The big problem with calling Meghan Markle’s election comments “political”

Meghan Markle has been criticised for being too “political” for encouraging women to vote in the upcoming US election. Here’s why that’s a problem. 

If you thought people would be tired of criticising Meghan Markle’s every move by now, you’d unfortunately be wrong.

Despite years of scrutinising her every move (anyone else remember the whole avocado incident?), both tabloids and members of the public alike continue to find ways to call out the Duchess of Sussex’s behaviour. And this weekend has been no different.

On Saturday, Meghan came under criticism on social media for taking part in an online event to support Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote campaign, which is working to encourage people across the US to use their vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. Her charge? Being ‘political’ and breaking royal protocol.

If Meghan had used her speech to take a clear stance in US politics, then maybe there may have been some legitimacy to those complaints. But in reality, Meghan’s speech was far from some political manifesto against the Trump campaign, as Piers Morgan has suggested – instead, it was an appeal to women across America to use their vote and help other women to make their voices heard. 

“When I think about voting, and why this is so exceptionally important for all of us, I would frame it as ‘we vote to honour those who came before us, and to protect those who will come after us’,” she said. “Because that’s what community is all about, and that’s specifically what this election is about. We’re only 75 days away from election day and that is so very close, and yet there’s so much work to be done in that amount of time, because we all know what’s at stake this year.

“I know it, I think all of you certainly know it, and if you’re here on this fun event with us, then you are just as mobilised and energised to see the change that we all need and deserve.”

Going on to talk about the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave some women – but not all women, and specifically not women of colour – the right to vote, Meghan spoke about how some women of colour continue to struggle to access their right to vote, calling it “simply not okay”.

“When we look at the attempts of voter suppression and what that’s doing, it’s all the more reason we need each of you to be out there supporting each other, to understand that this fight is worth fighting and we all have to be out there mobilising to have our voices heard.”

Concluding her speech, Meghan called on all women in America to fight to make their voices heard in the upcoming election at a time when the world is facing so many problems.

“We can and must do everything we can to ensure all women have their voices heard because at this juncture, if we aren’t part of the solution, we are part of the problem,” Meghan said. “If you aren’t going out there and voting, then you’re complicit. If you are complacent, you’re complicit.

“I think when we are looking at all the different ways that we can engage, we can support one another, it doesn’t necessarily matter what the issue is that speaks to your heart. Maybe it’s the environment, maybe it’s the rights of women, maybe it’s the rights of children, maybe it’s healthcare, whatever it is, we can make the difference in this election. And we will make the difference in this election.”

Besides the fact that Meghan’s speech was yet another example of her ability to speak eloquently and passionately about the causes close to her heart (and that this isn’t the first time she’s spoken out about women’s rights to vote), it’s hard to see how her message – that we need to make our voices heard and ensure everyone can exercise their voting rights – is breaking royal protocol. Are people really arguing that universal suffrage is a ‘political’ talking point? In 2020?

It’s worth noting that, even at the moments when it could be argued that her speech carried an underlying political message – such as when she called for “the change that we all need and deserve” – it wasn’t as if she was talking about anything drastic or new. At a time when the US is struggling to get a hold on the coronavirus pandemic, dealing with wildfires across California and facing an ongoing assault on women’s reproductive rights, it’s not exactly radical to say that something needs to change.

Although Meghan’s identity as an American woman may make her words on the US election particularly poignant, her message about the importance of supporting and empowering women is the same as it has always been – and the idea that encouraging women to vote is “political” is inherently damaging. Why? Because arguing that universal suffrage is a “political topic” suggests that it’s something which can and should be debated – as if making sure everyone can vote isn’t a human right we should all be defending. 

And it’s not as if the fight to ensure everyone is able to vote is completely over in the US, either. Voter suppression – whether through complex registration processes, strict voter ID requirements or gerrymandering – remains an issue across the country. And that’s not forgetting the ongoing problems with the US Postal Service which could prevent some mail-in ballots being counted.

At a time when the world is facing widespread issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of the climate crisis, it has never been more important to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. Now more than ever, we need to fight for as many people to have their say as possible – and voices like Meghan’s are crucial in doing just that.

Images: Getty

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