Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Jacksonville, Florida
MRS. OBAMA: Jacksonville! (Applause.) It's wonderful to be back, and it's so great to see all of you. How are you all doing? (Laughter.) You're already fired up and ready to go? (Applause.)
Well, I want to start by thanking your First Lady -- Santhea, for that very kind and generous introduction. I want to thank her for her leadership, from one First Lady to another. It's not always easy, but she is carrying it with grace and style, and I'm grateful that she took the time to be here with us today.
I also want to thank the Bethel Baptist Church -- (applause) -- for that wonderful performance. I always miss most of the fun stuff -- (laughter) -- but thank you for taking the time.
And I also have to recognize Polly and Bobby Stein and the rest of the host committee for their outstanding work on today's event. We have to give them a round of applause. (Applause.) I was teasing Bobby -- my visit -- the first time I came to Jacksonville, Bobby picked me up from the airport. And he drives kind of fast. (Laughter.) But we made it safely. (Laughter.) But it was a very wonderful experience. They've been terrific.
And finally, thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us here this afternoon.
And I know that there is a reason why all of you are here today. You're here because you know that we are at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And you're here because you know that in little over a year, we're going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And I know you all 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 going to leave behind for them.
And truly, that's why I'm here. That's why I'm going to be out here working so hard in this election. You see, as First Lady, one of the best things I do -- I have the privilege of traveling all across this great country, meeting with folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their lives. Every day, I hear about people's struggles and challenges -- the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor bills they can't pay, or the mortgage they can no longer afford. I hear about how they're trying to keep it all together, working that extra job, taking that extra shift; how they're scrimping and saving and sacrificing, many folks 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 like gas, groceries, tuition have continued to rise, but people's paychecks just haven't kept up. So when the economic crisis hit, for too many families, the bottom 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?
Now, I know that amidst all of the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to clearly remember what's really at stake. These issues that we're dealing with, they are complicated, and quite frankly, folks are busy and tired. We're raising families and working full-time jobs. Many of us are helping out in our communities on top of it all. And many of us just don't have time to follow the news, to sort through all the back-and- forth, and to figure out how all of that conversation connects to our daily lives. But the fact is that in just 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 today because when it comes to just about every single one of those issues that we face -- 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.
So let's start with the American Jobs Act that my husband sent to Congress. Let's start there. Because it's important to know that when we talk about this bill, this is a bill that would give tax cuts to six million small business owners, so we're talking about the folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this economy. That's two-thirds of the jobs. That's who we're talking about.
We're talking about people who work themselves to the bone during the day, every day, and then the head home and pore over their books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference from these businesses hiring new employees, or handing out pink slips -- between keeping their doors open, or closing shop for good. That is what's at stake here.
When we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for six million Americans, we're talking about folks who are just two weeks -- or weeks away from losing their only source of income. So this is literally about whether or not millions of families -- millions of families -- and children will have food on their tables or 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 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. 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. (Applause.)
That is exactly why, even though there are some trying to stop this bill from moving forward, my husband -- your President -- will not give up. (Applause.) Believe me, 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 folks, rebuilding our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant foreclosed homes and businesses.
Now, all of that, that is part of the American Jobs Act, that kind of common-sense thinking. That is what we're fighting for here. That is the choice in this election. And we cannot forget that's the choice. (Applause.)
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- it was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) Why did he do this? Because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. (Applause.) And he did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, the success of women in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. There are no two ways about it. (Applause.) So closing that pay gap, it can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from every paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries and to put clothes on the backs of their kids. That is the choice we're making in this election.
And let's talk just for a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now, there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform.
MRS. OBAMA: So today we have to ask ourselves are we going to let this happen?
MRS. OBAMA: 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?
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care -- things like cancer screenings or prenatal care that save money and we know save lives? Or will we stand up for ourselves -- and more importantly, stand up for the people that we love in our lives? That is what is at stake. That is the choice that we're making in this election, and we cannot forget. (Applause.)
And think for a moment about what has happened in education. Think about the investments that this President has made to raise standards and reform our public schools. And we know this is about improving the circumstances for millions -- millions -- of children in this country, kids we know sitting in crumbling classes. Our kids. Kids with so much promise. Kids we know could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
Think about how we've made investments, tripled them for job training at community colleges just this year.
And that's about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for better jobs and better wages. Folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives. These are the folks who are working that full-time job, raising their kids, and still finding time to make it to that class in the evening, and study late into the night. Why? Because they desperately want something better for their lives. They're willing to work for it.
And make no mistake about it, this kind of 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 in this election. (Applause.)
And let's not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, 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 security, on whether we can speak freely, or worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake here. (Applause.)
Think about how this President is 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 those men and women will be able to celebrate the holidays with their families. (Applause.) Think about all that we're doing to help our veterans and our military families get the education, 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.)
But 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 we cannot forget about how this President finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) This means so much to us to have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe and we restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
So, Jacksonville, make no mistake about it, whether it's health care or the economy, whether it's 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 do we want to be? Will we be a country that tells folks who have done everything right but are 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 -- (applause) -- and when one of us is hurting, then all of us are hurting? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we give every child -- every child -- no matter where they're from, or what they look like, or how much money their parents make -- will we give every child a chance? Who are we?
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Or will we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work pays, and responsibility is rewarded, and everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and does their fair share? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
Believe me, your President 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 -- watching her get up before dawn to take a bus to a job at the bank. And his grandmother worked hard, 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 then she was -- many men she actually trained -- climb the 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 believe me, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams. (Applause.) This is who your President is.
Those are the experiences that have made him the man -- and more importantly, the President -- 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 traveling the country, in the Oval Office, and he tells me about the people he's met. And that's what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he is still up to 1-2 o'clock in the morning, poring over briefings and letters from people -- because he reads everything. 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 bills and keep his pride. The letter from too many young person with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, "You won't believe what folks are going through." That's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this ain't right. We got to fix it. We have so much more to do." (Applause.)
See, what you have to know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but he will never forget your story. He carries it with him. It's imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries every day -- it is our collection of hopes and struggles and dreams.
That is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that is why, even in the hardest moments -- and there have been many hard moments over the last few years -- when it seems like all is lost and we're all sweating it, and we're sweating him -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. (Applause.) He's always looking at the prize at the end. 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 I know I said it here in Jacksonville, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. This is our struggle, because it is our country. And he needs you to make this happen. He needs you to make those calls and register those voters.
MRS. OBAMA: He needs you to sign those "I'm in" cards. He needs you to sign up your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues -- because people need to know what's at stake. This isn't a joke. Convince them to join in on this effort and give just a little piece of their life each week to this campaign. That's what Barack Obama needs from all of you.
And I am not going to kid you -- this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. It wouldn't be interesting if there weren't. (Laughter.) But the truth is -- and we can't forget -- that is how change always happens in this country. It's how it always happens. The reality is that change is slow. Real change doesn't happen all at once. But we must remember that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, and know that if we do what is right, that we can move this forward -- that eventually we get there. We always do. And we can't get discouraged. We always get there. We never move backwards. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, our grandchildren's lifetimes -- like the people who sacrificed for us today. (Applause.)
And in the end, that's really what this is all about. In the end, we're fighting these battles not for ourselves; we're fighting these battles for our sons and our daughters, and for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. That's what this is about. (Applause.)
And I am in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I'm in it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls are blessed. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And I'm sure that's true for many of your kids and grandkids 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 cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune -- because that's not what we do in America. That is not who we are.
In the end, we cannot separate our own 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, and 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. Too much is at stake. We have to get to work. We have too much work to do. (Applause.)
So I have one last question for you, Jacksonville: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait, wait. Are you in this?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to make this happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Do we understand what's at stake? This is not a joke. The choices are clear. We need you fired up and ready to go, working hard every minute of the day. We've got less than a year -- almost. We don't have time to joke around. You got to shake people up. You got to get them ready to roll. We can do this.
MRS. OBAMA: So let's fire it up.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Jacksonville, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320505