The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama at 2012 Reception in Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island
7:31 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! (Applause.) The night is young. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Can everybody hear me?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fired up!
MRS. OBAMA: Can you hear me? (Applause.) All right. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you tonight. You’re looking good, too. (Laughter.) I want to thank you. I want to start by thanking Patrick for that very powerful, passionate introduction. He is tremendous, and he has been a friend, a supporter, an advocate, a role model -- just a pillar of strength. And we love you. We love your family. Let’s give him a round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you so much, Patrick.
And I also want to thank Joe and Lianne and their beautiful family for hosting us. They’re gorgeous, and they’re accomplished. (Applause.) And there are a whole lot of strong women. You guys are pretty good if you can withstand it. Thank you for hosting us here tonight in your lovely home.
And to Mark and to Susan, thank you all for everything you’ve done as co-chairs. You have done a tremendous job. Way to go. It’s an excellent start.
I also want to recognize Governor Chafee, who is here, as well as Senators Reed and Whitehouse. (Applause.) Representatives Langevin and Cicilline are here as well. (Applause.) And I think Mayor Taveras is here, our mayor -- he’s here as well. (Applause.) And to all the other elected officials here today, thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your leadership, your service, and your support. We could not do this without you.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for joining us this evening. Friday night, good weather, and you’re here? (Laughter and applause.) So to all the dates here, make sure you go out to a nice dinner afterwards. (Laughter.) There are a lot of good-looking people here. It’ll be an early evening; make sure you do something else. Okay? You promise me that? (Laughter.)
I am thrilled to see so many new faces, but I am also thrilled to see so many old friends -– folks who have been with us since the very beginning, through all of the ups and downs and the twists and turns. It’s been a ride, hasn’t it?
But there’s a reason why you all are here tonight, and it’s not just because it’s a nice evening and a Friday night. You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You’re here because you know that in just 13 months, we’re going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you’re here because I know that you care about this country, you care about your fellow citizens, you care about your children, your grandchildren, and you care about the world that we’re leaving behind for them.
And that’s really why I’m here tonight as well, and why I will be out there working hard for the next 13 months.
Because as First Lady, I have the privilege and the delight and the honor of traveling all across this country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what’s going on in their lives. And every day, I hear about the folks who have businesses that they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor’s bills that people can’t pay, or the mortgage they can no longer afford.
I hear about how folks are taking that extra shift, or they’re working that extra job; how they’re saving and sacrificing, and 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. The cost of things like gas and groceries -- tuition -- have been continually increasing, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up.
So when this economic crisis hit, for so many families, the bottom just fell out. And the question today is, what are we as a nation going to do about this? Where do we go from here?
And I know that amidst all the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to see clearly what’s really at stake. And these issues are complicated, and folks are busy. Folks are raising families and working full-time jobs, helping out in their communities. And many of us just don’t have time to follow the news, and the back-and-forth, and to figure out how all of these conversations and issues connect 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 -- very different. 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 just sent to Congress. (Applause.) When we talk about how this bill will give tax cuts to 6 million small business owners, we are talking about folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this country each year -- two-thirds.
We’re talking about people who work themselves to the bone every day, then they go home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
We’re talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between providing for their families or not, between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; the difference between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good.
That is what’s at stake in this election.
When we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans, we’re talking about folks who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income.
So this 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 money in their pockets, money that means more money into the economy and more jobs.
But most 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.) That promise that we don’t let everything fall apart for struggling families. It’s not who we are.
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 the choice in this election.
And how about the first bill my husband signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.)
Now, he did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces. And he did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, that 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, 100, 500 dollars from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids.
That is the choice we’re making in this election.
And let’s talk about health care for a minute. Last year, we made history by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) Thanks to all of you. But now, there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform. And today, we need to ask ourselves, will we let them succeed?
MRS. OBAMA: Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we stand up and say that in this country, we will not allow folks to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we?
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care -– things like cancer screenings, prenatal care -- that save money and save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives and for the lives of the people we love?
That is what’s at stake here. That is the choice in this election.
I’d just ask you to think a moment about what we’ve done in education. And just think about the investments we’ve made to raise standards and to reform our public schools.
This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country -- kids we know are sitting in crumbling classrooms. Kids with so much promise. Kids who could be anything in the world they wanted if only we gave them the chance.
Think about how we’ve tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year alone. It’s about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for that better job and those better wages. Folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives, willing to do it themselves -- working full-time, raising kids, but still making time every evening to go to school, study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this type of investment in our students and in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. (Applause.) It’s going to determine whether we’re prepared to make the kinds of discoveries and build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world.
That is what’s at stake here.
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 seats on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) A beautiful sight.
But let’s not forget the impact that their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whoever we choose.
That is what’s at stake in this election. (Applause.)
And think about how we finally are bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan -- (applause) -- and helping them and their families get the education and the employment and the benefits that they have earned. (Applause.)
And we cannot 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.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you!
MRS. OBAMA: Think about how we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
And think about what it means to finally have a foreign policy where 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.
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 -– and who we want to be.
Will we be a country that tells folks who’ve done everything right but are still struggling, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Who are we?
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 all of us are hurting? Who are we as a nation? (Applause.)
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed, no matter where she’s from, what she looks like, or how much money her parents have? Who do we want to be as a nation?
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built our thriving middle class? Or can 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.
But believe me, Barack knows this all too well. 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 things got too tough for her, his grandmother stepped in, waking up every morning before dawn to take the bus to her job at the bank.
And his grandmother worked hard, and she was good at what she did. But for nearly two decades, he’s watched as she was passed over for promotions. Why? Because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified then she was –- 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 children to grow up with no limits to their dreams.
Those are the experiences that have made him the man -– and the President -– he is today. And that is what I hear in his voice when he comes home after a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he’s met.
That is what I see in those moments late at night, after the girls have long gone to bed, and he’s poring over letters and briefings. 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 letter from the young person with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And believe me, I hear the passion in his voice and the determination. He says, “You will not believe what folks are going through.” That’s what he tells me. “Michelle, it isn’t right. We have got to fix this. We have so much more to do.”
You see, what you all have to understand about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. Irritates me 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’s that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles.
That is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That’s where he gets his toughness and his fight.
And that’s why, even in the hardest moments, when all seems lost and we’re all wringing our hands and wondering what’s going to happen -- I do this to him all the time -- (laughter) -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He is always looking 100 feet ahead. Never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It is amazing.
He just keeps moving forward.
But I have said this before to many of you, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. Never could. That was never the promise.
He needs your help. He needs you to keep up that extraordinary work that you’ve been doing. He needs you to keep on making those phone calls and registering those voters. He needs you to take one of those “I’m in” cards -- that I know you all better have -- and use them, sign up yourselves, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues. Convince more and more people to join in and give a little part of your lives each week to this campaign.
But I am not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long. It is going to 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, is that change is slow -- real, meaningful change. It never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know is right, then we always get there. We always do. 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. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are 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. That’s what this is about.
And look, I am not in this fight -- (applause) -- I’m not in this just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I’m also in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. We know who we are.
Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. We are blessed. My girls still have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of the young people in your lives 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 should matter to all of us -- even if she is not our daughter, even if he is not our son. (Applause.)
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.
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’s 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 if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead. We can do that in America.
So we cannot afford to be complacent, or tired, or frustrated. We don’t have the time for that. It is time to get to work.
So let me ask you one last question: Are you in? (Laughter.) Are you all in? (Applause.) Are you out there? Because let me tell you something: I am in. (Applause.) I am in. I am going to work harder than anybody out there, because I know the country that I want to leave for my girls. (Applause.)
So I hope that all of you are fired up. I hope that all of you are ready to go. Because we have work to do. Are you in? (Applause.)
Thank you all. God bless you. Let’s get it done. (Applause.)
7:54 P.M. EDT