Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Detroit, Michigan
MRS. OBAMA: This is a good crowd! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) I heard you all in here making some noise. Well, good afternoon, Detroit! (Applause.) Thank you so much. You don't know, when you travel, coming into a nice warm welcome, a nice warm hug just makes it all worthwhile. (Laughter.) It is truly a pleasure and an honor to be with all of you today.
I want to first thank Rashida for her wonderful remarks earlier today. Yay, Rashida. (Applause.) And I also want to thank a few other people -- Congressman Clarke, and to all the DNC members who are here with us today, former Mayor Dennis Archer, Debbie Dingell, Tina Abbot, Jill Alper, and Virgie Rollins who's here. Let's give them all a terrific round of applause. (Applause.) You all have been amazing. Love you all. Thank you so much. Thank you for your outstanding work.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your lives to come here this afternoon. And I know that there is a reason why we all gathered here today, right? (Applause.) We are here because we know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And I know that you're here because you know that in little over a year we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives truly for decades to come.
And I know you're here because truly you care about this country. You care about your fellow citizens. You care about our kids, our grandkids, and you care about the world that we're leaving for them.
And that is truly the reason why I'm here today. Because one of the beautiful things about being First Lady is that I have the privilege of traveling all across this great country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their lives.
And every day, I hear about the struggles -- the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor bills people can't pay, or the mortgage they can no longer afford. I hear about how people are trying to keep it together, taking that extra shift, working that extra job; how folks are scrimping and saving, and sacrificing -- 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. The cost of things -- gas, groceries, tuition -- they've just continued to rise, but people's paychecks just have not kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom just fell out.
So the question today is, what are we -- we as a country -- going to do about all of this? Where do we go from here?
And I know that amidst all of the chatter and the debates, it can be really hard to clearly understand what's at stake. These issues are complicated, and quite frankly, folks are busy. We're raising our families, working full-time jobs, many of us helping out in our communities, to top it off. And many of us just don't have 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 little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for our country. And I am here today because when it comes to just about every issue -- from our health, to 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 American Jobs Act that my husband sent to Congress. (Applause.) Now, it's important to understand that when we talk about this bill, we talk about how this bill would give tax cuts to 6 million small business owners, we have to understand that we're talking about regular folks who will run restaurants and stores and startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this country each year. That's two-thirds.
We're talking about the people who work themselves to the bone every day, and then head home to pore over the books late at night, determined to make those numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between these companies hiring new employees -- or handing out pink slips; between keeping their doors open -- or closing up shop for good. See, that's what's at stake here.
And when we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans -- (applause) -- we are talking about people who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income. Weeks away. So this bill is literally about whether or not millions of families and 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. And we all need those, right? (Applause.) And it's about whether -- more importantly, whether we as a country will honor that fundamental promise that we made generations ago that when times are hard in this country, we do not abandon our fellow citizens. We don't do that. (Applause.)
We don't let everything fall apart for struggling families. That's not who we are. Instead, we say, "There but for the grace of God goes my family." (Applause.) Instead, we remember that we are all in this together -- and we extend a helping hand.
And that is why, even though some are trying to stop this bill from moving forward, my husband is never going to give up. (Applause.) He's going to keep fighting. He is going to keep fighting for what are common-sense jobs proposals. Things like tax cuts for workers, or tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, jobs for teachers and construction workers -- (applause) -- job training for unemployed or low-income workers -- things like rebuilding our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant or foreclosed homes and businesses.
All of that is part of the American Jobs Act. All of that is in there. And that is what we're fighting for. That is the choice in this election.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- (applause) -- to make sure women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And it's important to know that he did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in the workplace. And 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.) That's what he knows.
And we know that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids. That is the choice that we're making in this election.
And let's talk about health care for a minute. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now, there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
MRS. OBAMA: So today, we have to ask ourselves, is this who we are? Will we let them succeed?
MRS. OBAMA: Is this what we want? Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, we don't let our fellow citizens go bankrupt because they got sick? Not here in America. (Applause.)
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventive care -- things like cancer screenings and prenatal care that save money, but more importantly, save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives -- and for the lives of the people that we love? That is what's at stake here. That is the choice in this election.
And just think for a moment about what this administration has done on education. And think about the investments that we've made to raise standards and reform our public schools. These changes are about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country. These are our children, all of our children -- kids we know who are sitting in crumbling classrooms; kids we know that have so much promise; kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
And think about how this administration has tripled investments for things like job training and community colleges just this year alone. And that is about millions of hardworking folks -- (applause) -- people who are determined to get the skills they need to get a better job and better wages. I mean, these are people working hard, folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives -- working full-time jobs, raising their kids, but still making it to that class every evening and studying late into the night, because these are people who will do anything that it takes to get something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it -- these types of investments in our students, in our workers, will determine nothing less than the future of our 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. And that is what's at stake here.
And let us not forget what it meant when my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our daughters and sons watched three women take their seats on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) But, more importantly, let us not forget the impact of their decisions, the impact that will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That is what is at stake here. (Applause.)
And think about how we are finally bringing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Think about how we'll be bringing the last of the troops home from Iraq by the end of this year, and these men and men will be able to celebrate the holidays with their families. (Applause.)
And think about all that we are doing, and will continue to do, to help out our veterans and all the families of the troops to get their education, to get the employment and the benefits that they've earned -- because we believe that we should serve our men and women in uniform and their families as well as they have 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 love to serve the country they love. (Applause.) And how we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts. (Applause.)
So now it means we have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe, but also restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election.
So make no mistake about it, whether it's health care or the economy, education or foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly, 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 to get by, "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 -- (applause) -- and if one of us is hurting, then we're all hurting? (Applause.)
Who are we? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top -- or will we give every child a chance to succeed, no matter where they're from, or what they look like, or how much money their parents have? Who are we?
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Will we rebuild our economy for the long-term so that work pays, so that responsibility is actually rewarded, and everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake, and does their fair share?
Who are we? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, your President 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 when she needed help, who stepped in but his grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take that bus to that job at the bank. His grandmother worked hard and 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 -- men she actually trained -- climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack 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 child to grow up with no limits on their dreams. See, these are the experiences that have made him the man -- and the President -- that he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that is what I hear in my husband's voice when he returns home after a long day -- whether it's traveling around the country, or working in the office -- and he tells me about the people he's met. That's what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have gone to bed, and he's still up poring over the letters people have sent him -- the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care, or the letter from the man struggling to pay his family's bills, the letter from the many 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 these folks are still going through." That's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, it's not right. And we have to fix this. We have more work to do."
So what you need to know is that when it comes to the people that Barack meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) Gets annoying sometimes. (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. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every day. It is your collection of hopes and struggles and dreams.
And that is where Barack gets his passion. That is where Barack gets his toughness and his fight. And that is why, even in the darkest moments, when it looks like all is lost and we're all sweating it, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. (Applause.)
But I have said this before, and if anybody has ever been near me, I have said it and I will say it again: He cannot do it alone. He needs your help. He needs you to make those phone calls. He needs you to register voters. He needs you to take those "I'm in" cards I know you must have and use them -- sign your neighbors up, your friends up, your colleagues up. Convince them to join in, in giving just a little part of your lives and their lives each week to this campaign. That's what he needs from you.
Now, I'm not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long.
MRS. OBAMA: And it is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. It's a beautiful journey. But the truth is that is how change always happens in this country -- real change. The reality is, is that change is slow, it never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and do what we know is right, then we always get there. We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, or our grandchildren's lifetimes.
Because in the end, that is really what this is all about. It's not about us. In the end, we're 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.
And I am not in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls -- and I do. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can all do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, is that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. They are blessed. My girls will still have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that is probably true for so many of your kids as well. But I think that 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's 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 what we do in America. That is not who we are. (Applause.)
In the end, we can't separate our own individual story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we're all in this together -- and that's a good thing. And we know that here in this country we can shape our own destiny. We know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that 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 time for that. It is time for us to get to work.
So let me ask you one final question: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait, wait, I've got to hear it -- are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Because let me tell you, I am so in. (Applause.) I am so far in. I want you all so fired up.
AUDIENCE: Fired up! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I am going to be working so hard this year. And I want to see each and every one of you out there pushing this thing like you know what's at stake.
So are you in with me?
MRS. OBAMA: You all, thank you so much. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your work. God bless you all. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320506