Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady to the Women's Leadership Forum Conference

October 25, 2013

MRS. OBAMA: Well, this looks like a mighty fine group. (Applause.) Good afternoon! Yay! Oh, thank you so much. It's wonderful to see you all. Please, rest yourselves. You've got a pretty good conference, I hear, a good lineup of speakers. I heard the President was here last night, because he was late for dinner, or something like that. (Laughter.) But it is so good to be here. It's a pleasure and a joy to be here with so many fabulous women leaders from all across this country. And you guys look good for having been conferenced for a few days. (Laughter.)

And speaking of fabulous women leaders, I want to start by thanking our DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.) I know that we are so grateful for her outstanding leadership. I know she's not here, but she has been amazing, and we are so grateful.

And of course, I want to thank all of you. I want to thank you for everything that you have done for Barack and for so many other leaders who share our values. Thank you for being there for them year after year, for election after election.

And I know it hasn't always been easy. I know there have been plenty of ups and downs over the years. But if you have ever wondered whether your support makes a difference, if you've ever doubted for one minute that what you do and who we elect to serve in this government matters, then just think about what happened these past few weeks and that should put those doubts to rest.

And I'm not just talking about the shutdown. I am talking about the millions of Americans who will soon have quality, affordable health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.)

And I think it's important for us to all remember who exactly is benefitting from this new law. They are folks who come from all across the country, who come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. They're the spouses of our veterans –- folks who are working around the clock caring for their loved ones wounded in war, yet who don't have insurance themselves.

They're young people who've aged out of their parents' plan and can't afford insurance on their own -- we may have a few of those in the room. Amen. (Laughter and applause.) They're folks with preexisting conditions –- women who had breast cancer years ago, folks who had asthma as a kid, people who've been turned away from insurance again and again. The single mother who lost her job. The couple who are both working jobs that don't provide insurance. The folks who are paying too much for their current plan and just need a better deal.

So many of these people have been living from emergency to emergency. They've been ignoring their symptoms and just praying that nothing goes wrong. And now, finally, because of all of you, because you helped elect Barack Obama President, these people finally have some hope -- because of you. (Applause.)

So when a small group of folks in Congress shuts down our government to try to shut down Obamacare, and we watch as our President stands strong, that's not just some political fight in Washington -- it is a battle about our most fundamental values and aspirations. See, your President believes that here in America, no matter how you start out, if you're willing to work for it, if you're willing to sacrifice for it, you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids.

That's the American Dream that we all believe in. And we don't believe in handouts. We don't think anyone should get a free ride. But we also understand that "there but for the grace of God go I." (Applause.) What we understand is that in the blink of an eye, any of us could be faced with a terrible diagnosis, any of us could be injured in a horrible accident, any of us could lose the job we count on to support our family.

And when that happens, it shouldn't mean falling off a cliff. It shouldn't mean having to go without food, or medicine, or a roof over our heads –- not here in America. That's not who we are.

Here in America, while we expect everyone to do their fair share, we also believe that we should give everyone a fair shot. We believe that everyone should have the basic security they need to provide for their families and give their kids a decent chance in life. That's the kind of security that I and I know so many of you grew up with.

You know my story. My family wasn't rich –- far from it. And my father had multiple sclerosis, which is a serious chronic health condition, so we lived with the reality that at any given moment, my father could have had a flare up and needed medication, even hospitalization. That's how we grew up. But we were lucky. My father's job at the city water plant provided health insurance, so my dad was able to stay healthy enough to get up every day and get to his job.

So for my family, health insurance meant everything. It gave my dad the pride and the dignity of being our provider and being able to pay his bills. He was even able to pay the little tiny bit of my college tuition that wasn't covered by student loans and grants. And in turn, that allowed me to get my degree. It allowed me to build my career and support a family of my own.

And every family in this country deserves that kind of security. Every child in this country deserves that kind of opportunity. And that's why Barack has worked so hard to lift up the middle class. That's why he fought so hard and risked so much to pass the Affordable Care Act.

And that's why, time and again, he has stood strong for our most fundamental rights. Whether that's getting equal pay for women, or ending "don't ask, don't tell," or supporting our right to marry the person we love. (Applause.) And today, not even five years after Barack took office in the depths of an economic crisis, we're now starting to see the results of his convictions and his hard work. Our auto industry is back. Our housing market is rebounding. Our deficits are shrinking. And our businesses have created 7.5 million new jobs under this President. (Applause.)

But let's be clear: Barack hasn't done anything of these things alone; hasn't done any of this just sitting by himself in the Oval Office. (Laughter.) Remember the Recovery Act that helped rescue our economy and create all those jobs? Well, we needed Congress to pass that bill. Remember the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? Believe it or not, that bill was passed by Congress back in 2009. (Applause.) Yes. (Applause.)

And of course, the Affordable Care Act -- yes, that's right, Obamacare was passed by Congress in 2010. (Applause.) It was signed by my husband, it was upheld by the Supreme Court. (Applause.) And now, we are relying on governors across the country to help implement the law.

So at the end of the day, so many of our most important accomplishments, so much of what Barack has done to help working families, that all happened because of who we had in Congress. But let's not forget that some of our most frustrating defeats happened for the exact same reason.

The DREAM Act, an act that gives immigrant kids a fair shot, kids brought here by their parents through no fault of their own, this act failed twice -- once by just five votes in the Senate, and once by just four. So the President had to sign an executive order to finally get these kids some relief.

And remember that common-sense gun legislation that so many of us feel so strongly about? (Applause.) Well, unfortunately, that bill failed, and do you want to know by how many votes? It failed by just six votes in the Senate -- just six. So make no mistake about it: Midterm elections matter. Governors' races matter. It matters who we elect to the state legislatures that draw those congressional districts.

So if you're not happy about what you've seen in Congress lately, if you don't like seeing folks in state government trying to undermine Obamacare or chip away at women's rights and women's health, then I urge you -- let's not just sit around feeling angry or helpless or hopeless, especially not women. (Laughter.) Because there is something that all of you can do right now today to make a huge difference: You can write a check. That's what we need you to do right now. We need you to write a big old check. (Laughter.) Write the biggest check you can possibly write.

Take your frustration and your passion and your hope, and turn that into real meaningful support that will help us elect a Congress and governors and a state legislature that truly represents the people they serve. And don't wait another minute, because the stakes here are simply too high. They couldn't be higher. So many people are counting on all of us to make our voices heard -- families who are working harder than ever, and they deserve to make a decent wage. They're counting on us, because no one in this country should work 40 or 50 hours a week and still be stuck in poverty -- not in the United States of America, not in the richest country on Earth. (Applause.)

Our children and grandchildren all across this country, they all deserve good schools, chance to go to college. And they deserve common-sense gun safety laws to keep them safe in their classrooms and their communities. (Applause.) So those kids are counting on us.

And all the women and families who don't want anyone interfering with their most private health decisions, women who are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies, they're counting on us. They're counting on us to stand up and fight for rights and freedoms that we all deserve, and that's why we need your support right now. (Applause.) That's why we need you all. That's why this is important. (Applause.)

And I know that some of you might occasionally feel a little annoyed that we're always asking you for money. (Laughter.) I know it. And it's okay. Own it, admit it. It's like, a check? Another check? I'm so sick of these people. (Laughter.)

But the thing is, we nag you and annoy you because writing those checks is the single-most impactful thing that you can do right now, because it's not enough for us to have the most dedicated, hardworking, public-minded candidates if we don't have the resources they need to win elections. Yes, it's not enough. (Applause.)

I wish it were, but it is not enough for us to have the best policies, the best ideas, if no one ever hears about them and we never get a chance to implement them. So we can't just sit back on our moral high ground feeling good about ourselves. We need to keep this ship moving forward. I said ship. (Laughter and applause.)

And that's why your support is so vitally important. It is. Because when you dig deep, you know what happens? That translates into brilliant staff hired, more offices opened. It translates into calls made, more doors knocked on, ads running where they need to run. And these things don't happen by magic -- they only happen because of folks like you.

Now, I know it feels like we just did a big push for the 2012 presidential election, because I pushed, did a lot of the pushing. (Laughter.) And I know it can be hard to get geared up again for midterms, especially if there's not a hot race in your state or your district. But when you find yourself starting to tune out or get a little fatigued, I want you to think about some cold, hard numbers.

The fact is that right now we are just 17 seats away from taking back the House -- yes, 17. (Applause.) But they are 17 hard seats. And we're just six seats away from losing the Senate. And that's how close these midterm elections are. And we all know that it's not enough to elect Barack Obama if we don't give him a Congress that will help him keep moving this country forward. We know that. (Applause.)

So we need you all to max out. And just as important, once you've maxed out, we need you to go back to your states and get everyone you know to give whatever they can as well.

Now, as women, that's not always something that we're comfortable with doing, asking for anything, right? We don't like asking for help. I know I don't. Doing this is painful for me. (Laughter.) I love seeing you guys, hanging out, but it's hard. Sometimes we as women, we feel a little awkward, and we're a little embarrassed to ask folks in our lives for money or for support.

But when you start feeling shy, do what I do: I want you to think about all those folks who are counting on us, all those kids, all those women, all those families -- families I meet and see every day who need someone on their side standing up for them. And I want you to remember that other folks aren't shy about doing this, and they are out-raising us right now as we speak.

So now is not the time for us to be hesitant or doubtful or fatigued. Now is the time to be energized. Now is the time to be inspired. Now is the time to tap into the deep well of passion and compassion and strength that we all have as women.

And here's the beautiful thing -- because I have seen it time and time again with all of you -- is that when we as women, when we do that, when we tap into that passion and that faith, when we keep stepping up and digging deep and bringing others together right along with us, then I know that we can keep on making the change we believe in. I know that. I know that we can keep moving this country forward, and together we are going to keep building a future worthy of all of our children.

So are you guys ready? I know I'm always asking you. We have to be ready again. Are you all ready to step up one more time, one more time to make this happen? (Applause.) Dig deep. Go back home. Stay passionate. Stay focused. And we'll make it happen.

Thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.) I'm going to be coming down to shake some hands, so come on down and I'll say hello. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady to the Women's Leadership Forum Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320131

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