LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Michelle Obama urged Americans on Monday not to tune out of the gridlocked political system and said voting -- and enlisting millions of new voters - is a pathway to change in a deeply polarized nation.
"Protecting and expanding our democracy is the best and only path out of this mess," the former first lady said during her keynote address at the Los Angeles summit of a national voting organization she helped create.
"Our democracy is fading," Obama said, citing what she described as abusive gerrymandering practices and a new wave of voting restrictions in states that could suppress voting.
"Sometimes it's just easier to look away," Obama said, referring to domestic conflicts and controversies, including disinformation on social media, pervasive gun violence and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
"No one has the luxury to sit out or stay at home just because you're not feeling excited enough," she said. "If you don't vote, other people will."
Her speech marked the conclusion of When We All Vote's inaugural Culture of Democracy Summit. The sparsely attended event was held at a soccer stadium near downtown LA.
It came as a U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol held a second day of hearings in Washington.
Obama helped launch When We All Vote in 2018 to help register eligible voters in the United States.
Democrats nationally are facing a challenging political year. Midterm elections typically punish the party that holds the White House, and President Joe Biden is unpopular with most voters.
Obama noted that record levels of voters turned out in 2020, when the presidency was on the line. However, turnout in California's primary election last week was light.
"I want to implore every American who cares about our democracy not to just get angry or dejected. I want you to get active," she said. "We've got to change the way we think about our democracy. And we've got to change the way we participate in it. Not just every two or four years, but as a routine part of the way we all live."
"Every voice counts, and every vote matters," she said.
Organizers said it was Obama's first, in-person appearance before a larger audience since the start of the pandemic. She last addressed When We All Vote in person in 2018 before the midterm elections.