First Lady on Voting Rights: "You Just Have to Get It Done"

Obamas feel right at home in D.C.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    First lady Michelle Obama talks one-on-one with NBC4's Jim Vance. (Published Thursday, Apr 8, 2010)

    The first family has wholeheartedly embraced Washington, D.C., as its new home -- at least as much as any first family can -- and as an active member of the community, first lady Michelle Obama sympathizes with her neighbors' lack of voting representation in Congress.

    Obama grew up in Chicago and lived with her family in an upscale Chicago neighborhood until they moved into the White House last year, but she said she immediately felt at home here because she was already familiar with the city, having worked a summer here and attended school on the east coast. The area is filled with her friends from college (Princeton) and law school (Harvard).

    "Now, as the first lady, this is our home," she told NBC4. "My mother is here. The kids are in school here. Our life is here."

    Because of the nature of her husband's job and the security that surrounds it, the White House can seem like a cage, but this first family insists on getting out and into the city, as evidenced by President Barack Obama's burger runs and the first couple's famous date nights.

    "This city is just full of life and entertainment," Michelle Obama said. "I mean, first you've got the Mall. You could just spend days walking along the Mall, going to the monuments. There's nothing like seeing them at night, too. Those have been some of our favorite visits, when we've gone to the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument and the city is quiet."

    Monticello also has a special place in her heart -- and her garden.

    "It's a beautiful ride -- also a really nice bike ride, although I haven't done the bike ride yet -- and when you get out to the home, the garden there is beautiful, and we have some of the plantings from the Monticello garden in my White House garden," she said.

    As a dedicated D.C. resident, the first lady tries to get involved with the community whenever she can, interacting with residents and giving back to the city.

    "It's been really critical -- not just for me as a leader but as a person -- to have that interaction with kids, to go to soup kitchens and homeless shelters, and to visit churches, because you don't know a city if you don't connect, and it means getting out of the White House and going where those kids are," Obama said.

    To the first lady, that also means bringing children from the community to the White House.

    "It's really critical for me for kids of all races and ages to really feel like this White House is theirs and that they're going to come in here and they're going to hear music and they're going to go to the Easter Egg Roll and they're going to sit in the state dining room and feel what it's like to be part of a state dinner, because I think it can change the way kids see themselves," Michelle Obama said. "If you see it, you can believe it, and I want them to see themselves here."

    And she can't always get out to see them in their communities. Being the first couple keeps the Obamas from going out on a whim, in part out of consideration for the other residents of the city.

    "We both sort of bristle with the limitations, but we do worry about the inconvenience that it causes," the first lady said. "We think in the back of our minds, 'OK, we show up to a place and we shut down a street.' We think about people's Sundays, and if we're going to church it's going to shut down the road, so just as good neighbors, we really think about what effect it's going to have on the city before we pop in."

    As a good neighbor, Michelle Obama hasn't overlooked a certain, popular license plate slogan. The first lady supports D.C. in its fight for voting rights, an issue her husband hasn't embraced quite like his new neighbors had hoped he would.

    "He is a supporter of the rights of citizens here in D.C. to have the vote," the first lady said, "and I don't think there's much convincing that you have to do there, you just have to get it done."

    Now, tell it to the husband.