On Thursday night, the Duchess of Sussex spoke—via video chat—at When We All Vote’s digital couch party, an event meant to encourage female voter registration. Her remarks were succinct, and actionable. She mentioned her “friend” Michelle Obama. She encouraged political participation (“We all know what’s at stake this year,” she said), and talked about voter suppression, especially for women of color. “Today, we are watching so many women in different communities who are marginalized still struggling to see that right [to vote] come to fruition.” She added that she was “mobilized and energized to see the change that we all need and deserve.”
If this were any other celebrity, her rhetoric wouldn’t have caused much of a buzz—voter participation, after all, isn’t the most divisive of causes. But the headlines emerged: “Meghan and a VERY political broadcast for the U.S. Election,” The Daily Mail read.
It’s not exactly a secret that Markle is anti-Trump: In 2016, she called him a “misogynist” on The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. (Three years later, President Trump was made aware of her comments and, in turn, called her “nasty.”) She also enjoys friendships with both the Obamas and Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom visited her at Frogmore Cottage. However, during her brief career as a working royal, she wasn’t able to show any political preference at all.
That’s just the way the monarchy does things: They stray away from taking sides—there was no commentary on Brexit, for example—or undertaking any action that may seem politically charged. The Duchess of Cambridge did not wear black at the 2018 BAFTAs, despite most attendees doing so to support the Me Too movement. Why? To maintain their image as the most unbiased public servants.
So it’s safe to say that Meghan’s brief speech wouldn’t have flown if she was still a working member of the family. Nor would her declaration that she will vote in the 2020 election. (The Queen, and many senior royals, do not vote.)
But, of course, Markle is no longer a working royal, which means that these are words she’s now allowed to say, and actions she’s now allowed to take.
The duchess certainly has much to say: She’s a longtime advocate for female causes, an accomplished actor, and a biracial woman with a set of experiences many will relate to. Take her powerful graduation speech to Immaculate High School seniors after the death of George Floyd, when she recounted living through the 1992 L.A. riots. Her voice also benefits from an immense platform to broadcast it on: the couple’s old Instagram account, Sussex Royal, got over 11 million followers (although they’re no longer using it). The amount of press coverage she and her husband, Prince Harry, get is immense.
Already, it seems that she’s ready to channel that into activism rather than uncontroversial causes. Did she decry Trump last night? No. But, asking for “a change” showed that she’s not afraid to start wading into partisan waters. The question is: just how political is she willing to get?