Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
Sheraton Birmingham Hotel
5:10 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, whoa! (Applause.) This is a good crowd. You all are fired up. (Applause.) Let me thank you all. Thank you so much. I am beyond thrilled to be here in Birmingham with all of you, and to be in the state of Alabama. I told Terri that I was coming back, and it has just been a glorious few hours here. I just want to thank you for your graciousness, your hospitality, your warmth. It’s just been tremendous.
I want to thank Peggy for that very, very kind introduction -- absolutely -- (applause) -- and for all of her support down here in this state. And I also want to recognize Justice Mark Kennedy, Peggy’s husband, for all of the work as Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. (Applause.) And I want to thank them for their service to this country -- their entire family -- for their unwavering sacrifice and dedication to this country. We are just grateful. I know we all are, as Americans.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, First Lady!
MRS. OBAMA: Love you, too. Love you, too. (Applause.)
And I have to thank my dear friend, Representative Terri Sewell. (Applause.) I know that Terri mentioned to you that we have known each other for a long time, and I’m just going to say this about Terri: She is the exact same person today that she was when I met her. And I mean that. Now, she’s matured; she’s obviously a congresswoman. But let me tell you, the first time I met Terri, she was bubbly, she was energetic, she was whip-smart. She was the kind of person you’d pick to be on your team, because you’d know she’d get the job done. And it has just been a thrill to watch her grow and to become a dedicated public servant. I will tell you, you all are blessed to have her, and I am -- I look forward to have her as my friend. Terri, thank you so much -- proud of you, very proud of you.
I want to also recognize State Representative Merika Coleman and her mom. I got to meet them earlier. (Applause.) Thank you for your words, for firing up the crowd. Mom, you look great. (Laughter.) And I also want to thank Leanne as well for all of her hard work and for getting you all fired up. (Applause.) Yes, indeed. There she is. And her beautiful children -- and her mom, because she is doing what she’s doing because of her mom, and I can relate to that, because we can’t do what we do with children without a good grandma by our side, right? (Applause.) Thank you, Leanne, you’re doing a phenomenal job.
And I also want to give a big shout-out to all of the grassroots volunteers who are here today, because I know we’ve got a lot of our worker bees. (Applause.) You all are the folks that are doing the hard work -- you’re making those phone calls, knocking on doors. So I want to give you all -- give all our team leaders, our volunteers a round of applause. (Applause.) You all are doing the hard work. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Whitney Young!
MRS. OBAMA: Whitney Young -- High School, for those of you who -- (laughter) -- the Dolphins. Go Dolphins. (Laughter.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you, this beautiful crowd. Just glorious. Thank you for taking the time to be here today. And I know that -- I don’t take it for granted that you are taking time out of your busy lives to be here. Yes, I’m the First Lady, but you all are busy. (Laughter.) You all --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. But you all have jobs to do, right? You’ve got business to handle. Many of you are in school, you’ve got classes to attend, you’re taking care of business. You’ve got those beautiful families to raise -- our children.
But I also know that there’s a reason why all of you are here today, and it’s not just because we all support an extraordinary President -- my husband. Yes, I’m a little biased. (Applause.) I believe that our President is doing a phenomenal job. (Applause.) And we’re not just here because we want to win an election -- which we do, and we will. Four more years -- yes, indeed. (Applause.)
But what I like to remind people when I travel around the country is that we’re here, we’re doing 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, right? The kind of schools that push them, and inspire them -- we know those schools. The kind of schools that prepare them for the good jobs and the opportunities of the future -- that’s why we’re here.
We want our parents and our grandparents to be able 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? (Applause.)
We’re here because we want to restore that basic middle-class security for all of our families, because we believe that in America folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because they get sick. Not in America. They shouldn’t lose their home because someone loses a job. Not in America. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded, and that hard work should pay off. We believe that everyone should do their fair share, but play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And the thing we know is that these are basic American values, right? The basics --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanks for bringing my (inaudible) home!
MRS. OBAMA: And thank you for your service, sweetie. Thank you.
These are the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You all know my story by now. My father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant, and my family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. My mother still lives in that apartment -- when she’s not at the White House, but -- (laughter.) My parents never had the kinds of educational opportunities that we had. Never. And growing up, I’m sure like so many people here, I saw how they saved and how they sacrificed -- how they poured everything they had into me and my brother. They held us to that same high standard of excellence because they wanted us both to have the same kind of education they could only dream of.
My parents did everything in their power to support my college education -- right? -- so I know you can relate to this. And pretty much all of my tuition came from student loans and grants. (Applause.) But my dad still had to pay a small portion of that tuition himself. And let me tell you, every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, because my dad was so proud to be able to send 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 was proud to be able to earn the kind of living that allowed him to handle his business to his family; to be able to pay all of his bills, and to pay them on time. That’s all he wanted. That’s all most people want.
And more than anything else, that’s what’s at stake. That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re working for. It’s that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, in America, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. And it is that promise that binds us together as Americans. That’s what we cannot forget. That is what makes us who we are. That’s what makes this country special.
And from now until November, Barack is going to need all of you to get out there and to tell everyone you know about our values. You tell them about this vision, about everything that’s at stake in this election. That’s what we need from you.
And you can start with the economy. When it comes to the economy, you can start by telling them how Barack fought for tax cuts for working families and for small businesses, because he understands that an economy built to last starts with the middle class and the folks who are creating jobs and putting people back to work.
And remind people how, back when Barack first took office, this economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs every single month. Remind them. But also let them know for the past 28 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs -– a total of more than 4 million jobs in just two years. (Applause.) It’s important that people understand this in context, correct?
So while we still 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. (Applause.)
And I want you to remind people about how those folks in Washington, so many of them were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under. Remember that? With more than a million jobs on the line, they 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, more importantly, people are back to work again, providing for their families. Let them know. (Applause.)
As someone mentioned, let’s talk a little bit about health care. (Applause.) You can tell people how insurance companies will have to cover preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care, at no extra cost thanks to health reform. Thanks to health reform, millions of our seniors have saved hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs. And our young people can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) That is how 6.6 million of our young people in this country are getting the care that they need. Let them know.
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, right -- we’re all in love, trying to build a life together -- (laughter) -- we’re still in love -- (laughter) -- as you can see from the Kiss-Cam, right? (Applause.) But when we first got married, our combined student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen.
MRS. OBAMA: I can get an Amen. There are a lot of people in here -- that’s why Barack fought so hard to prevent student loan interest rates from increasing. And that’s why he’s doubled Pell Grants, helping 4 million more students afford the education they need for the jobs of the future. (Applause.)
And when it comes to increasing opportunities for all of our young people, I want you to tell people how hard Barack has been fighting for the DREAM Act. And understand this -- he’s fighting for responsible young people who came to this country as children through no fault of their own, and were raised as Americans. He’s fighting for them because he believes they deserve the chance to go to college, to serve our country, and to contribute to this economy. That’s what that’s about. (Applause.)
And when it comes to our country’s safety, please remind people that Barack kept his promise and brought our troops home from Iraq. (Applause.)
You can remind them about how our brave men and women in uniform finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks. (Applause.)
And our troops will 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.” That makes a difference to our men and women in service. (Applause.)
And when it comes to supporting women and families in this country, you can tell people how Barack fought to make it easier for women to get equal pay for equal work because of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (Applause.) That was the first bill he signed into law, because he knows that closing that pay gap, that can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their kids. And he did it because when so many women in this country are breadwinners for our families, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. That’s why he did it. Let people know. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to the Supreme Court, don’t forget to tell people about those two brilliant Supreme Court Justices he appointed -- (applause) -- and how for the first time in history our daughters and sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. Let them know. (Applause.)
But all of this is at stake this November. It’s all on the line. And in the end, it all boils down to one simple question: Are we going to continue the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or are we going to let everything we’ve worked so hard for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: No, we know what we need to do. We can’t turn back now. We need to keep moving forward, right? (Applause.) Forward! This country always moves forward. (Applause.)
And more than anything else, that’s what we’re working for. That’s why we’re here -- the chance to finish what we started; the chance to keep fighting for the values we all believe in, the vision that we all share. Everybody shares this vision. And that is what your President, my husband, has been doing every single day -- every single day in office.
And let me just share something with you. Over the past three and a half years I have had the chance to see up close and personal what being President looks like. (Laughter.) And I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk, they are always the hard ones –- they’re the problems with no easy solutions, the judgment calls where the stakes are so high and there is no margin for error. And as President, you are 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 and your vision for this country. And in the end, it all comes down to who you are and what you stand for.
And we all know who my husband is, don’t we? (Applause.) And we all know what he stands for. (Applause.) He is the son of a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. Barack is the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn every day to catch a bus at 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, she watched men no more qualified than she was -- men she had actually trained -- climb up that ladder. Like so many women, she hit that glass ceiling.
So, believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have the chance to fulfill their potential. And, believe me, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want something better for your kids. Those are the experiences that have made him the man, and yes, the President he is today. And that’s what we’re working for. (Applause.)
So when there’s a choice about our children’s future -- about investing in their schools and helping them to attend college without a mountain of debt, you know where Barack Obama stands. (Applause.)
When it comes time to stand up for our 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. (Applause.) And 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 what gender we are -- 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, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. Because, as Barack has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is a guarantee. So he needs your help. And let me just say -- and I know that I’m talking to our people here, but let me just say, sitting on the sidelines is simply not an option if we want to keep this country moving forward. It’s not an option. (Applause.) Barack needs you to be actively and passionately engaged. He needs you to make those phone calls. He needs you to organize those events. He needs you to join one of our neighborhood teams. These teams are groups of people all over the state and all over the country. We’ve got team leaders right here. And they’re giving just a little bit of their time and energy to make a difference for this campaign. Everything we do on the ground runs through our teams. That’s what’s going to make the difference.
So, today, we’ve got volunteers here. Hands up our volunteers here, who can answer questions and get you signed up -- (applause) -- get you to fill in one of those “I’m In” cards. You can sign up to volunteer next week, or next weekend, down in Florida. We need you to go everywhere as well. And once you’ve signed up, we need you to multiply yourselves. I want you all to think like that. I’m telling everybody around the country: Multiply yourselves. If you’re in, you need to be 10 more people in. We need you to reach out to everybody you know -- your friends, your family, your neighbors -- and I want you to tell them to go to dashboard.barackobama.com, and that information will be there. You can stop at any -- that’s dashboard.barackobama.com. Our websites are tremendous. So we want you to go there, and we want you to direct people to that site to get them involved.
And let me just say, if anyone here has any doubt about the difference you can make, 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, right? (Applause.) It could all come down to those last few thousand people that we help get to the polls on November the 6th. So with every conversation you have, I just want you to remember -- think in your mind -- think this could be the one that makes the difference. With every conversation -- this could be the one. That is the kind of impact that each of us can have.
So if you’ve noticed that I’m a little passionate -- because I’m thinking there is someone out there right now, today, who could be the one. That’s how I think about this. And if we’re all thinking like that -- there is no conversation that is wasted; there is no moment that goes unfulfilled when it comes to working on behalf of this campaign.
And I’m 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. I remind everyone about that. But we have to remember that that is how change always happens in this country. Real change is slow. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we get there. We always have. We always do. Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in our children’s lifetime, right? Maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because, in the end, that’s what this is all about. That’s what I remind myself. That’s what keeps me fired up. That’s what I think about when I tuck my girls in at night. Malia is getting a little big for tucking, but I still make her get tucked. (Laughter.) But I think hard about the world I want to leave for them, and for all of our sons and daughters. I love your kids. I think about how I want to do for them what my mom and dad did for me. I want to give them a foundation for their dreams. I want to give them opportunities worthy of their promise, because all our kids are worthy. I want to give our children that sense of limitless possibility, right? That belief that here in America, there is always something better if you’re willing to work for it.
So we just can’t turn back now. We have come much too far. We can’t go back. (Applause.) But we have so much more work to do. We have to keep moving forward.
So I have one last question that I ask everybody: Are you all in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: No, no, are you really in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I mean, as I say, are you the kind of in where you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and make those calls and multiply yourselves and reach out to people in your lives who are not paying attention? Find those nephews and nieces who aren’t registered to vote and shake them. Are you the kind of in where you’re ready to find somebody on Election Day and take them to the polls? Are you thinking -- are you the kind of in where you’re thinking, every conversation, I can let you know what’s happening. I’m going to take it on. Are you that kind of in? (Applause.) Because that’s the kind of in we’re going to need. And if you haven’t noticed, I’m so far in. (Applause.) I am so fired up. And I hope you all are, too. We have to get this done. We have to do it for our children. They deserve the best. They deserve a country that is working for them. And we need each of you to help us get there.
So I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done and all that you will do. God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)
5:35 P.M. EDT