The Obamas Visit SXSW


This year, the SXSW Conferences & Festivals had arguably the biggest moment in their history by featuring President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as keynote speakers in SXSW Interactive and SXSW Music, respectively.

Michelle Obama delivered her speech entitled “Hustle Is a Political Act” on Wednesday, March 16. The session was moderated by Queen Latifah and had an appearance by Missy Elliot, both of whom are considered trailblazers for women in hip-hop.

The other participants were actress Sophia Bush and songwriter Diane Warren. Obama’s talk mainly focused on her Let Girls Learn initiative, which strives to increase the school enrollment rates of young girls around the world, the White House initiative #62MillionGirls, and women empowerment in general. However, the talk was not limiting and touched on topics including music, diversity, and activism.

To the disappointment of some, Michelle Obama confirmed that she will not be running for president because “you don’t have to be the president of the United States to do wonderful, marvelous things, and I’m not slowing down anytime soon.”

President Obama’s speech was the first time that a president spoke at SXSW since its inception. His talk centered on how technology and innovation can be utilized to solve some of the nation’s problems and philosophical divides as well as how these things can also cause some problems. He discussed how about technology professionals and tech-minded individuals should harness technology in order to create ways to get more people to vote and to combat violent extremism.

One of his more controversial comments centered on the question about the FBI case involving the encryption on Apple Inc.’s products. Although he didn’t specifically discuss the particular case, he did discuss the opposing perspectives of the privacy vs. public safety issue. However, many people criticized President Obama because he decided to deliver his speech despite the fact that Nancy Reagan’s funeral was on the same day. Although several presidents had not attended the funerals of former First Ladies in the past, Obama was deemed “classless” and “selfish” for giving his keynote speech. Regardless of the critics, the President chose to make history at one of the most notable festivals of our time and support patriotism in the process.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals is a yearly multi-media experience that is held in Austin, Texas. Within SXSW, there are three separate components: SXSW Music, SXSW Film Conference, and SXSW Interactive.

Recently, the conferences have seen these different components merge due to the overlapping nature of their scopes. SXSW, Inc., a company that specializes in event planning, began the festival in 1987 and the festival has continuously grown since that time. Roland Swenson, who is the managing director and co-founder of SXSW, describes the Conferences & Festivals as “a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.” The 2016 festival was held from March 11-20 and marked the 30th anniversary of the event.