Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
1:05 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Chicago! (Applause.) Well, look at you all. Look at everybody. (Applause.) You all, sit down. Don’t act like you don’t know me. (Laughter.)
It is so, so good to be here. It really is. I think I teared up a few times on the rope line just seeing people I haven’t seen in years. It is just wonderful to be home. And it’s wonderful to be home with so many familiar faces, and so many wonderful new faces.
I want to start by thanking Jane for that very kind introduction, and for all that she has done to champion this campaign, and all her work throughout the nation. I want to give another shout-out to aunt Marge (ph) -- (applause) -- who I got to meet -- of the Lynch family crew. The only thing I will say, Jane, my only disappointment is that you didn’t wear your tracksuit today. (Laughter.) But maybe another time we can hang out in the tracksuit.
I also want to thank two of my dear, dear friends and partners in this endeavor -- Tina Tchen and Susan Sher. (Applause.) So I heard they did a job of firing you all up, getting you revved up. But I want to thank them on behalf of myself, my family, the administration, for everything both of them have been doing to keep me standing up straight and to keep us on track to reach so many wonderful goals. So let’s give them another round of applause -- very proud of them both. (Applause.)
And finally, of course, I want to thank all of you for joining us here for today’s Women for Obama luncheon. Yay for the women -- and a few good men. (Applause.) You’re always welcome. And I’m grateful that you’re here because I know that you all are busy women and men and people. I know that you all have plenty of things in your lives to do. You have families to raise. You’ve got jobs to do, careers to build. You’ve got kids to get to camp, soccer, recitals -- you name it.
But I also know that there’s a reason why you all found the time to be here today. And it’s not just because we all support an extraordinary President -– who happens to be my husband. (Applause.) Yes, I am biased. I think the President of the United States is awesome. I do. (Laughter.) And we’re not just here because we want to win an election -- although we do and we will. Yes, we will. We will do this. (Applause.)
We’re here because of the values we believe in. We’re here because of the vision for this country that we all share. We’re here because we want all of our children, every single one of them, to have good schools -– those kind of schools that push them, and inspire them, and prepare them for wonderful jobs and endless opportunities. We want our parents and our grandparents to be able to retire with dignity -– because we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, these wonderful men and women who have helped to raise us should be able to enjoy their golden years. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded, and hard work should pay off. We’re here because we want to restore that basic middle-class security for all our families -- because we believe that here in America folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because someone gets sick. We believe that you shouldn’t lose your home because someone has lost a job. We believe in a fair and just America where we all work to ensure that our daughters have the exact same opportunities as our sons. (Applause.)
And what I say time and time again, what I remind people: These are basic American values. These are the basics. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with. I know you all. I know how you were raised. And that includes me. You all know my background -- my father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant, and my family lived in a very small apartment on the South Side. (Laughter.) Yes, see, I know -- have a few -- you can do it here in this luncheon. South Side! It’s fine. (Laughter and applause.) It’s fine. Just because I’m the First Lady -- I know where I’m from: South Side, yes. (Laughter.)
But my parents never had the kinds of educational opportunities that we had. And growing up, I saw how they saved. I saw how they sacrificed; how they poured everything they had into me and my brother. They held us to the same high standards of excellence because they wanted both of us to have the kind of education they could only dream of. And my parents did everything in their power to support my college education. And while pretty much all of my tuition came from student loans and grants -- there are a few people in this room who can relate to that -- (applause) -- yes -- my dad still paid a small portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill, and to pay it right on time. Because 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 that registration deadline because his check was late.
And 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; to pay all of his bills and to pay them on time. That’s all he wanted.
But what I want people to understand, that more than anything else, that is what’s at stake in this election. That is really what we’re working for. 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, yes, an even better life for your kids. And we have to understand, it is that promise that binds us all together as Americans. It is what makes this country so special; it makes us who we are.
But from now until November, Barack is going to need all of you out there telling everyone you know about our values and our vision, and about everything that’s at stake in this election. That’s what we need you to do.
And when it comes to the economy, I want you to start by telling them how Barack fought for tax cuts for working families and small businesses -- because 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.
I want you to remind people how Barack, when he first took office, this economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month. That’s what he inherited. That’s what awaited him in the Oval Office after all that wonderful inaugural stuff we did. (Laughter.) But I also want you to tell them that for the past 27 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs -– a total of more than 4 million jobs in just two years. (Applause.)
So while we do have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, today, millions of people are collecting a paycheck again; millions of people like my dad are able to pay their bills again.
You can also remind people about how so many folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs on the line. Remember that? 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, more importantly, people are back at work, able to provide for their families again. Make sure you tell people that. (Applause.)
And when it comes to education and opportunities for our young people, tell people how Barack is working to raise standards in our public schools and make college more affordable for millions of young people -- like me -- so that they can be prepared for the good jobs of the future.
I want you to tell people how Barack has been fighting for the DREAM Act, because -- (applause) -- he believes that it is time to stop denying responsible young people opportunities in this country just because they’re the children of undocumented immigrants. That’s who your President is. (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. Remind them about how our brave men and women in uniform finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks. (Applause.)
Tell them that our troops no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love -– because Barack finally ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Applause.)
And when it comes to our Supreme Court, you can surely talk about those two brilliant justices he appointed, and how, for the first time in history, our daughters and sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) Make sure people understand what’s at stake.
And when it comes to women and families in this country, you can tell folks how hard Barack has been fighting for us. Make sure that women in your lives understand what health reform means to all of us. Talk about how our kids can now stay on our insurance plans until they’re 26 years old -- thanks to health reform. And that’s how 3.1 million more young people in this country are getting the health care they need. Make sure they understand that. (Applause.)
As you all know, because of this reform insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge women more than men for the exact same coverage. And they have to cover preventative care -- basic things like contraception, mammograms, prenatal care at no extra cost. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And you know that my husband knows that every single woman in this country needs access to the full range of health services. More importantly, he has the wisdom and good judgment to understand why, as women, we must be able to make our own choices about our health care. (Applause.)
And finally, don’t forget to tell people how Barack fought to make it easier for women to get equal pay for equal work in this country. (Applause.) That’s because of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- the very first bill Barack signed into law as President of the United States; the first thing he did.
But people need to understand why he signed that bill. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas or groceries or put school clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when so many women are now breadwinners for our families, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy.
Because, in the end, Barack understands that issues like equal pay and women’s health -– these aren’t just women’s issues. They’re family issues. They’re basic economic issues. When a woman has to pay more for her health care, or she’s not getting paid what she deserves for the work she does, that means the entire family has less money every month. That means that they have less money to spend, which means less money for our businesses, which affects the entire economy. This is real stuff.
So what we must understand, though, is that all of these gains we’ve achieved -- and there are so many more I could list -- all of these gains for ourselves and for our families, all of those battles we’ve won -- all of it -- all of it is on the line. It’s all at stake. That’s what we’re working for in November.
And it all boils down to one simple question: Will we continue the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or will we allow everything we’ve fought for -– not just over these past few years, but over these past few decades -– will we allow all of that to just slip away? Is that what we’re going to do?
MRS. OBAMA: No! We know what we need to do. No, we can’t turn back now -- not with our daughters sitting here; not with our grandchildren sitting here. We have to keep moving forward.
And more than anything else, that’s what we’re working for -– the chance to finish what we started; the chance to keep fighting for the values we believe in and the vision we all share.
That’s what my husband has been doing every single day as President. And what I have shared with people, as First Lady, is over these past three and a half years I’ve had the chance to see up close and personal what being President looks like. I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -– the problems with no easy solutions; the judgment calls where the stakes are so high and the margin for error absent. And as President, you can get all kinds of advice and opinions from all kinds of people. But in the end, 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 for where you want this country to go. It all boils down to who you are and what you stand for.
And we all know who my husband is, especially all of us here in Chicago. We all know what Barack Obama stands for. 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 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 –- men she had actually trained –- be promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack Obama knows what it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical for him. He knows what it means when a woman doesn’t have a chance to fulfill her potential. And today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your daughters to grow up with no limits on their dreams. Those are the experiences that have made him the man –- and the President –- he is today.
So when there’s a choice about our children’s future -- about investing in their schools, about helping them get to college without a mountain of debt -- you know where Barack stands. That you never have to question.
When it comes time to stand up for workers and our families so folks can make a decent earning, and save for retirement, and see a doctor when they’re sick, you know what Barack Obama is going to do, don't you? (Applause.)
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, and that includes women’s rights to make our own choices about our health care, you know you can count on my husband, because that’s what he’s been doing every single day as President of the United States. (Applause.) Every single day. (Applause.)
But I have said this before -- I will keep saying it: He cannot do this alone. Because, as Barack has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. So, yes, again he needs your help. He needs you to make those phone calls -- yes, write checks -- but make those phone calls, organize those events, and write more checks. (Laughter.) But he needs you to multiply yourselves. That's the concept I want people to get into. Multiply yourselves. He needs you to reach out to your friends and your family and your neighbors. Direct them to barackobama.com -- wonderful website -- to find out how they can get involved and what they can to do help.
And let me just say, if things look good where you are, things are feeling just so great for Barack Obama where you’re living, then pack a bag. (Laughter.) And spend some time in a battleground state like Iowa. And there, that's where we need you to talk to those undecided voters, particularly women, and remind every single one of them of what we just discussed, what is at stake, because it’s not at stake just for us; it’s at stake for every woman, every child in this country.
And he also needs your help to get involved with our neighborhood teams. We’ve got some wonderful neighborhood team leaders here today. These are groups of people all over the city, all over the country, who are giving just a little bit of their time and energy to make a difference to this campaign. And everything that happens on the ground -- and let me tell you, this organization is well organized on the ground -- everything that happens runs through our team leaders.
So today, we have forms on your table. This is an action day. You have forms on your table to sign up for a neighborhood team. We’ve got volunteers. Raise your hands. Who are our volunteers? (Applause.) In the back room -- all of whom can answer your questions and get you signed up. I’m serious about this. It is time for us to roll up our sleeves because if I -- what I just said doesn’t concern you, it should.
And if you have any doubt about the difference that you can make, what I want you to remember is that in the end, this election could possibly come down to those last few thousand voters that we register to vote. Think about that. This election is going to be close. It could all come down to those last few thousand folks we turn out on November the 6th.
So with every call that you make, with every single conversation that you have with a woman in your life who may or may not be following what's going on, who doesn’t understand the issues, who don't know what this President has done for women and girls, for education, and the economy, for health care, with every conversation, with every reminder, I want you to understand that this could be the one that makes the difference. This could be the one. It just takes one. That is the kind of impact that each of us has. And that's why Barack and I spend so much time on the ground recognizing those workers -- the people knocking on the doors, making those phone calls. They are at the heart and soul of what will make this country great and what will determine this election.
And I’m not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long. That's the only thing you can count on. It is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.
But what I try to remind people everywhere I go is that is how change always happens in this country. Real change is slow. Real change is difficult and it’s painful. There are many women in this room who I don't have to tell them about that. But we know that if we keep showing up, and if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, and reflecting in our actions and our hearts our values and our vision for this country, then eventually we get there. We always do. In this country, in my lifetime, we’ve never moved backwards.
Maybe not in our lifetimes we won’t get there, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because, in the end, that is what this is all about. And that’s what I think about when I tuck my girls in at night, before I leave them to come out on the road. I think about the world I want to leave for them. I think about how I want to do for them what my father did for me. I want to give them and all of our kids the kind of foundation for their dreams. I want to give them, our girls, opportunities worthy of their promise.
And I want that not just for our daughters, but for all of our children, so that they have the same opportunities as our sons, and so that every young person growing up in America today has that sense of limitless possibility -- you know, that feeling that there is something in America always better out there if you’re willing to work for it. That's what we want all our children to believe. That is what we’re working for. That's what's at stake.
So if you doubt for a second how important this election is, look at the children in your lives and ask yourselves what kind of world do you want to hand over to them. So let me just say we cannot afford to turn back now. No. We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.
So let me ask my group, my family, my friends, one last question: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, you all have to wake up better than that. I need to understand, are you really in? (Applause.) And “in” for me means you are ready to roll up your sleeves with me; that you are ready to deliver the messages we talked about; that you’re ready to share with everyone you know, every woman within the sound of your voice -- help them understand what's at stake. Because if you haven’t gotten the sense -- I am fired up about this and I am so ready to go. And I need you with me; Barack needs you with him every step of the way. And we will work hard to make this country as great as we know it can be.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
1:30 P.M. CDT