to fight for their rights even if our current president tries to erase them.”
She admits that remaining politically engaged sometimes feels hard. “I don’t wake up feeling like I have all the answers for everything. It’s a choice, and I choose to not be defeated,” Monae says. “Right now, with all the voter suppression going on, I know that if my vote didn’t matter, if our votes didn’t matter, politicians wouldn’t work so hard to stop us from voting.”
Monae adds that she lives in Georgia, where she opted for early voting (something she recommends to everyone), and where over 50,000 newly registered voters have not been confirmed. “That’s a powerful number,” she says, “and most of those folks are black and brown people. So I understand our power and we have to understand that once we have a say in the democracy … that we hold the power. And we have to regain our power. And going to the ballot — registering and going to vote — is a huge step toward that.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- American flag appreciation walk met with protests: ‘Everyone was welcome at this, Democrat, Republican, liberal’
- ‘I’m the scary transgender person the media warned you about’: Mom of transgender child speaks out after Trump administration report
- Muslim, African-American, Native-American, Trans: Meet the pioneering women running for office in the midterms