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Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, spoke to a packed room on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 4:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of Zeytun West.


Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, advocated for mandatory voting in her talk on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the University. Mandatory voting would help depolarize the current political climate, according to Jarrett.

Jarret explained that both parties are currently on the extremes, and the primaries push voters toward the extremes because “that’s where the money is.”

“If you had mandatory voting, you would force politicians to move toward the mean,” said Jarrett.

Regarding the extremism Jarrett sees in U.S. politics, she suggested Americans listen more to other people’s opinions. For instance, she cited the high school students who started the gun control demonstration March for Our Lives as role models for all Americans. During the political tours that some of the students made around the country, they took the time to understand opposing views.

“A few of them actually went outside their rallies and talked to the people who were protesting [against them], and they were listening,” Jarrett said. “And that’s a practice I think we should all emulate.”

Jarrett also discussed some of the tactical errors of the Obama administration. According to Jarrett, Obama focused so heavily on reforms within the White House that he forgot to encourage civic engagement among his constituents.

“[The White House] didn’t take the time to tell a story of how [civic engagement] would touch people’s lives,” Jarrett said. “Obama rarely left the White House those first few years: he just hunkered down. In that hunkering, we lost a bit of the momentum that had catapulted him into office.”

Jarrett also added that the beauty of local government is the close engagement between officials and their communities. Jarrett’s experience working in Chicago’s government helped pave the way for her work on a federal level.

“[Local government] taught me to listen,” Jarrett said.

While some students found Jarrett’s opinion on mandatory voting surprising, they acknowledged that she presented a compelling argument.

“One of her first things she said actually really surprised me, when she advocated for mandatory voting,” said Carson Maconga ’22, “but her explanation of it was really interesting.”

Other students just appreciated hearing about Jarrett’s experiences.

“It’s refreshing and reassuring to hear someone [share] their own experiences and perspectives on their trials and tribulations,” Leyla Arcasoy ’22 said.

Arcasoy chose to attend the lecture because she had read about Jarrett in the news and hoped to learn more about her and from her at the event.

“I had known a little bit about Ms. Jarrett and the role she had played in the White House, and I wanted to see what I could learn and take away from this kind of more intimate experience.”

The lecture was held in Robertson Hall at 4:30 p.m.

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