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Michelle Obama hits the road to push midterm voter turnout

The former first lady has partnered with nearly 20 African-American organizations with her initiative When We All Vote.
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WASHINGTON — Former first lady Michelle Obama is hitting the road to encourage people to show up for the midterms.

Hosting events through her new initiative, When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization that she launched in July, Obama and various celebrities will promote voter registration, awareness on issues and civic participation.

“The truth is, when we stay home, things stay the same, or they get worse,” Obama said in a public service announcement released Thursday. “But when we all vote, we get new ideas and new energy. We get leaders who share our values and listen to our voices. That’s how we change America.”

Celebrities such as Shonda Rhimes, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Tom Hanks and others will headline events in Atlanta, New York, Chicago and other cities.

Obama spoke at one of the first events in Las Vegas on Sunday.

"We get the leaders we vote for. We get the policies we vote for. And when we don't vote, that's when we wind up with government of, by and for other people," Obama told about 2,000 people inside a high school gymnasium.

She did not make any overtly partisan appeals Sunday, telling people she didn't care who they vote for as long as they participate.

Former Obama administration senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is chair of the board of the initiative, said in an email to NBC News that it’s “critically important that everyone show up to vote on Election Day.”

“No matter who you are or who you vote for, your vote is your voice and your voice is your power. We can’t afford to give our power away,” Jarrett said.

Obama has also teamed up with nearly 20 black organizations, including nine predominantly black fraternities and sororities, that will hold events in their own communities, including: National Urban League, the NAACP, Black Girls Vote, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and others.

“It is absolutely crucial that African-Americans as a whole participate in the midterm elections so that the outcome of this election could reflect the needs and interests of all American citizens and not an over representation of a few,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “If we get unprecedented turnout for this midterm cycle we will be able to defeat the hate that we see spread across the country.”

Nearly a year after a sweep of political wins on the local and state levels and more than 600 black women running on the ballot for the 2018 midterms, African-Americans can make history again.

The African-American voter turnout rate in a presidential election fell in 2016 for the first time in 20 years, dropping from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent. In the 2014 midterms, African-Americans made up 12 percent of voters, compared to 13 percent in 2012 and 11 percent in the 2010 midterm election. A majority of millennials said they plan to or will vote in the November midterms and many prefer a Democratic Congress, according to a NBC News/GenForward survey.

Former President Barack Obama has been on the campaign trail energizing voters and pushing for increased voter participation and endorsing candidates. The Obamas' stepping back into the political spotlight has stirred excitement, according to Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University.

“It’s great to have Michelle Obama or Barack Obama headline these events, and people would take signals from that,” Gillespie said. “But the real work and the work that is most meaningful is going to be the work that is done in the trenches. It’s likely going to be unnamed, unsung campaign volunteer who commits to making 100 phone calls a day, to go remind her neighbors to go vote. That’s the most effective thing. To the effect that the Obamas can use their celebrity to drive and to recruit the volunteers to do that hard work, that’s important.”