It's easy to feel discouraged about the state of American politics, and for many, that can make it difficult to muster up the energy to cast a ballot on election day. But anybody who's feeling the urge to drop out of politics need look no further this Oprah Winfrey quote from her USC commencement speech, in which she explained the practical, symbolic and historical reasons why every vote matters.
Winfrey addressed graduates of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California on Friday, and took some time to stress the importance of civic engagement, even and especially during times of distress. Here's what she had to say:
And it’s true, you can’t personally stop anybody from walking into a school with an assault rifle, nor can you singlehandedly ensure that the rights that your mothers and grandmothers fought so hard for will be preserved for the daughters you may someday have. And it’ll take more than you alone to pull more than 40 million Americans out of poverty. But who will you be if you don’t care enough to try? And what mountains could we move, I think, what gridlock could we eradicate if we were to join forces and work together in service of something greater than ourselves?
You know, my deepest satisfactions and my biggest rewards have come from exactly that. Pick a problem, any problem, and do something about it. Because to somebody who’s hurting, something is everything.
So, I hesitate to say this, because the rumors from my last big speech have finally died down, but here it is. Vote. Vote. Vote. Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf. They represent you and if they’ve not done right by you or if their policies are at odds with your core beliefs, then you have a responsibility to send them packing. If they go low, thank you Michelle Obama, if they go low, we go to the polls. People died for that right, they died for that right. I think about it every time I vote. So don’t let their sacrifices be in vain.
Winfrey has good reason to be focusing on voter turnout. The 2016 election had the lowest voter participation in 20 years, according to USA TODAY, with only 55 percent of voting age citizens casting a ballot. The turnout was even lower among young Americans, only 50 percent of whom voted in 2016, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
As Winfrey hinted at in the speech, the fact that she talked about politics, even briefly, will almost certainly reignite speculation and hopes that she'll run for president in 2020. Winfrey's name has come up in these conversations for years; Mother Jones made the case for a Winfrey presidential campaign back in 2006, while "Draft Oprah" movements have been around since at least 2001. During Donald Trump's short-lived 2000 presidential campaign, he named Winfrey as his ideal running mate.
The latest round of speculation kicked off after Winfrey's well-received speech at the Golden Globes, which inspired endless chatter about a potential 2020 candidacy and an "Oprah For President" billboard in Los Angeles. Winfrey, however, has all but categorically ruled out the possibility.
"I am definitely not running for president,” she said on Jimmy Kimmel's show in February. She did creak the door open ever-so-slightly days later, however, telling People that she'll run for president only if God gives her a sign "so clear that not even I can miss it."
As Winfrey was batting down presidential speculation rumors in February, Trump tweeted, unprompted, that Winfrey is "very insecure," and promised he'd defeat her in 2020 if she ran.