Media Supermajority

How Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore Is Getting Young People to Vote


Congresswoman Gwen Moore has an extensive, impressive resume filled with “firsts.” She became the first African American elected to Congress from the state of Wisconsin when she was elected in 2004 to represent the state’s 4th District. This year, when the Democratic National Convention, which was hosted in her city of Milwaukee, was moved online because of the pandemic, she became one of the first co-chairs to host a virtual national political convention. And, during a virtual reunion of the cast of “Veep” on October 4, she likely became the first member of Congress to call an actor a “stillborn flamingo” and helped raise more than $500,000 that night.  

Her participation in that reunion is just one of the many unconventional, unapologetic ways Rep. Moore has been getting out the vote in the battleground state of Wisconsin this year. She hosted Dr. Jill Biden during a virtual GOTV rally and training, a “Sister to Sister” voter registration event with former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile, and says she spends her days in various back-to-back Zoom calls and her nights at socially distanced rallies. She also recently posted a video of the rapper YelloPain’s popular song “My Vote Don’t Count,” which breaks down the importance of every election, on her personal Facebook page. ”We are meeting young people where they are, and that’s social media,” she said. “And they’d probably rather a rapper explain the three branches of the government to them than me!”

Moore’s efforts notably come on the heels of unrest in her state — specifically in Kenosha, a town just miles from where Moore grew up. On September 1, she marched alongside the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by police in the town.

“I’m the mother of two Black men and I shiver every time they walk out the door walking while Black, talking while Black, thinking while Black,” Moore told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time, adding that federal legislation needs to be passed to hold police departments accountable. “We need to march on the ballot boxes until we can elect leaders and put judges in place that will love mercy and justice.”

Ultimately, Rep. Moore is determined to make the general election a stark contrast to the April primaries, which saw record-long lines and ensuing chaos despite the supposed enforcement of shelter in place restrictions in the state. 

Supermajority News spoke to Rep. Moore on October 20 — the day early in-person voting began in Wisconsin — as she cooked fresh turnips, mustard and spinach greens, with a little garlic and onion, before heading to a rally later that evening.  “I’m a woman, so I know how to multitask,” the 69-year-old mother and grandmother said from her home in Milwaukee. “I’ve got to do my chores when I can.”

What do you say to those who think their vote doesn’t matter? 

I literally had that very conversation at a checkout lane. I was just having a casual conversation with the young woman in line with me and said, “Are you planning on voting?” I did not tell her who I was. She said very matter of factly: “I’m not going to vote.” I said, “Well, I’ll tell you something. The person who signed your birth certificate and the person who will sign your death certificate and every little thing that happens in between there is signed by someone voted into office. How much you have to pay to have your vehicle registration, whether or not you can get an abortion …that’s all decided by someone who got elected. Who do you want making those decisions?” I saw her face change, truly. She had a visceral reaction. I think she got it. I hope she did. 

Tell us about the first time you cast a ballot and when you realized your vote mattered. 

I remember being angry because I had to wait until I was 21 to vote. In 1969, when I was 18, you couldn’t vote at that age yet. So, I was mad that I had to wait. I was already a single mother in college. I needed the system to work for me. I was on food stamps. I used Medicaid. Another time, I remember it was right after my mom died, I had double pneumonia and I was grieving, but I made it. 

When I was on welfare, I often called my alderman to ask for help with something and he always called me right back. I was a nobody, but because I was a voter, I was important to him. He kept the polling list at his house, so he knew who voted. I was a poll watcher once and it was a tight race for this alderman. I started going door to door that night to get the vote out. Someone said to me: “You know he’s an a-hole,” and I said, “But he’s our a-hole.” He narrowly got re-elected and I still had someone who’d pick up the phone when I called — because I voted. 

If you could gather all the 18- to 29-year-olds in Wisconsin right now, what would you tell them about why this election, and all elections, should matter to them?

Look at what’s happening to the Supreme Court. I’m a 69-year-old, post-menopausal woman. I don’t have to personally worry about birth control or abortion, and maybe they’ll grandfather in Medicare for me. I don’t have to put up with these judges for another 40 years. But for this generation, all these things are in the grasp of their hands. I get that they are frustrated by the lies, by the rhetoric. I know that the last six of our eight presidents were Baby Boomers. My chief of staff, he loves to blame it on us Boomers — all the wars, the income inequity. He thinks we sold out the environment for a two car-garage. In 2019, Millennials outnumbered Boomers for the first time. It’s in your hands, young people. 

Does this year’s election feel different than the 2016 presidential election to you

Yeah, this feels different. At this point four years ago, I knew for a fact how the whole election was going to go, not just Wisconsin … we certainly hope that the energy we saw from those [who marched in protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake] gets them to the polls. At every rally, I’m gonna remind [attendees] that I passed a bill that would stop a lot of stuff that we’re grieving.  [Editor’s note: In June, The Congressional Black Caucus introduced the “Justice in Policing Act” following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Moore introduced a provision requiring de-escalation training.] I’m going to remind them that’s why we vote.