Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

October 27, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Yes! We are fired up! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. This has been a great day. (Applause.) Thank you all so much. Rest yourselves, because we got a lot of work to do. I don't want you to use all your energy. (Laughter.)

I am just thrilled –- this has been a great day. This is my third city in one day. (Applause.) And I go home tonight and Barack and I get up and go to parent-teacher conference tomorrow morning. (Applause.) Just so you know. Just handling our business.

But I am thrilled to be here. It is such a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you beautiful people, our supporters. You guys have just been amazing.

I want to start by thanking Debbie for that very kind introduction, but more importantly -- (applause) -- yes -- for her outstanding work in Congress and her outstanding leadership as Chairwoman of the DNC. She is amazing. (Applause.) And she has a brilliant family, too, they're in the back. She almost didn't come out because we were swapping stories about daughters in high heels. (Laughter.) I love you to death, Debbie. Thank you, firing it up.

I also want to recognize Mayor Judy Paul, who is here, and thank her for her service and for being here tonight. (Applause.) And I have to thank my dear friend Deborah Cox for her wonderful performance. She is amazing, I love her to death. (Applause.) As well as my dear friend Mark Gilbert and Tracy Mourning. You guys are amazing. You pulled together another wonderful event -- our co-hosts for this evening. I love you both. You guys are just tremendous, always having our backs. You did it again.

And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy days to come here this evening. And I know there's a reason why you are all here tonight, and it wasn't just because of the good food. (Laughter.) 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 a little over a year, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And I know you're here because you care about your country, and you care about your fellow citizens. More importantly, you care about your kids and your grandkids and the world that we're going to be leaving for them.

And that's really why I'm here tonight, why I was traveling around this state all day and why I will be working so hard for the next year. You see, as First Lady, I have the privilege of traveling all across this country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about the challenges and struggles -- about the businesses they're trying to keep afloat, about the doctor bills they can't pay or the mortgage they can no longer afford. I hear about what they're doing to keep it all together, how they're taking that extra shift or working that 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 families have been squeezed from all sides. And the cost of things like gas and groceries and tuition have been continuously rising, but people's paychecks just aren't keeping up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just completely fell 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 of the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to see clearly what's at stake. Gets lost. Because these issues are complicated, and quite frankly, folks are busy, and they're tired. We're raising families and working full-time jobs, and many helping out in their communities on top of all that.

So many of us just don't have the time to really follow the news and to sort through all the back and forth and to figure out how all of this stuff connects to our daily lives. But the fact is that in just a little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country.

And I am here tonight because when it comes to just about every issue that we face -- from our health, to our economic security, to the quality of our schools -- the stakes have never been higher for our families and for our country.

And let's start with the American Jobs Act that my husband just sent to Congress, because when we talk about how this bill would give tax cuts to 6 million business owners, it's important to understand that we're talking about the folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year. That's two-thirds.

It's important for us to remember that we're talking about people who work themselves to the bone every day. Then they head home and they pore over the books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between these businesses hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; between keeping their doors open or closing shop for good. That's what's at stake here.

When we talk about how the bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans, we have to remember that we're talking about people, our neighbors, who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income.

So this bill is literally about whether or not millions of families -- and children -- will have food on their table or a roof over their heads.

It's about whether folks will have more money in their pockets, which means more money into our economy, which means more jobs.

But more importantly, it's about whether 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. (Applause.) We don't let everything fall apart for struggling families. Instead, we say, there but for the grace of God goes my family. Instead, we remember that we're all in this together, and we extend a helping hand. That's who we are.

So that's why even though there are some trying to stop this bill from moving forward, my husband -- your President -- will not give up. (Applause.) He is going to keep fighting for what are common-sense jobs proposals -- whether it's tax cuts for workers, tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, jobs for teachers and construction workers, job training for unemployed or low-income people, rebuilding our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant or foreclosed homes and business.

All of that is what's in the American Jobs Act. That's what we're fighting for. And that is the choice in this election. (Applause.)

And how 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, this was his first bill because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our 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, and closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50 to $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids. That is the choice that we're making in this election. (Applause.)

And we have to talk about health care for a minute. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. But now there are folks out there talking about repealing that reform. And today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to let them succeed?


MRS. OBAMA: Is that who we are? 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 do not let our fellow citizens go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we? (Applause.)

We have to ask ourselves, will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care -- things like cancer screenings, prenatal care that we know save money and save lives, or will we stand up for our lives and for the lives of the people we love? That's what's at stake here. That is the choice in this election.

And think just for a moment about what this president has done on education. Think about the investments that have been made to raise standards and to reform our public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country. These are our children. Kids sitting today in crumbling classrooms. Children with so much promise -- all of them. Kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.

Think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year alone. This is about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. These are people who want to do better, folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives. Folks who are willing to work full-time jobs, raising their kids, but still they find time to go to class every evening, study late into the night because they desperately want something better for the families.

And make no mistake about it, this kind of investment in our students and 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. That's what's at stake.

And let's 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 our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) But more importantly, let us not 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 love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake here. (Applause.)

Think about how your President is finally bringing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) And how we'll be bringing the last of our troops home from Iraq by the end of the year, and those men and women will be able to celebrate the holidays with their families. (Applause.)

Think about all these men and women and what they do for us and how we're helping our veterans and their families get the education, the employment and the benefits that they've earned, because we believe that we should serve our men and women uniform and their families as well as they have served us. That's who we are. (Applause.)

And let's 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 your President finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) And how we have a foreign policy where we -- yes, 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.)

I could go on.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: You could. (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: But make no mistake about it, whether it's health care, 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. Will we be a country that tells folks who have 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, I am my sister's keeper and if one of us is hurting then we're all hurting? Who are we? (Applause.) That's what this election is about. Who are we? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top? Who are we? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed, no matter where they're from, what they look like, or how much money their parents have? Who are we? (Applause.) 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 real work pays, responsibility is rewarded, and yes, everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share? Who are we? That is the choice we face. (Applause.) Those are the stakes.

And believe me, Barack knows this better than anyone. 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. Then when she needed help, who stepped in? His grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take the bus to her job at the bank. And his grandmother worked hard, she supported their entire family, and she was good at what she did. But for nearly two decades she was passed over for promotions because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified than she was -- men she had 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. Oh, and lord knows today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams. (Applause.)

You see, these are the kind of experiences that have made him the man and the President he is today, and we are blessed to have someone like him in office. (Applause.) That's why I'm here.

And that's what I hear in his voice when he returns home from a long day traveling around the country, 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 up late at night poring over briefings and letters from people who have shared their stories. 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. 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: "You won't believe what folks are going through" -- that's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this isn't right. We've got to fix it. We've got so much more to do."

See, the beauty about my husband is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap -- and it's a little irritating sometimes. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but if he's had a few minutes and a decent conversation, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what your President carries with him every day. It is our collection of hopes and struggles and dreams. And that is where Barack Obama gets his passion, that's where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that is why, even in the hardest moments -- and there have been many over the course of the last few years -- when it seems like all is lost and we're sweating it, and we're sweating him, 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. He sees what we're working for. (Applause.)

But I have said this before, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. He cannot do this alone. He needs your help. He needs you out there, understanding these stakes, helping others who might be lost and confused understand these stakes. He needs you to make those phone calls and register voters. He needs you to take those "I'm in" cards, fill them out, sign up, get your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your congregation members -- shake them up. Convince them to join in this effort and to invest just a little part of their life each week to this campaign. That's what Barack Obama needs from you.

And I'm not going to kid you -- this journey is going to be long, and it will surely be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. The reality is change is slow; real change never happens all at once. But the good news is that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing, then we always get there. We have never taken a step back. We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetime or our grandchildren's lifetimes.

And in the end, that is what this is all about. In the end, we're not fighting these battles for ourselves. This isn't about us. We're fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons and our granddaughters. (Applause.) We're fighting for the world we want to leave for them. (Applause.) Just like those who fought for us.

And I'm in this not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. (Applause.) Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed. They have plenty of opportunities and advantages in their lives, and that's probably true for all of you here with your kids. 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'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. That is not who we are. (Applause.)

In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we're all in this together, and that's how it should be. And we know that here in America, 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 -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead.

So, look, we don't have time. We cannot afford to be complacent or tired or frustrated. We don't have that kind of time. There is too much at stake. It is time for us to get to work. So I have one last question for you: Are you in? (Applause.) Wait, wait, wait, are you in? (Applause.) Do you understand what's at stake? (Applause.) Are you all fired up and ready to make this happen? This is the real deal. We don't have any more time. This is about our children's futures. I look forward to working with you all in the years to come. I'm going to be out there working so hard. We need you fired up and ready to go like nothing else. (Applause.)

Thank you all. God bless you. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320508

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