The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
Memphis Cook Convention Center
1:56 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! (Applause.) Thank you so much. You guys look good. (Applause.) You’re holding up in all this heat, aren’t you? (Laughter.) Let me tell you, I am thrilled to be here with all of you today.
And I want to start by thanking Jackie for that very kind introduction, but also, not just for her outstanding service and support to this campaign, but what she and her family have given to this country as military family members, Blue Star family members. So let’s give her a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And I also want to recognize your --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- cure for PTSD!
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. Yes, indeed. Yes. That’s a serious issue, and we will -- we’re definitely working on it. That’s why we need four more years. Four more years. (Applause.)
But I want to thank your terrific Mayor, Mayor Wharton, who’s also -- (applause) -- and he and his wife have been amazing. And also your Congressman, Steve Cohen. (Applause.) And while Congressman Cohen couldn’t be here today, he’s been doing an outstanding job, and we are grateful for his leadership. (Applause.) And I also want to thank -- yes, please. Yes, yes. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank Beverly Robertson and Erica Thomas -- there they are. (Applause.) Thank you for your wonderful remarks, firing it up, and for all your good work in the community. We are coming; we’re going to visit. We’ll get this done, and then we’ll come and do some stuff. (Laughter.)
And, of course, I want to recognize our amazing Host Committee for making this event such a success. It is just -- we couldn’t do this without you. This is an amazing turnout.
And I also want to give a big shout-out to all the grassroots volunteers, our team leaders, our folks who are doing the work, our organizers. (Applause.) You all are the folks who are doing the hard work -- making those calls, knocking on those doors. So, just keep it up. Keep it up. We will get this done.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here today. And I know that coming out on a hot afternoon -- it is the afternoon, right? I lose track of time. (Laughter.) We are in the middle of the day, right? -- you all coming out; and I know you’re doing it while you have busy lives of your own. I know you all have jobs and careers you’re handling. I know that many of you have classes to attend, summer school to get through. You’ve got families to raise, kids to keep on the straight and narrow, right?
But I also know there’s a reason why you’ve taken time out of your busy lives to be here today. And it’s not just because we support an extraordinary man -– who happens to be my husband and our President. (Applause.) I’m a little biased, but I think our President is pretty awesome. (Applause.) And we’re here not just because we want to win an election -- which we do, and we will. (Applause.)
We’re here and we’re doing all this because of the values we believe in. That’s why we’re here. We’re doing this because of the vision for this country that we all share. We’re doing this because we want all of our children to have good schools -– the kind of schools that push them, and inspire them, and prepare them for the good jobs and opportunities of the future. We want for our parents and grandparents the opportunity to retire with some dignity -– because we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, they should be able to enjoy their golden years, right? We want to restore that basic middle-class security for our families -- because we believe that in America folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because someone gets sick. We believe in America that you shouldn’t lose your home because someone loses a job. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded, and hard work should pay off. And we believe that everyone should do their fair share, but play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And the thing I saw again and again -- we have to remind ourselves, these are basic American values. The basics. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. And I share my story everywhere I go because I’m proud of where I come from. My father was a blue-collar city worker at the city water plant, and my family lived our entire lives in a little apartment on the South Side of Chicago. My parents never had the kinds of educational opportunities we had. But let me tell you something about my mom and dad -- growing up, I saw how they saved and sacrificed, how they poured everything they had into me and my brother. They held us to the same high standard of excellence because they wanted us both to have the kind of education they could only dream of.
My parents did everything in their power to support my college education. And while pretty much most of my college tuition came from student loans and grants -- how many people can relate to that? -- (applause) -- my dad still had to pay a small portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay his share of that bill on time. He was so proud to be sending his kids to college, and he did all he could to lessen our financial burden by ensuring that neither me nor my brother ever missed a registration deadline because his check was late. Like so many people in this country, my father took great pride in being able to earn the kind of living that allowed him to handle his responsibilities to his family. He took great pride in being able to pay his bills, and to pay them all on time. That was important to him. That gave him his identity.
And more than anything else, that’s what’s at stake. That’s why we’re here. It’s that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. And what we have to remember, all of us together: It is that promise that binds us together as Americans. It is what makes us who we are. It makes us special.
But from now until November, Barack is going to need all you all to get out there and tell everyone you know about our values. (Applause.) We need you to tell folks about that vision, and help them understand everything that’s at stake in this election.
When it comes to the economy, you can start by telling folks how Barack fought for tax cuts for working families and small businesses -- (applause) -- because, as Jackie said, he understands that an economy built to last starts with the middle class and with folks who are creating jobs and putting people back to work.
And I want you to remind people how, back when Barack first took office, this economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs every single month. That’s what he inherited. Remind people about that. But also let them know that for the past 27 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs –- a total of 4 million jobs in just two years. Let them know. (Applause.)
So while we still have a long way to go, more work to do to build this economy, today, millions of people are collecting a paycheck again; millions of people like my dad are handling their business, able to pay their bills again.
You can also remind people about how all these folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with a million jobs on the line. They just said, let it go. But Barack had the backs of American workers; he put his faith in the American people. And as a result, today, the auto industry is back on its feet again and people are back at work, providing for their families. (Applause.) We need you to let folks know about that.
And when it comes to health care -- oh, health care -- (applause) -- please, please tell people about the historic reform this President passed. And you can tell them that today’s Supreme Court decision was truly a victory for families all across this country. (Applause.) It is truly a victory. You can tell people how, because of this reform -- help them understand -- insurance companies will have to cover preventative care, things like contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care without any extra cost. That’s what this reform will do. Folks will no longer be able -- insurance companies will no longer be able to cap your coverage when you get too sick. They won’t be able to deny you coverage just because you have a preexisting condition -- no more. (Applause.) Because of this reform -- remind people -- millions of our senior citizens have saved hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs -- because of this reform. And our young people can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And that is how 6.6 million young people are getting the health care they need today. That’s what health reform is about. We need you to let people know. Help them understand.
When it comes to education, you can tell them that Barack knows what it’s like to be drowning in student debt. Back when we first started out, we were together as a couple -- just got married, were trying to build a life together -- our combined student loan bill was higher than our mortgage. I know a lot of people can relate to that. That’s nothing new. But that is why Barack doubled Pell Grants, helping 4 million more students afford the education they need for the jobs of the future. He understands our student needs. (Applause.)
When it comes to increasing opportunities for all of our young people, I want you to tell people how Barack has been fighting for the DREAM Act. And he’s been doing it because he believes that it’s time to stop denying responsible young people opportunities in this country just because they’re the children of undocumented immigrants. It’s time to stop that. (Applause.)
When it comes to keeping our country safe, you can remind folks that Barack kept his promise to bring our troops home from Iraq. (Applause.) Remind them about how our brave men and women in uniform finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks. (Applause.) Remind them.
And you can tell them that our troops no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love -– and that’s because Barack ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Applause.) Let people know how important that is.
And when it comes to supporting women and families in our country, you can tell people how Barack fought to make it easier for women to get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) The first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And people have to understand why he signed this bill, why he knew this was one of the first things he needed to do -- because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from every paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their children. And he did it because when so many women are now breadwinners for our families, he knows that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to the Supreme Court, don’t forget to tell people about those two brilliant justices Barack appointed, and how, for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.)
I could go on and on and on. But what is important to understand is that all of that and so much more, it’s all on the line, it’s all at stake this November. And in the end, it all boils down to one simple question we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to continue the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or will we allow everything that we worked for, that we fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: No, we know what we need to do, Memphis, right? (Applause.) We cannot turn back now. We need to keep moving forward. (Applause.) And more than anything else, that’s what we’re working for –- the chance to finish what we start; the chance to keep fighting for the values we believe in and the vision we all share. I don’t care what party you are, what race you are. This is American values that we’re fighting for. That’s what my husband has been doing every single day as President.
And let me tell you, over the past three and a half years, I have seen up close and personal what being President looks like. And let me share with you, I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones –- the problems with no easy, clear solutions; the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error.
And as President, you’re going to get all kinds of advice and opinions from all kinds of people. But let me tell you, at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as President, all you have to guide you are your life experiences; all you have to draw on are your values, is your vision. That is it. In the end, it all boils down to knowing who a President is and what he or she stands for.
And we all know who my husband is, right? (Applause.) We all know what Barack Obama stands for. (Applause.) He is the son of a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. He’s the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn every day to catch a bus to her job at the bank. And even though Barack’s grandmother worked hard to help support his family, and she was good at her job, like so many women, she hit that glass ceiling, and watched men no more qualified than she was be promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical for him. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. And today, as a father, believe me, he knows what it means to want something better for your kids. Those are the experiences that have made him the man, but more importantly, the President, he is today. That's what we’re working for. (Applause.)
So when there’s a choice about our children’s futures -- about investing in their schools, about helping them attend college without a mountain of debt -- you know where Barack stands.
When it comes time to stand up for workers and our families, so folks can make a decent wage, save for retirement, see a doctor when they’re sick, you know what Barack Obama is going to do.
When we need a President to protect our most basic rights, no matter who we love, or where we’re from, or what race or gender we are, you can count on my husband, because that’s what he’s been doing every single day as President of the United States. (Applause.)
But I have said this before, and I will keep saying it everywhere I go: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. Barack has said this election will be even closer than the last one. So he needs your help. Sitting on the sidelines is simply not an option if we want to keep this country moving forward. It’s not an option. Barack needs you to be actively and passionately engaged. He needs you to keep doing what you’re doing, making those phone calls. He needs you to organize those events in your communities. He needs you to join one of the neighborhood teams. As Jackie mentioned, these are groups of people all over the city, all over the country, who are giving a little bit of their time and energy to make a difference for this campaign. And everything we do on the ground for this campaign runs through those teams. They’re critical.
So today, we have got volunteers at the back of the room. You all hold up -- where are our volunteers? We got -- there they are -- (applause) -- who can answer any questions and get you all signed up. This is a working meeting today. (Applause.) We want you working.
And once you’ve signed up, I want you to think about it like this: We need you to multiply yourselves. Do you understand? Multiply yourselves. We need you to reach out to everyone in your life -- your friends, family, neighbors -- and shake them up a little bit. Tell them how to get involved. Tell them to go to barackobama.com and find ways that they can help. Multiply yourselves.
And let me just say, if you have any doubt about the difference that you can and will make working this hard, I just want you to remember that in the end, this election could all come down to those last few thousand people that we register to vote today. (Applause.) It could all come down to those last few thousand folks that we help get to the polls on November the 6th. So understand, with every conversation you have -- every conversation you have, remember that this could be the one that makes the difference. This could be the one. That is the kind of impact that each of us can have. And that's why I’m so passionate when I talk to you all. You all will make the difference.
But I’m not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long. It is going to be hard.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And ugly! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: And as I say, there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. (Laughter.) In a more diplomatic way. (Laughter.)
But what we have to understand and remember -- that is how change always happens in this country. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there. We always do. We have never gone backwards. Maybe not in my lifetime, maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because what I remind myself is that in the end, that's what this is all about. If we remember that -- that's what this is all about. It’s about our children, their future.
That's what I think about when I tuck my girls in at night. Every night I’m on the road, I come home and I think about the world I want to leave for them and for all of our sons and daughters. I think about how I want to do for them what my dad did for me. I want to give all our kids that foundation for their dreams. They all deserve it. I want to give them the opportunities worthy of their promise, because all our children are worthy. I want to give our kids that sense of limitless possibility –- (applause) -- that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it. That's what we’re doing this for. (Applause.)
So we can’t turn back now. No, we have come so far. We have come so far. But we have so much more to do.
So let me ask you one last question, Memphis: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: No, no, no, are you really in?
MRS. OBAMA: I mean, the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves in, the kind of multiplying-yourselves in, the kind of having those uncomfortable conversations with the people in your lives, the kind of working hard to inform folks about what's going on and shaking people up and making sure they’re not confused, and understanding what's at stake? I mean, that kind of in?
MRS. OBAMA: Because I am so -- have you noticed how fired up I am? (Applause.) We are going to make this happen. Four more years. More work to do. A better future for our young people.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
2:19 P.M. CDT