Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at Democratic National Committee Event

June 04, 2013

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness! (Applause.)


MRS. OBAMA: Love you too! And yes, I'm here because I love you. (Laughter.) And I'm here because I love my husband -- it's true. (Applause.) But I'm also here because I love my country, more importantly. I do. (Applause.)

But I want to start by thanking Karen for that very powerful and very important introduction that she just delivered. I think she made some outstanding points that hopefully I will further emphasize. And I want to thank both Karen and Nan for generously hosting us here in their beautiful home tonight, and for always having our backs, and always mazing out in so many ways. I'm proud to have you as supporters, but more importantly, as friends. So let's give them another round of applause. (Applause.)

I also want to thanks Congresswoman Sinema, as well as Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for their service and for being here, and for their undying support -- encourage, and all that good stuff. Debbie has been a phenomenal DNC Chairwoman, so let's give her a round of applause. (Applause.) We're thrilled they could be here, but we're also glad that they are off voting, like they're supposed to.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for being here. I want to thank you not just for being here tonight, but for being there for my husband not once, but twice. Thank you. Thank you for working so hard. Thanks for making the calls and knocking on doors and writing checks and getting everyone you know to the polls.

And I just want us to understand what we accomplished because of all of you. We didn't just win two elections, we made real and meaningful change in this country -- we did. Because of you, we're now in an economy that continues to strengthen with 38 straight months of job growth. That's more than three straight years -- that's happened because of you.

Because of you, we have passed health reform. We are taking on climate change, gun violence, and fortunately, comprehensive immigration reform because of you. Because of you, we have a President who stands up for our most fundamental rights –- whether that's fighting for equal pay for women -- amen -- ending "don't ask, don't tell" -- amen -- or supporting our right to marry the person we love. That's the President we have.

And all of that, and so much more, has happened because of you. And that's what elections are all about.

It's like my Barack said in his 2008 election night speech –- he said, "This victory alone is not the change we seek, it is only the chance for us to make that change." It was a chance. That's what -- elections give you the chance. And that was true back then, and it is even more true today. Because while we've made a lot of important change these past four years, we still have so much more to do.

Although our economy is improving, too many middle-class families are still struggling in this country. And that fundamental American promise that so many of us hopefully grew up with –- that no matter where you start out, with hard work you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids –- see, that promise is no longer within reach for too many families. In fact, it probably wouldn't be in reach for the family I grew up in if we were trying to make it today.

As many of you know my story, neither of my parents had a college degree. My father's job at the city water plant paid him a decent wage. It paid him enough to put food on our table. And with the help of student loans, he was able to send both me and my brother to an excellent college.

That job, that little job he had also gave him health insurance, it gave us health insurance, and a pension that my mother still lives on today. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we had stability. We had peace of mind. Because when I was growing up, a family of four living on a single blue-collar salary could build a solid life without debt and without relying on any form of public assistance. That was how I grew up.

But today, for so many families, that's no longer possible. Folks are working harder than ever before, doing everything right, and it's still not enough. And while there's so much talk and noise and back and forth going on in Washington, hardly any of it seems about the struggles of these folks.

So yes, it's easy to get frustrated -- and I know there are plenty of people here frustrated -- and it's easy to be cynical -- and I know there are plenty of cynical people here. And now that the excitement that comes with a presidential campaign has faded, it is so tempting to just turn off the TV and wait for another four years to reengage.

But here's the thing. As Karen pointed out, make no mistake about it, while we are tuning out with our frustration and our cynicism and our disappointment, others are tuning in, believe me. Others are doing everything they can to make their voices heard in whatever way they can. And we are seeing the effects of that kind of imbalance every single day in Washington.

Just a couple of months ago, we saw the failure -- do you hear me -- the failure of common-sense legislation to protect our children from gun violence -- legislation, by the way, that 90 percent of the American people supported failed.

We are seeing a budget stalemate and a sequester, resulting in children across this country being turned away from Head Start. So many seniors losing their Meals on Wheels. And now there's even talk about cutting food stamps, which could mean hundreds of thousands of kids going to bed hungry each night, here in the wealthiest nation on earth.

And that is not who we are. That's not what this country is about. We are so much better than that. We are so much more compassionate and fair, so much more decent. And I know this because I see it and we see it every day -- that decency in communities across this country, where people are waking up every day, working hard at their jobs, every day sacrificing for their kids. I see it. It is there for us to see -- doing everything they can to help their neighbors.

We especially see it in times of tragedy and crisis -- in the teachers who rushed children to safety in Newtown, teachers who risked their lives to save students in Oklahoma -- teachers. We saw it in all those folks in Boston who ran toward the explosions and spent hours tending to perfect strangers.

And none of these folks asked the people they were helping whether they were Democrats or Republicans. They didn't ask whether they were Christians or Muslims or Jews. They didn't care whether they were gay or straight. It was simply enough that they were fellow Americans who were suffering and needed aid.

And shouldn't that be enough for all of us? And that was a question that I was asking myself during a recent visit to my hometown of Chicago when I had the privilege --


MRS. OBAMA: Chi-town! (Laughter.) South Side! (Laughter.) So you have to understand, that's call and response, you say, "South Side."

AUDIENCE: South Side! (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: Just pardon us for a moment. (Laughter.) We are crazy like that on South Side.

But I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with a wonderful group of students at a school called Harper High. In fact, these kids are coming to spend a day -- two days with us -- one at the White House; they're going to be in Washington, these kids. They're coming.

Now, Harper is located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city, Englewood. You all know Englewood, right? A community that has been torn apart by poverty and hopelessness; by gangs, drugs, and guns.

And that afternoon, I sat down with these 25 students -- and these kids were the best and the brightest at that school. The valedictorian, the football star, kids in ROTC. But let me tell you something about the kids at Harper. Every day, they face impossible odds -- jobless parents addicted to drugs; friends and loved ones shot before their very eyes.

In fact, when the school counselor asked these young men and women whether they had ever known any who had been shot, every single one of those students raised their hand. So she then asked them, "What do you think when the weather forecast says '85 and sunny?'" Now, you would assume that nice weather like that, a beautiful day like today, would be a good thing. Not for these kids. They replied that a weather report like that puts fear in their hearts, because in their neighborhood, when the weather is nice, that's when gangs come out and the shootings start.

So, see, for these wonderful kids, instead of reveling in the joys of their youth -- college applications and getting ready for prom and getting that driver's license -- these young people are consumed with staying alive. And there are so many kids in this country just like them -– kids with so much promise, but so few opportunities; good kids who are doing everything they can to break the cycle and beat the odds. And they are the reason we are here tonight. We cannot forget that. I don't care what we -- they, those kids, they are the reason we're here.

And today, we need to be better for them. Not for us -- for them. We need to be better for all of our children, our kids in this country. Because they are counting on us to give them the chances they need for the futures they deserve. (Applause.)

So here's the thing -- we cannot wait for the next presidential election to get fired up and ready to go. We cannot wait. Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids. And I don't care what you believe in, we don't --


MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait, wait. One of the things --


MRS. OBAMA: One of the things that I don't do well is this. (Applause.) Do you understand? (Applause.) One of the things -- now --

(Inaudible audience interruption.)

MRS. OBAMA: So let me make the point that I was making before: We are here for our kids. (Applause.) So we must recapture that passion, that same urgency and energy that we felt back in 2008 and 2012. Understand this. This is what I want you all to understand, this is not about us -- no one back here. It's not about you or you, or your issue or your thing. This is about our children. (Applause.)

And we must keep on working together to build a country worthy of all of our children's promise. Let's ensure that every child has access to quality pre-K -- because right now that's not happening -- to excellent schools -- every child -- to affordable college. Because we need all of our kids to fulfill their boundless -- they are our future.

Let's finally pass some commonsense gun safety laws -- (applause) -- because no one in this country should ever worry about dropping their child off at a movie or a mall or at school. Not in America. And then, when these precious little young people, they grow up, let's make sure they have some jobs that pay a decent wage. Because we know that it is wrong for anyone in this country to work 40 or 50 hours a week and still be stuck in poverty.

And let us make sure that they have the health care they need, because no one in this country should get their primary care from an emergency room. We know better than that. And when it comes to women's health, let's keep fighting for our most fundamental, personal rights, because we as women, we know we are more than capable of making our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. (Applause.)

Now, I know we can do this. It's all within our reach. But make no mistake about it -- and this is the key point I want to make here -- Barack Obama cannot do this alone. And he cannot do this with a fractured party. Do you understand me? We need folks in Congress to help him every step of the way, like Karen said.

That is why it is simply not enough to just elect a President every four years. We need you to be engaged in every election -- every election -- because special elections matter. Midterm elections really matter. It matters who we send to Congress. It matters. And if you don't believe me, just look at the record. Look at the difference just a few votes in Congress can make when it comes to the issues that we say we care about.

For example, legislation on equal pay for women failed by two votes in the Senate -- two votes in the Senate. The DREAM Act, the act that gives immigrant kids in this country a fair shot? That act failed twice, once by just five votes and once by four. So what did the President have to do? He had to sign an executive order to finally get it done. That's the only reason it got done. And that common-sense bill I talked about earlier, that gun bill? That bill failed by how many votes? Six. Six votes.

So like I said, it matters who we send to Congress. This other stuff, between us, doesn't matter. We need all of you engaged in every special election and in every mid-term election all across this country. We need you to keep on writing those checks. And here's another part -- if you're not maxed out, max out. That's what being maxed out is all about. Max out in every way, shape or form with a check, with engagement. You got friends? Get them to max out. Maxing out is a big term. It's not just about a check, it's about passion. It's about feeling. It's about commitment.

And while raising money is important, as I said, money alone is not enough. We need you all out there, working, making phone calls, getting everyone you know to the polls just like we did before. And I know it won't be easy. It never is. And I know that plenty of special interests will be pouring all sorts of resources into these elections. They always do. So we need you to be engaged and bring everyone you know with you.

And if anyone tries to tell you that they're too busy, that it's too much of a hassle, or that special elections just don't matter, I'm going to share a story that I shared in New York that I'm sharing everywhere I go that Barack actually talked about at his State of the Union speech.

I want you to tell them about a woman named Desiline Victor. (Applause.) Some of you heard about Desiline. Well, Desiline lives down in Florida, and she waited for hours in line to cast her vote last November. Now, you might think, well, that's not so unusual because a lot of people had to wait in long lines this past election, right?

But see here's the thing: Desiline is 102 years old. (Applause.) She was born before women had the right to vote, and she's been a citizen of this country for less than 10 years. And even though she was tired -- I'm sure she was -- even though her feet probably ached -- and I'm sure they did -- she was determined to cast her vote and make her voice heard in the country she loves.

So here's what we have to tell ourselves when we get frustrated, or you're tired, or we're disappointed. (Laughter.) If Desiline Victor can summon that kind of passion and energy, then we don't have any excuse. If Desiline Victor can summon that kind of patriotism and determination, then so must we.

So if we keep on working, and organizing, and engaging, I know that we can keep on making that change we all believe in, and together we can build a future worthy of all our children.

Can we do this? (Applause.) Are we a little more fired up? (Applause.) Are we a little less frustrated right now? (Applause.) We ready to roll up our sleeves, figure out how to get engaged, how we're going to max out in our own individual ways? Can we do this? (Applause.) Because we need you. Barack Obama needs you and I need you, quite frankly. So let's get it done.

Thank you all. God bless.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at Democratic National Committee Event Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320175

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