When We All Vote’s 2022: Culture of Democracy Summit
In June 2022, When We All Vote changed the narrative around voting, democracy, and civic engagement at our first-ever Culture of Democracy Summit.
By Ashlynn Profit, Director of Communications, Civic Nation
At the Culture of Democracy Summit, we brought together more than 1,000 celebrities, activists, athletes, researchers, artists, organizers, and leaders from across industries to discuss the role we all play in building, shaping, and protecting our democracy.
A convening of this kind has never taken place, and it is our hope that this platform will grow to ensure that we have an inclusive, diverse, and strong democracy for years to come.
Michelle Obama, Chris Paul, Selena Gomez, Liza Koshy, Bretman Rock, Kerry Washington, Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Magic Johnson, Doc Rivers, David Hogg, and more than 80 other speakers from various backgrounds took the stage to discuss everything from criminal justice reform and environmental justice to Gen Z activism, misinformation, and more.
Together, we are fighting to make democracy about all of us — not just a small group of people committed to only maintaining their own power.
Democracy Without Culture
Are we in a real democracy if the majority of people don’t vote or can’t vote? At When We All Vote, we’re using every tool we have to fight voter suppression and increase voter participation — that’s where culture comes in. Culture can make participating in our democracy both a movement and a moment that everyone wants to be a part of.
In 2020, When We All Vote registered nearly 250,000 people to vote. 83 percent of those people voted in the general election — surpassing the national average by nearly 20 percentage points. And 71 percent of the people who registered with When We All Vote in 2020 were young people and people of color, who are often underrepresented at the ballot box.
And it’s because we combine grassroots organizing with culture. We embed the conversation about voting in television shows like blackish, through your favorite athletes, on stage at awards shows, and more.
The Culture of Democracy Summit created the blueprint for merging culture and participating in our democracy. Here’s a breakdown:
Day One: Setting the Tone
When We All Vote hosted the virtual day of the Culture of Democracy Summit with conversations on: the state of democracy; environmental justice; reproductive rights; the faith community’s role in protecting democracy; how the music industry can influence change; and gerrymandering.
Every person who logged on left with a key step they could take in their industry to increase civic participation. Faith leaders reflected on the moral imperative of voting; people passionate about reproductive rights considered how their vote directly impacts their access to healthcare; artists and agency staff learned how they can use their platforms to drive change; and so much more.
Despite being behind a screen, the energy was high and the commitment to playing our part in our democracy was clear.
Days Two and Three: Building a Culture of Collaboration
None of the work we do is possible without the people on the ground — the local organizers who protect our right to vote and build trust and power in their communities every single day.
So we brought the groups doing the work together for two days to build relationships, share lessons learned, and build a culture of collaboration with events featuring Valerie Jarrett, Kendrick Sampson, the queens of Drag Out the Vote, Ms. Tina and Richard Lawson, Harrison Barnes, Nikole Hannah Jones, and more. We also got outside together with a hike at Griffith Observatory led by Jovian Zayne.
Day Four: The Main Stage Moment
More than 1,000 people gathered at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles for our jam-packed day of conversations, collaboration, and a keynote speech from When We All Vote’s Founder and Co-Chair Michelle Obama, who was introduced by Co-Chair Selena Gomez.
During the full day of programming, participants heard from leaders of Planned Parenthood and the SEIU; actors and filmmakers; television hosts and renowned athletes; journalists and Gen Z activists; researchers and coaches. Welcomed to the stadium by LA’s own Magic Johnson, we shared the goal of understanding, shaping, and making a commitment to participating in our democracy.
In partnership with the Center for Media & Social Impact and MTV Entertainment Studios, When We All Vote released first-of-its-kind research examining how voting, civic engagement, and civic leadership are shown in top entertainment programming. The study found that while TV show characters are often shown talking about contemporary civic and social issues, they are rarely shown taking leadership and acting to solve civic problems in their communities. The study also found that entertainment TV characters engage in voting behaviors in less than 1% of top-rated entertainment TV programming.
At the Summit, leading entertainment executives, producers and showrunners, including Adam Conover, Scott Budnick, Charles D. King, and Wanda Sykes, discussed the importance of civics in storytelling and changing the narrative through film and television.
We presented the first-ever Culture of Democracy Awards, which recognized leaders across industries and communities doing critical work to strengthen and protect democracy through voter registration, mobilization and culture change. The awards were designed by artist Brandan “BMike” Odums.
And through the Summit, we were able to invest in Black, Latinx, women, and locally owned businesses, including Johnny’s West Adams, Uncle Nearest Whiskey Sorel Liqueur, Loft & Bear Distillery, Pinch of Flavor, BBQ Smokehouse, Chomp Chomp, GoFusion, Bad Ass Burgers, Sabroso, El Mas Chingon, StopBye, Compton Vegan Flamin Grains, and MKG.
Mrs. Obama said it best at the Summit:
I want to implore every American who cares about our democracy not to just get angry or dejected. I want you to get active. I want you to get creative.
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, just like going to school or checking your phone or flipping on the game after work.
“Democracy” isn’t just showing up at the ballot box — it’s living in a system where the power of the people is greater than the people in power. We create, change, and maintain our democracy every single day. And it’s time that we all play an active part every year.
Activists, organizers, and community leaders shouldn’t work alone — every person and every industry has a role to play in protecting and strengthening our democracy.
So what is your role in shaping the Culture of Democracy? How are you going to be an active participant in what matters to you? Everyone’s answer may be different, but there isn’t room for you to stand back. Democracy is worth fighting for!