Michelle Obama’s visit on Thursday to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, could have been just another campaign stop.
And it would have counted as a successful one.
Thousands packed the gymnasium at Bradley Tech High School, as crowds flowed out the door and down the street.
There were chants of “This is what democracy looks like!”
There was thunderous applause when the first lady framed the 2012 race as a test where “in the end, it all comes down to who you are and what you stand for.”
But the political piece of the visit was secondary to what Michelle Obama did after the rally.
She met privately visit with members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, telling them—almost in a whisper—that she had come to “lend whatever support I can” to family members and others who were close to Sikhs who were killed in the August 5 mass shooting at the temple.
The signal that the White House has not and will not forget what happened at the Sikh Temple is important, as are the condolences the first lady shared.
The real significance of the visit was the message—very much welcomed by the Sikh community in Wisconsin and nationally—involved the recognition of the need for a broader dialogue about violence and hate in America.
The White House says that will be a focus of the administration, as it reaches out not just to the Sikh community but to other groups that have experienced attacks based on their religion, race and ethnicity.
This initiative can and should extend beyond kind words. Indeed, as Wisconsin’s first lady, Tonette Walker, who was with Michelle Obama on Thursday noted, “Her willingness to reach out to those in the Sikh community to help them heal will not only help those affected but also help eliminate the ignorance that led up to the horrific event in Oak Creek.”
On the same day that Michelle Obama visited Oak Creek, nineteen US Senators asked the US Department of Justice to begin tracking hate crimes against Sikh-Americans. This is an appropriate request, as evidence suggests that, in addition to the six Sikh worshippers who were killed August 5 by an active white supremacist, thousands of other Sikhs have been the victims of violence since September 11, 2001.