Michelle Obama used the Congressional Black Caucus’ signature event to rivet the audience, urging them to to turn out in droves for the upcoming ]November election.Getting about a dozen ovations — which struck a stark contrast to her husband, President Obama’s controversial speech a year ago at the same event — Obama owned the annual Phoenix Awards gala. The first lady likened turning out the vote to the civil rights struggles of previous eras.

“Make no mistake about it, this is the march of our time,” Obama told the audience at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “Marching door-to-door registering people to vote, marching everyone you know to the polls every single election.” That effort, she said, “is the movement of our era — protecting that fundamental right, not just for this election but for the next generation and generations to come.”

This year’s dinner issued honors to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, the first-ever African American to lead the U.S. Department of Justice; film director George Lucas; Harvey Gantt, the first African American mayor of Charlotte; and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).

The first lady also referenced the highly contentious and divisive voter ID laws that that have been passed or proposed in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida — but she warned against being dissuaded from voting.

“We cannot let anyone discourage us from casting our ballots,” said Obama, in an elegant, sleeveless black gown. “We cannot let anyone make us feel unwelcome in the voting booth. It is up to us to make sure that in every election, every voice is heard and every vote is counted. That means making sure our laws preserve that right.”

Republicans and Tea Party leaders have relentlessly pushed for voter ID laws and other electoral changes, which often require photo identification, arguing that they help prevent ballot fraud. Democrats and voter advocates counter that the new laws could be used to keep some poor and minority voters away from the polls because it can be more burdensome for them to get the required IDs.

Click below to see more photos of the first lady’s visit to the CBC at the Washington Convention Center in D.C.

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