The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at a Fundraising Event, New York, New York
New York, New York
5:45 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: (Applause.) Goodness. Well, thank you. Oh, my goodness, it’s good to be here.
Of course, I want to start by thanking Tory not just for that kind introduction, but for her generosity. I know how hard you have worked not just on this event, but on our behalf, and it means the world to me and to Barack, to our family and, quite frankly, to the nation. So -- and to your family; they are gorgeous and well-behaved for a motley crew. (Laughter.) But thank you for hosting us here. And thank you for all that you’ve done for me personally.
This is a special event because there are a lot of people who have touched my life in so many important ways, who have helped me become the poised and stylish woman that I have become. (Laughter.) So I want to thank all of you. I want to thank Tory and I want to thank all of you for what you have done to support me personally. Thank you, guys. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize our fabulous DNC Chair, who I haven’t seen -- Debbie? Debbie? Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, because she’s small. (Applause.) Hey, Debbie. What’s going on? (Laughter.) Debbie and I hang out and sometimes I don’t see her because she’s low in the crowd. (Laughter.) But Debbie is there. She is fierce, she is a hard worker, and she is a true friend. So thanks so much for being here.
And of course, I want to thank all of you for being here today. I also want to thank you, so many of you, all of you quite frankly, in this room for being there for my husband -- not just once, but twice. (Applause.) Thank you for all that hard work making those calls, knocking on those doors, getting people that you know out to the polls. Just so that you know, because of you, we didn’t just win two elections; we made some real, meaningful change in this country.
Because of you, our economy continues to strengthen with 38 straight months of job growth. That’s more than three years straight of job growth.
Because of you, we passed health reform so that 41 million Americans -- (applause) -- can finally get the insurance that they need and the peace of mind they deserve.
Because of you, we are taking on climate change and gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform. And because of you, we have a President -- who I am proud of -- who stands up for our most fundamental rights, whether that’s equal pay for women or the freedom for all of us to marry the person we love. Yes. (Applause.)
See, all of that and so much more has happened because of you. And we have to remember that that’s what elections are all about. It’s like my husband said in his 2008 Election Night speech. He said, “This victory alone is not the change we seek.” He said, “It is only the chance for us to make that change.” And that was true back then, and it is even more true today. Because while we’ve made a lot of progress and change over these past four years, there is still so much left to do.
Although our economy is improving, too many middle-class families are still struggling. And that fundamental American promise -- that promise that no matter where you start out, with hard work, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids -- that promise is no longer within reach for far too many families in this country.
In fact, it probably wouldn’t be in reach for the family I grew up in if my family was trying to make it in today’s economy. As many of you know my story, neither of my parents had a college degree. But my father’s job at the city water plant paid him a decent enough wage to put food on the table, and with the help of student loans, he sent me and my brother to college. That job also gave our family health insurance, gave him a pension that my mom still lives on today.
We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we had stability and we had peace of mind. Because when I was growing up, a family of four living on a single blue-collar salary could build a solid life without much debt and without relying on any form of public assistance. But today, for so many families, that’s no longer possible. Folks are working harder than ever before and doing everything right, but it’s still not enough. And while there’s so much talk and noise and back-and-forth going on in Washington, hardly any of it seems to be about the struggles of these families.
So it’s easy to get frustrated and cynical. And now that the excitement that comes with a presidential campaign has faded, it is so tempting to just turn off the TV and wait another four years to re-engage.
But make no mistake about it, if we are tuning out, I trust you, others are tuning in, others are doing everything they can to make their voices heard. And we are seeing the effects of that kind of imbalance every day in Washington.
Just last month, for example, we saw the failure of common-sense legislation to protect our kids from gun violence -- legislation, by the way, that 90 percent of the American people supported. We’re seeing a budget stalemate and a sequester, resulting in children across the country being turned away from Head Start, and so many seniors losing their Meals on Wheels. And now there’s talk about cutting food stamps, which could mean hundreds of thousands of kids going to bed hungry every night -- here in the wealthiest nation on earth.
See, and that’s not who we are. That’s not what this country is about. We are so much better than that. We are so much more compassionate and fair, so much more decent than that. And we know this because we see it every day in communities across this country -- that decency where people are working hard at their jobs and sacrificing for their kids and doing everything they can to help their neighbors.
We especially see it in times of tragedy and crisis -- these past few months, the teachers who rushed children to safety in Newtown, the teachers who risked their lives to save students in Oklahoma. We saw it in the volunteer firefighters in Texas who plunged into the flames, and then all those folks in Boston who ran toward the explosions and spent hours tending to perfect strangers.
And none of these folks asked the people they were helping whether they were Democrats or Republicans. They didn’t ask whether they were Christians or Muslims or Jews. They didn’t care whether they were gay or straight. It was simply enough that they were fellow Americans who were suffering and needed aid. See, and shouldn’t that be enough for all of us?
And that was the question I was asking myself during a recent visit that I made to my hometown of Chicago, when I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with a wonderful group of students at a school called Harper High. Now, Harper is located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city -- a community that has been torn apart by poverty and hopelessness, by gangs and drugs and guns.
And that afternoon, I sat down with about 25 of the students, and these kids were the best and brightest at the school -- the valedictorian, the football star, the kids in ROTC. But let me tell you something, every day, these kids are facing impossible odds -- jobless parents addicted to drugs, friends and loved ones shot dead before their very eyes.
In fact, when the counselor asked these young men and women whether they knew someone who had been shot, every single one of those kids raised their hand. Every single one of them. She then asked a simple question. She said, “What do you think when the weather forecast says ‘85 and sunny’?” Now, you’d assume that nice weather like that would be a good thing, but not for these kids. They replied that a weather report like that puts fear in their hearts because in their neighborhoods, when the weather is nice, that’s when the gangs come out and the shootings start.
So here’s the thing: Instead of reveling in the joys of their youth -- things like college applications, getting ready for prom, the joy of getting that first driver’s license -- these young people are consumed with staying alive. And there are so many kids in this country just like them -- kids with so much promise, but so few opportunities; good kids who are doing everything they can to break the cycle and beat the odds.
So we have to remember that they are the reason we’re here today. And today, we need to be better for them. Shoot, we need to be better for all of our children in this country because they are counting on us to give them the chances they need for the futures they deserve. So here’s the thing: We can’t afford to wait for the next presidential election to get fired up and ready to go. We can’t afford to have us wait. Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for these kids.
So we must recapture that passion, that same energy and urgency that we felt back in 2008 and 2012. We must keep on working to build a country worthy of all of our children’s promise.
We should be doing things to ensure that every child has access to quality pre-K, excellent schools, affordable colleges, because we want all our kids to fulfill their boundless potential. And let’s finally pass some common-sense gun safety laws, because no mother, no father in this country should ever have to worry when they drop their child off at a movie theater, or a mall, or at school. (Applause.)
And then, when our kids grow up, let’s make sure they have jobs that pay a decent wage, because we know that it’s wrong for anyone in this country to work 40 or 50 hours a week and still be stuck in poverty. And let’s make sure that they have health care, because no one in this country should get their primary care from an emergency room.
And ladies, when it comes to women’s health, let’s keep fighting for our most fundamental, personal rights, because we know women are more than capable of making our own decisions about our bodies and about our health care. We know it.
And I know we can do all of this. But make no mistake about it -- and this is a key point I want to make here today -- Barack Obama can’t do this alone. We have seen that; I have said it. He needs folks in Congress to help him every step of the way. That’s why it’s simply not enough just to elect a President every four years. We need all of you to be engaged in every election, because special elections matter, midterm elections matter; it matters who we send to Congress.
And if you don’t believe me, just look at the record. Look at the difference that just a few votes in Congress can make when it comes to the issues we care about.
For example, legislation on equal pay for women failed by two votes in the Senate. Two votes. And the DREAM Act -- the act that gives immigrant kids a fair shot in this country -- this act failed twice, once by five votes, and then again by just four. So, as you know, the President had to sign an executive order to finally get this done. Congress still didn’t get it done. And that commonsense gun bill I talked about earlier -- that bill failed. And you want to know by how many votes? Just six votes.
So like I said, it matters who we send to Congress. So we need all of you to get engaged in every special election and every midterm election all across this country. We need you to keep on writing those checks -- (laughter) -- and if you haven’t maxed out, max out. (Laughter.) Get your friends to max out. You know that maxing out means you spend as much money as you can.
And while raising money is important, it is not nearly enough. We’ve learned that. So we also need you out there making phone calls and getting everyone you know to the polls. And I know it won’t be easy. And I know that plenty of special interests will be pouring all kinds of resources into these elections all over the country. So we need you to stay engaged and bring everyone you know along with you.
And if anyone tells you that they’re too busy, or if they tell you that it’s too much of a hassle, or that these elections just don’t matter, I want you to share one last story with them. I want you to tell them about a woman named Desiline Victor who Barack talked about in his State of the Union Address.
Desiline lives down in Florida, and she waited for hours in line to cast her vote last November. Now, you might think that’s not so unusual because a lot of people had to wait in long lines this past election. But here’s the thing: Desiline is 102 years old. She was born before women had the right to vote, and she’s been a citizen of this country for less than ten years. And even though she was tired -- and I’m sure she was -- even though her feet probably ached, Desiline was determined to cast her vote and make her voice heard in the country that she loves.
So here’s what we have to tell ourselves. It’s at least what I tell myself. If Desiline Victor can summon that kind of passion and energy, then we don’t have any excuse. If she can summon that kind of patriotism and determination, then so must we. And if we all keep on working and organizing and engaging, then I know that we can keep on making that change we believe in, and together, we can build a future worthy of all of our children.
So are you guys ready to get to work?
AUDIENCE: Yes. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: You need to be fired up and ready to go -- (applause) -- writing a check, making a call, figuring out what seats are up. We have our staff here, who’s going to keep you focused and engaged, but it’s still very serious and just as important.
But Barack and I and the nation are grateful to you all for what you have done, for the friendship and support you’ve provided. Thank you, guys, and God bless.
6:01 P.M. EDT