Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Chicago, Illinois
MRS. OBAMA: Chicago! (Applause.) I see all my neighbors, all my friends, all my -- hey, Pauline, how you doing? Love you guys! This is so good! (Applause.) Thank you. I am just thrilled to be back home -- even though I don't get to go to my house. (Laughter.) But I am thrilled to be with all of you.
I want to start by thanking Sydni for that very kind introduction. And this is one of those full-circle moments, because I didn't know Sydni, didn't know why she was picked. And then she comes up the rope line, we take a picture -- and her folks, grew up with them, round the corner. (Laughter.) Full circle. Knowing her mom all my life. (Laughter.) She is a lovely young lady, just like she's supposed to be. (Applause.) So we are so proud of you, Sydni. Thank you so much.
I also want to recognize Secretary of State Jesse White who is here this evening. (Applause.) Thank you for being here, Secretary White. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for your support. And, finally, I want to recognize our host committee, all of you out there, but particularly two very dear friends of ours -- John Rogers and Les Coney, for all of their outstanding work and their friendship. (Applause.)
It is so good to be here, so good to see you all. And I know that there is that all of us are out tonight. What is it? Tuesday?
MRS. OBAMA: A Tuesday night and you're standing up in the hallway -- there's a reason we're here. (Applause.) You're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And you're here because you know that in little over a year we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And I know all of you are here because you care about this country, you care about your fellow citizens, more importantly, you care about your kids and your grandkids, and the world that we're leaving behind for them. (Applause.) That's why you're here.
And that is why I'm here tonight. And that's why I'm going to be out on this campaign trail, because I care, too. The beautiful thing about being First Lady is that I have the privilege of traveling all across this country, meeting folks from different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their lives. Every day, I hear about folks' struggles -- the businesses they're trying to keep afloat, the doctor bills they cannot pay, the mortgage they can no longer afford. And I hear about how they're trying to do everything they can to keep it together -- working that extra shift, taking the extra job, how they're scrimping and saving and sacrificing, many never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. And the cost of things like gas and groceries, tuition have been constantly rising. The people's paychecks just haven't kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for that many families the bottom just fell out. Just fell right out.
So the question today is, what are we, as a country, going to do about all this? Where do we go from here?
And I know that amidst all the chatter and the debates -- because there's a lot of that going on -- it can be hard to see clearly what's really at stake here, because these issues are complicated. And, truly, folks are busy. We're raising our families, working full-time jobs, many of us helping out in our communities at the same time. And many of us just don't have the time to follow the news and sort through all of that back-and- forth and figure out how all of these issues connect to our daily lives. But the fact is that in just over a year now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country -- very different.
And I am here tonight because when it comes to just about every one of those issues -- from the health of our community, our economic security, to the quality of our schools -- the stakes for our families, and for our country, have never been higher. Never.
Let's start with the jobs act that my husband sent to Congress, and understand when we talk about how this bill would give tax cuts to six million small business owners, we're talking about regular folks who run restaurants and stores and startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- in this economy, two-thirds. Understand that we're talking about people who work themselves to the bone every day to keep these businesses open. And then they head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up. And we're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between these people hiring new employees, or handing out pink slips -- between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good. That is what's at stake in this election.
And when you talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for six million Americans, you're talking about folks who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income. This is what we're talking about. So this is literally about whether or not millions of families with children will have food on their tables and a roof over their heads.
It's about whether folks will have more money in their pockets -- and more money in their pockets means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. (Applause.) But more importantly, this is about whether or not we as a country will honor that fundamental promise that we made generations ago, that when times are hard, we do not abandon our fellow citizens. That's not who we are. (Applause.) We do not let everything fall apart for struggling families. That's not what we do. (Applause.) Instead, we say, "There but for the grace of God goes my family." Instead, what we remember is that we're all in this together -- and we extend a helping hand. That's who we are. (Applause.)
That is why, even though some are trying to stop this bill from moving forward, your President, my husband, will not give up. (Applause.) He is going to keep fighting for what are common-sense proposals. Common-sense. Things like tax cuts for working people, tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, jobs for teachers and construction workers -- (applause) -- job training for unemployed or low-income people, whether we can rebuild our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant foreclosed homes and businesses. Look, all of this -- all of this -- is part of that American Jobs Act. Common-sense approaches.
So that is what we're fighting for. That is the choice in this election.
And what about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work, (Applause.) Now, he did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in the workplace. (Applause.) He did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. (Applause.) And closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $500, $100, $50 from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on their children's backs. That is the choice we're making in this election.
Let us talk about health care for a minute, because last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. But wait a minute -- now there are folks are out there talking about repealing this reform. So today we have to ask ourselves will we let them succeed?
MRS. OBAMA: What kind of country are we living in? Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we stand up and say that in this country, we will not allow our fellow citizens to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we? Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventitive care -- things like cancer screenings, prenatal care that save money and save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives -- and, more importantly, for the lives of the people we love? That is what's at stake here. That is the choice in this election.
And think for a moment about what your President has done on education. Just think about the investments that have been made to raise standards and reform public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country -- children we all know -- kids sitting in crumbling classrooms.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen.
MRS. OBAMA: Kids like Sydni, all over this country, with so much promise. Kids who could be anything they wanted if we gave them a chance. Think about how the investments -- tripled investments -- for job training at community colleges that -- just this year. Your President has done that.
It's about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for the better job and for the better wages; folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives. These are folks who are working full-time, raising their kids, but they still make it to that class every evening. They study late into the night because they desperately want something better for their families.
So make no mistake about it -- this investment in our students, in our workers, will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That's what's at stake.
Let's not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history -- (applause) -- our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) But more importantly, let us never forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and our security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes, love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake here. (Applause.)
Think about how we're finally bringing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Think about how we'll be bringing the last of our troops home from Iraq by the end of this year, and, yes, those troops will be able to celebrate the holidays with their families. (Applause.)
Just think about what we're doing to help our veterans and their families get the education to get the employment and the benefits that they've earned -- because we believe that in this country we should serve our men and women in uniform as well as they've served us. (Applause.) And let us not forget how, because we finally 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.)
And think about how we brought to justice, finally, the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts. (Applause.) Think about what it means to have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe, but we also restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it -- whether it's health care, the economy, education, foreign policy -- the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more importantly, it will determine who we want to be.
Who are we? Will we be a country that tells our neighbors, who've done everything right but are still struggling, "tough luck, you're on your own"? Is that who we are?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper -- and if one of us is hurting, then all of us are hurting? (Applause.) Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top?
MRS. OBAMA: Who are we? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed -- every child -- no matter where they're from, what they look like, or how much money their parents make? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built our thriving middle class? Will we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work pays, that responsibility is rewarded, and that everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and does their fair share? That is the choice we face. It's clear. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack Obama knows this. He understands these issues because he's lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And then when she needed help, who stepped in? His grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take a bus to a job at a bank. His grandmother worked hard. She was good at what she did. But for nearly two decades, she was passed over for promotions. Why? Because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified then she was, men she had actually trained, climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack Obama knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn't have a chance to fulfill their potential. And today, as a father, he certainly knows what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams.
See, those are the experiences that made him the man -- and, yes, the President -- he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.) And that is what I hear from my husband when he returns home from a long day, traveling around the country, or working in the Oval Office. And he tells me about the people he's met. That's what I see in those moments of quiet late at night, long after the girls have gone to bed. He's still up, poring over papers and letters and briefings -- like the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care; the letter from the father struggling to pay his family's bills; oh, and the many letters from young people with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice -- say, "You won't believe what folks are going through." That's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this is not right. We have to fix this. We've got so much more to do."
See, what you all -- many of you who know this President, right, you've known him for years, when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. It drives me nuts, because I can't remember anything. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but if he's had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story because it becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams.
And that is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that's why, even in some of the hardest moments when it seems like all is lost and we're all sweating it -- or we're sweating him -- (laughter) -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. Never. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He has got this gift of just keeping -- moving forward, just seeing the goal line. (Applause.)
But I have said this before and I know I've said it to many of you here, but I will say it again: He cannot do this alone.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: He can do it.
MRS. OBAMA: He cannot do this alone. He needs your help. He needs you to make those calls and register those voters. Get young people involved. Get people up and out. Let them know what's at stake. He needs you to take those "I'm in" cards, get them signed up. Sign up your friends and your neighbors and people who are not paying attention. You know how this goes. Folks aren't bothering right now. Everybody is struggling. You need to get them focused. Convince them to join this effort and to invest a little part of their lives in this campaign. That's what he needs from you.
But let me tell you again -- and I said this before -- this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. As Barack says, you think it's going to be easy for a man named Barack Obama? (Laughter.) Did anybody ever think that would be easy? (Laughter.)
And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is that's how change always happens in this country. The reality is change is slow. Real change doesn't happen all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then we always get there. We always get there -- maybe not in our lifetime, but maybe in our children's lifetimes; maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes, like the people who sacrificed for us.
Because in the end, that is what this is all about. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We're fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We're fighting for the world we want to leave for them. That's what this is about.
And I am in this not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better and what more we still have to do. (Applause.) Because the truth is no matter what happens, I believe my girls will be okay, because they are blessed -- and I remind them of that every day. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that's probably true for many of your children and grandchildren as well.
But I think the last few 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 is not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we can't be fully content with our own family's good fortune, because that is not what we do in America. That is not who we are. (Applause.)
In the end, we know that we cannot separate our individual story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together. And that is a good thing. And we know that here in America, we can shape our own destiny. We know that if we make the right choices, have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead.
So we can't afford to be complacent, or tired, or frustrated. We don't have the time. It's time to get to work. It's time to get to work.
So I have one last question: Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait. Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to work? Are you fired up? (Applause.) Let me tell you, I am fired up. I'm going to be walking around, running around this country for the next 12 months making sure people understand what's at stake. But we have got to be ready to roll up our sleeves and work hard. This is another battle, but I am looking forward to doing it. I am looking forward to seeing all of you out there. You ready to roll?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes!
MRS. OBAMA: Let's stay fired up! Thank you all. God bless you, Chicago. (Applause.) It's good to be home. Love you all. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320509