Michelle Obama photo

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

September 18, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Are you guys fired up? (Applause.) You have to be. You really do have to be. But let me just thank you so much. It is really a pleasure to be here with so many fabulous women -- and I see a few brave men, too. (Laughter.) Some of my favorites are back there.

And speaking of fabulous women, let me by start by thanking my dear friend, Dr. Jill Biden, not just for her wonderful introduction, but she is a passionate, dedicated partner in so much that we do together, particularly our work to support military families. And so let's give Jill another round of applause. We have some Blue Star moms, some family members here. We love you guys. Jill, thank you so much.

And while she wasn't able to join us today, I also want to recognize another fabulous woman –- our extraordinary DNC Chair, Congressman Debbie Wasserman Shultz. Yay! (Applause.) And I also have to give a shoutout to our terrific CEO, Amy Dacey, who is doing such an amazing job. (Applause.) She's been traveling around -- there you go, Amy. How are you? My partner in crime. She's heard me ranting on many an occasion. Thanks, Amy, for the great work that you're doing.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you. I definitely see many old friends here today –-


MRS. OBAMA: From Georgia specifically. (Laughter.) And Georgia, we need you. Georgia, you've got to do it all in Georgia. (Laughter.)

But I see folks who've been with us from the very beginning -- (applause) -- yes, back when we were out in Iowa and New Hampshire, talking about hope and change and getting folks fired up and ready to go -- remember all that? (Applause.) And then you all were with us when Barack first took office, and took a look at the mess he'd been handed and wondered what on Earth he had gotten himself into. (Laughter.)

Let me just take you back to how bad things were back then. We were in full-blown crisis mode -- do you remember that? Our economy was literally on the brink of collapse. Wall Street banks were folding. Businesses were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Folks on TV were panicking about whether we were headed for another Great Depression -– and that wasn't just talk, that was a real possibility. This is what Barack walked into on day one as President. I could go on.

Now, think about how things look today, less than six years later. (Applause.) Our businesses have created 10 million new jobs. The long-term unemployment rate has dropped by more than half over the past four years. We've now had the longest period of job growth since World War II. (Applause.) And as folks across the country have gone back to work, overall unemployment is the lowest it's been in nearly six years.

We've cut our deficit by more than half. We're sending more kids to college. (Applause.) And after -- yes, indeed. And here's my favorite -- after decades of trying to pass health reform, today, millions of Americans finally have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.

And then just think about how different our country looks to children growing up today. Think about how our kids take for granted that a black person or a woman can be President of the United States. (Applause.) They take it for granted that for the first time in history, there are three brilliant women serving on our Supreme Court. (Applause.) They take for granted that their President will end hurtful policies like

don't ask, don't tell," they'll speak out for gay marriage.

So today, when folks ask me whether I still believe everything we said about change and hope back in 2008, I tell them that I believe it more strongly now than ever before, because, look, I've seen it with my own eyes. I've seen veterans finding jobs as our nation proudly supports their transition to civilian life. I've seen children getting better nutrition and growing up healthier. I've seen young people from the most underserved areas reaching higher and going back to college, and reaching back to serve their communities. So while we still have plenty of work to do, we have truly made so much of that change we were talking about.

But here's the thing I want you to remember, is that Barack didn't do all this just sitting alone in the Oval Office.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You were there. (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA: I was there. But remember the Recovery Act that helped rescue our economy? Remember the legislation that helped save the auto industry? And the Affordable Care Act that gave all those folks health insurance? Those bills were passed by a Democratic Congress back in 2008, 2009 and 2010. And it's so easy to lose sight of that reality.

Too often, we forget what we learned back in civics class in middle school about how we have a separation of powers between three branches of government. I can't tell you how many folks have asked me, well, the President passed health care, why can't he just fix the infrastructure yet? Why can't he just raise the minimum wage? And I have to tell them that infrastructure is a budget issue; minimum wage is a legislative issue. And we all know who has the final say on all of that -- it's Congress. It's Congress.

So the truth is, if we want to keep making that change we all believe in, then we need a President who will fight for that change, but we also need a Congress who will pass it, and leaders at our state level who will support it. (Applause.) So make no mistake about it, Barack's last campaign was not in 2012. Barack's last campaign is this year, 2014 -- (applause) -- because that election in 2012 wasn't the change we sought, it was only the chance to make that change.

And frankly, if we lose these midterm elections, it's going to be a whole lot harder to finish what we've started. Because things will be even worse here in Washington. We will see more conflict, more obstruction, more lawsuits and talk about impeachment, more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act or even shut down the government -- behavior that just wastes time and wastes our money.

In fact, it's gotten so bad, they've even tried to block the work I do on child obesity -- and that's really saying something. I mean, for most folks in this country, making sure our kids get decent nutrition isn't all that controversial -- it shouldn't be. (Child falls.) Because as parents, there is nothing we wouldn't do for our kids, even when they're falling over tired. (Laughter.) He's just done. But we still love him! This is all for you!

We always put our kids' interests first. We wake up every morning, we go to bed every night worrying about their health, their happiness, their futures. So we deserve leaders across the country who will do the same. We deserve leaders who will believe like we do that no matter how our kids start out in life, if they're willing to work for it, they should have every opportunity to fulfill their boundless promise. They should have every opportunity to get a good education, build a decent life for themselves and an even better life for their own kids. That is the American Dream we all believe in. And that's what this midterm election -- these elections are all about.

And here's the thing that we know -- that we can win these elections. No, no, no, we can really win these elections. And I want you to understand just how easily we can win. Right now, we are just 17 seats away from taking back the House. Now, also understand we're just six seats away from losing the Senate –- just six seats. And we have tight governors' races and legislative races in states all across the country, races that are won or lost by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, or even a few dozen votes.

So here's the good news I was talking about: We have all the votes we need right now to win so many of these races if we get folks registered and if we get them out to vote in November. So here are some of the numbers. In some of our Senate for example, in Iowa, if just 70 percent of the folks who voted for Barack in 2012 show up and vote for Bruce Braley, Congressman Braley will be the next Senator from Iowa. (Applause.) If just -- now, these are our votes. If just 69 percent of Obama voters show up in Colorado and just 63 percent show up in North Carolina, then Senator Udall and Senator Hagan will win reelection. (Applause.) These are our people. We don't have to convince anybody about anything except just voting.

So let's be clear: This is on us. That's the thing -- it's on us. We can't wait around for anybody else to do this for us. Now, it's true that there is too much money in politics -- that's true. And it's true that special interests have too much influence. But let me tell you something, they had plenty of money and influence back in 2008 and 2012 –- and we won those elections. (Applause.)

And you want to know why we won? Because we showed up and we voted. And at the end of the day, we have to remember that the folks running those special interest groups, the folks pouring millions of dollars into those elections, they each have just one vote. And so do each of us. And ultimately, the only thing that counts are those votes. That's what decides elections in the United States of America. And that's why Barack Obama is President right now –- he's President because a whole bunch of folks who never voted before showed up to vote in 2008 and 2012. (Applause.)

And you remember, a lot of people were shocked when Barack won because they were counting on folks like us to stay home. They were counting on it. And we proved them wrong. Barack won because record numbers of women and minorities and young people showed up to vote.

But here's where we fall short -- when the midterms come along, too many of our people just tune out. And that's what folks on the other side are counting on this year, because when we stay home, they win. So they're assuming that we won't care. They're hoping, they're assuming that we won't be organized and energized. And only we can prove them wrong.

And that's where all of you come in -- all my lady friends. (Applause.) This is the crew. You all have already made such generous contributions to the DNC, and we are grateful. And because of you, right now, campaign offices around the country are open. Because of you, ads are running. Because of you, our candidates are getting their message out and doing their thing all across the country.

So tonight, for once, I'm not going to ask you for more money -- not tonight. I reserve the right to do that later on, but not tonight. (Laughter.) But I am going to ask for your help in getting folks organized and out to the polls on November the 4th. Because I know that you all have networks -- you all have people, lots of people -- and when you ask folks to do something, they listen to you. That's why you're here. And that's what we need you to do –- we need you to make those calls. You all -- we all know how to do this. We've done this. We need you to knock on those doors and get people registered and then out to vote on Election Day.

And you can start by going to Commit2Vote.com –- that's Commit2Vote.com. This is a new website from the DNC where you can commit to casting your vote, and then you can reach out to your friends and family and neighbors and get them to commit as well. Everyone you sign up through this website will receive reminders to vote -- so this is really good, this is a good tool -- and they'll be sent all the information they need about early voting -- which you know how key that is, because that was the ticket in the presidential elections -- early voting. They'll receive information about the location of their polling place, and so much more.

And I want you all to send everybody you know to this website –- Commit2Vote.com -– and don't wait another minute to get started on this. Because we've got less than two months until Election Day, and we need you to be as passionate and as hungry for these midterm elections as we all were back in 2008 and 2012. In fact, we need you to be even more passionate and more hungry, because these midterm elections will be even harder and even closer than those presidential elections. And they're just as important. You all know that.

The stakes this year simply could not be higher. Because if we don't show up at the polls this November, if we don't elect leaders in Congress and across America who will put people first instead of fighting for special interests, then we know exactly what will happen. We will see more folks interfering in women's private decisions about our health care. We'll see more folks denying that climate change even exists. We'll see more votes against immigration reform and raising the minimum wage for hardworking folks.

So I want to be very clear: If you think people who work 40 or 50 hours a week shouldn't have to live in poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth; if you don't want women's bosses making decisions about their birth control; if you think women should get equal pay for equal work, and you believe that women in this country, when we succeed, America succeeds; if you want your kids to have quality preschool and the college education they need to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential -- then you need to step up and get everyone you know out to vote this November. (Applause.)

That's what's at stake in this election -– the kind of country we want to leave behind for our kids and our grandkids. And here's the thing -- those kids are counting on us to stand up for them.

They're kids like Lawrence Lawson, who I met earlier this year -- wonderful kid, but he's got a tough story. Lawrence's father died when he was just eight years old. Then, at the age of nine, Lawrence suffered a major seizure and had to learn to read and walk and speak again. Then, when he was 12, his mother passed, and Lawrence was then moved to an aunt in Atlanta, and then to a sister in Baltimore. But no matter where he was, Lawrence, this kid did his best in school. He joined the marching band. He interned at Johns Hopkins hospital. And he graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class.

And as I travel across this country, I meet so many kids like Lawrence -- kids who are doing everything they're supposed to do. Kids who wake up early and take the long route to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who juggle afterschool jobs to support their families, stay up late to get their homework done. Kids whose parents don't speak a word of English, but who are fighting every day to realize their dream of a better life.

These kids have every reason to give up, but they are so hungry -- you know these kids. They are so desperate to lift themselves up, and that's why we're here today –- because if those kids never give up, then neither can we. Between now and November, we need to be energized for them. We need to be inspired for them. We need to pour everything we have into these elections so that they can have the opportunities they need to build the future they deserve.

And if we all do that, if we all keep stepping up and bringing others along with us -- it is so simple -- then I know that we can keep making that change we believe in, and I know we can keep moving this country forward. And I know that together, that we can build a future worthy of all our children.

So we need you. Did I make that clear? (Applause.) You all understand? These elections are in our hands. Women -- we don't turn out for midterms. Minorities -- we don't turn out. We don't have to convince anybody new; we just have to find us and get us registered. So we should be able to do this, right? (Applause.) We should be able to do this. And I fully expect that we will do this. We are going to get this done, and we are going to keep making change and making our country stronger.

Thank you all so much. God bless you. Love you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady to the Women's Leadership Fund Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320096

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