Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Burlington, Vermont

June 30, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Your senator, he's Mr. Photographer here. He's right on the money. (Laughter.)

I am just thrilled to be here. It is a pleasure and an honor and a joy to be with all of you tonight. Vermont is beautiful. We will be back. (Laughter and applause.) What more could I ask for? Good skiing, good ice cream -- (laughter) -- beautiful views, warm people. This is a no-brainer. (Laughter.)

But I want to start by thanking Jane for that just wonderfully warm introduction. The girl crush is shared. (Laughter.) These are the things -- I dream of going with a good girlfriend and walking down the street, maybe walking into a store, shopping, stopping for lunch, sitting outside, having a glass of wine -- that's you and me one day -- (laughter) -- the two of us together. (Laughter and applause.) We can do it. Yes, we can. (Applause.)

But I want to thank you, Jane, for your tireless leadership, your hard work. Your family is amazing. Bill, thank you. Your daughters are -- thank you for giving her the time and the support to do what she does. You're doing so much for us, as well. But both of you have raised three beautiful daughters. You're on the far end of where I hope to be -- (laughter) -- sane, beautiful daughters. So I really -- we appreciate you both. We are grateful and we are very proud of the work that you both have done. So thank you.

I also want to acknowledge three terrific Vermont public servants, one of whom is a dear friend to me. I feel like he is part of my family, Senator Leahy. But you really are because Marcelle is my big sister -- (laughter) -- so I guess it counts. You all have been just amazing. I am so glad I got to come here and I'm so grateful for the time you all have spent, and the energy that you've invested in us and our family. You all are amazing, amazing people. (Applause.)

And of course to your phenomenal Governor Shumlin and his family. Is your daughter -- is she -- you're hanging tough, honey! (Laughter.) You're hanging out with Dad. I love that. (Applause.) That -- yes! (Applause.) She's been with him the whole day. Does she usually spend this much time with you? (Laughter.) That's good. Will they do that when they get that old? They'll actually want to be with you? (Laughter.) Okay, all right, I'll hold you to that.

And of course Congressman Welch -- is he here? Where are you guys? Here you all -- thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for spending the afternoon with me. You all are amazing. Thank you so much.

To Howard Dean, good-looking man, looking quite dapper. (Applause.) Healthy. Ready for the long haul. Work hard. Kick some butt. All that good stuff. (Laughter.) Thank you so much for being here.

And I want to also say thank you to Charlie and Carolyn, as well, for their outstanding work to make this event such a success. You all are terrific. Well done. I am humbled and proud, and now you've made it hard for everybody else, right? (Laughter.) Good job. (Applause.)

And finally, I want to thank everyone here for being here tonight. This is a beautiful setting. I am thrilled to see so many new faces. But I'm also thrilled to see so many folks who've been with us right from the beginning, the folks who've been with us through all the ups and downs and the highs and the lows. And tonight, as we look forward to the next part of this journey, I always start by asking you to come back with me to how it all began, because I wasn't always the gung-ho campaigner that you see before you today. (Laughter.)

And in fact, I -- when Barack first started about -- to talk about running for President, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about the idea. And for those of you who talked him into it, I will get you. (Laughter.) I will find you. I will hunt you down. (Laughter.)

But I was proud of what my husband was doing in the Senate. And don't get me wrong, I knew that my husband would be an extraordinary President. So that wasn't my hesitation. I was probably like a lot of people. I still had some level of cynicism about politics. And with two young daughters, I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign could take on our family.

So it took some convincing on Barack's part. And by "some" –- I mean a lot, a lot of convincing. And even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still a little uneasy about the whole "President thing."

But something happened during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed me -- because when I started campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina -- and just speaking the names of those states brings back wonderful memories -- it wasn't just about handshakes and stump speeches. It was really about conversations that you could have with people on their front porches and in their living rooms, in their kitchens. People would welcome strangers into their home and into their lives.

And one of my very first events in Iowa was at the home of someone nice who didn't know me and invited their neighbors over. But I remember the home. It was the backyard, it was a sunny day, lots of grass, people just sitting down and talking. And I felt so comfortable in that setting that I remember kicking off my high heels and standing in the grass just talking.

And that's what campaigning was about for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one and hearing what was going on in their lives, learning about the businesses that folks were trying to keep afloat; learning about the home that a family loved, but they could no longer afford; hearing about the spouse who just came back from war, and still needed way more help than was available; learning about the many children who are so smart who could be anything they want if only their parents could find a way to pay that tuition. And these stories moved me. But even more important, these stories were familiar to me in a way that I didn't expect.

In the parents working that extra shift, or taking the extra job, I saw Barack's mother, a young single mom trying to support Barack and his sister.

Quite frankly I saw my own father, a man with Multiple Sclerosis who dragged himself out of bed every day, without missing a day of work, because it was important for him to be the provider of his family.

In the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, I saw my own mother who has helped raise my daughters from the day they were born. And we could not do this without her.

I saw Barack's grandmother who caught a bus to work before dawn every day to help provide for his family.

And in the children that I met who worried about a mom who's lost her job, or a dad deployed faraway from home, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own daughters, who are the center of my world.

See, and the thing about these folks is that they weren't asking for much. They were looking for basic things –- like being able to see a doctor when you get sick. Things like having some decent public schools to send your kids to, maybe even sending your kids to college even if you're not rich. Things like making a decent wage, having a secure retirement, maybe, just maybe, leaving something better for your kids.

And while we may not have grown up in the same places, maybe we came from different worlds and did some different things, their stories were my family's stories. They were Barack's family's stories. And more importantly, the values that these families and stories embrace, they were values that were familiar to us -– things like you treat people how you want to be treated; things like you put your family first; we do this stuff for our kids and our grandkids; you do what you say you're going to do, every time -- these were our family's values. This is how we were raised.

And then suddenly, everything that Barack had been saying about how we're all interconnected -- about how we're not just red states or blue states -- those were not just lines from a speech. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes. I mean, that's the beauty of traveling around the country and campaigning, and I wish every American had the chance to do it. And that changed me.

And there's something else that changed me when I was out on the campaign trail. So many of you changed me. When I got tired, I would think of all the folks out there making calls and knocking on doors day after day, doing things they never imagined themselves doing in weather they never imagined themselves in, for -- who, Barack Obama? Never heard of him. (Laughter.)

But that would energize me. And when I got discouraged, I would think of folks opening up their wallets even when so many of them didn't have much to give, giving a dollar here, five dollars there. I would think of folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again. And that would give me hope.

So the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here because of all of you. And I'm not just talking about winning an election. I'm talking about what we've been doing every day in the White House since then to keep on fighting for the folks we met and for the values that we share. I am talking about what Barack Obama has been doing to help all of us win the future.

And at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it's easy to forget about what we've done along the way. So let's just take a step back and think about these past couple of years:

I mean, we have gone from an economy that was on the brink of collapse to an economy that's starting to grow again.

We're helping middle-class families by cutting taxes for them, and working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of these folks.

We're going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know how those costs add up.

And we're helping women get equal pay for equal work -- (applause) -- with the first bill that my husband signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, the first thing he did as President.

Because of health care reform, millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor. Their insurance companies won't be able to drop their coverage when they get sick, or charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition. No longer. And now they have to cover preventative care -– simple things -- prenatal care, mammograms, and you all know that's not just about saving money; that's about saving lives.

Because we don't want to leave our kids a mountain of debt, we're reducing our deficit by doing what families across this country are already doing. We're cutting back and we're living within our means.

But we are still investing in things that really matter -- things like clean energy, so that we can finally see those gas prices coming down; important things like scientific research, including stem cell research which will make the difference in so many people's lives.

We're also investing in community colleges, which so many of you know are the gateway to opportunities for so many Americans, and Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford that tuition.

And in education, through a competition called Race to the Top, we've got 40 states working to raise standards and reform schools throughout the country.

And we're working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality. And today, because my husband ended Don't Ask Don't Tell, our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) That is what we've been doing.

And you may also recall that my husband appointed two brilliant women to the Supreme Court. (Applause.) And for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons –- watched three women take their seat on this nation's highest court. That is magnificent.

We're working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. We've ended our combat mission in Iraq and have already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who have served this country bravely. In the coming weeks, my husband will be drawing down troops in Afghanistan as well. And thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter-terrorism communities and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror has finally been brought to justice. (Applause.) That happened under this President's watch. (Applause.)

So, what my husband has said is that these long wars are coming to a responsible end and it is now time for us to focus on nation-building here at home.

And we're also tackling two issues that are near and dear to my heart, both as First Lady and as a mother. The first is childhood obesity. And this issue that just -- is just about our kids' health and how they feel. This is about how our kids feel about themselves and whether they will have the energy and the stamina they need to succeed in school and in life. So we're working to get better food into our schools and into communities. We're working to make sure that parents have the information they need to make good choices for their families.

The second issue is one that I came to on the campaign trail, where I had the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary military families. I mean, these folks will take your breath away with how they're raising their kids and running their households all alone while their spouses are deployed, and they do it with tremendous courage and strength and pride. That's why Jill Biden and I launched a campaign to ensure that our country is rallying around these families so that we serve them as well as they have served us.

And then finally, just a few days ago, I just came back from Africa. I had the privilege of traveling there and continuing our efforts to engage and inspire young people across the globe. They are the next generation. I came with the simple message that when it comes to the challenges that we face on this planet, whether it's climate change or poverty, terrorism, disease, we are looking to our young people to lead the way. And I reminded them, as I remind young people here, that each and everyone of them has the power to make a difference, even with the smallest of acts in their own families and in their own communities. And that can create the ripple effect that can transform nations.

So I think that we have made some significant change over the past couple of years. And I think that we should be proud of those accomplishments. But we should never be satisfied, because we know that there is still so much work to be done. I mean, we know that there are still too many kids in our country who don't have a fraction of what they need to succeed. We know that too many families are still struggling just to pay the bills.

I mean, the truth is, is that all those folks that we campaigned for, and won for, and have been fighting for these past two years and a half –- those folks still need our help. And that, more than anything, is what drives my husband as President of the United States.

That is what I see when he comes home after a long day traveling, or from the Oval Office, and he tells me about the people he has met. I see those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, when he's reading the letters people who have sent to him and tell them about his problems. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance won't cover her care. The letter from the young person with so much promise, but still far too few opportunities.

And I see the worry creasing his face. I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He told me just the other day, "You will not believe what people are going through." He says, "Michelle, this isn't right. We have to do more. We have to fix this."

Because when it comes to the people that Barack meets, the important thing to know about him is that he has a memory like a steel trap. I mean, he might not remember your name, and oftentimes he does, but he will remember the conversation. If he's had a few minutes, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.

And that's what he carries with him every day –- that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles. That is what gives Barack Obama his passion. That's why he works so hard every day, starting early in the morning and going late into the night, every day, hunched over books and briefing books, making sure that he is more prepared than anyone in the room, because all of those wins and losses are not wins and losses for him. They are wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night.

In the end, for Barack, and for me, and I know for so many of you, that is what politics is about. It is not about one person. It is not about one President. It's about how we work together to make real changes that make real differences in people's lives. Like the young person attending college today because she can finally afford it. That is happening. Like the mom or dad who can take their child to a doctor because of health reform. That is happening. Like the folks working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck for their families. That change is happening today.

And now, more than ever before, we need your help to finish what we've started. We need all of you to be with us for the next phase of this glorious journey. And I'm not going to kid you -- I never do -- it's going to be long. It's going to be hard. It's going to be filled with plenty of twists and turns and drama along the way.

But here's the thing about Barack –- and this is something that I'd appreciate even if he hadn't shown the good judgment of marrying me -- (laughter) -- that even in the toughest moments -- and I have seen this firsthand -- when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He is always looking down the road. He never, ever lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It is a gift. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, right, when we're all worried that the bill won't pass, or -- "What is he doing? Why doesn't he do more? Why isn't he angry?" (Laughter.) "Negotiations are going to fall through. Barack, what are you doing?" I do it to him, too. (Laughter.)

Barack always reminds me that we are playing a long game. He reminds me that change is slow and change doesn't happen all at once. But he says that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there, because, as he says, we always have. And he is -- we always have.

And that is what he needs from you, he needs you to be in this with him for the long haul. He needs you to hold fast to our vision and our values and our dreams for our kids and for our country. He needs you to work like you have never worked before, without doubt, without question, just with hard work.

And that's what I plan on doing. I'm not going to ask you to do something that I don't plan on doing myself. And I will not be doing it as a wife or as a First Lady. I will be doing it as a mother, who wants to leave my daughters an outstanding legacy. More importantly, I will be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. We've just gotten started -- because the truth is that no matter what happens, we are blessed. My girls will be okay. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that is probably true for all of the young people in this room.

But I think the last four years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: That if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she is not our daughter, even if he's not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune, because that is not who we are as Americans. That's not who we are.

In the end, we cannot separate our story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together. And that's good; as it should be. And I know that if we put our hearts and our souls into this, if we do what we need to do during the next year and a half, then we can continue to make the change we believe in. I know that we can build that country that we know our kids deserve.

So I have one last question for Vermont before I get on my plane and go home: Are you in? (Applause.) Are you ready for this? (Applause.) I hope you are. Are you fired up? (Applause.) We have to do this. We can do this. We can't do it without you. I am ready for this campaign. I am fired up. We are going to work hard. We are going to keep doing what we know is right. And together we will keep making that change we believe in.

Thank you all. Thank you for your prayers, for your unconditional support. Thank you, Vermont. It has been a glorious day. You all take care. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Burlington, Vermont Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320484

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