6:17 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Ah, this is a good group! (Laughter.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you. Tonight you're looking good. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You look good! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, let me start. I just want to say a few thank-yous. I want to start by thanking my dear, dear friend, and everybody should know by now, Terri was my mentee in college -- Terri Sewell -- Congressman Sewell -- for her leadership, for her service, and for taking the time to be here. Tonight we've got to give her a round of applause. She's doing a terrific job representing her state. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize Spencer -- Spencer is out there -- Antilla and Shaundra, thank you all for all of your work on the host committee for this event. And I know that there were many, many more who worked on putting this together. This means so much to us, and I know it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of busy people. But I want to thank all of you, finally, for joining us here tonight.
I am thrilled to see so many new faces. But I am also thrilled to see so many old friends -- the folks who --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you.
MRS. OBAMA: Love you, too. (Applause.)
They're the folks who have been with us since the very beginning, through all of the ups and downs along the way -- and there have been many. And I know there is a reason why all of you are here tonight. 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 -- and it might be 12, but I lose track, it's coming soon -- (laughter) -- we're going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And you're here because you care about your fellow citizens, and I know everybody here cares about our kids, about our grandkids, and a world that we're leaving behind for them.
And quite frankly, that's why I'm here tonight. That's why I left Malia and Sasha with Grandma -- (laughter) -- to come here to be -- because my husband is out of town. (Laughter.)
As First Lady, I have had the privilege 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 businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor bills they can't pay, or the mortgage they can no longer afford. I hear about how folks are taking that extra shift or 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 folks have been squeezed from all sides. Cost for things like gas and groceries and tuition have been rising, but people's paychecks just haven't kept pace. So when this economic crisis hit, for too many families the bottom just fell out.
So the question today is what are we as a country going to do about it? Where do we go from here? And I know that amidst all the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to see clearly exactly what's at stake here. These issues are complicated, and quite frankly, folks are busy raising our families, working full-time jobs, many of us helping out in our communities. And many of us just don't have the time to follow the news like we should, or sort through the back-and-forth and figure out how all this stuff connects to our daily lives.
But the fact is that in just a little over a year from now we're going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country -- very different. And I'm here tonight 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.
Let's start with the American Jobs Act that my husband just sent to Congress. (Applause.) Let's start there. When you think about it, when we talk about this bill --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Pass that bill!
MRS. OBAMA: That's right, pass that bill.
This bill will give tax cuts to 6 million small business owners. We're talking about folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds -- two-thirds -- of all jobs in this economy each year.
We're talking about people who work themselves to the bone every day, then head home and pore over those books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that can mean the difference between providing for their families, or not. Between hiring new employees, or handing out pink slips. Between keeping those doors open and those businesses, or closing up shop for good. That's what's at stake here.
When we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans, we are 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 our families and children are to have food on their tables and a roof over their head.
It's about whether folks will have money in their pockets, which, in turn, means money in our economy, which means more jobs. And it's about whether, as a country, we will honor that fundamental promise -- a promise that we made generations ago that when times are hard we do not abandon our fellow citizens. We don't do that. (Applause.) We do not let everything fall apart for struggling families. (Applause.)
Instead, in this country we say, there but for the grace of God goes my family. That's what we say. (Applause.) Instead, we remember that we are all in this together. And we extend a helping hand. That is the choice in this election.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- (applause) -- to help women get equal pay for equal work. Now, he did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. And he did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. You can't separate those two things. (Applause.)
So closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries and school clothes on the backs of their kids. That is the choice that we have in this election.
Let's talk for a minute about health care. Well, in the last year -- just last year -- we made history together, by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) We did that together. That's a done deal. (Applause.) But now there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform. And today, we need to ask ourselves, will we let them succeed? Is that what we should do?
MRS. OBAMA: Will we let an insurance company deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes? Or will we stand up and say that, in this country, we won't allow folks to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care? Things like cancer screenings, prenatal care, that save money, but more importantly, saves lives. Or will we stand up for our lives and for the lives of the people we love? Who are we? That is what's at stake here. That is the choice in this election.
And think for a moment about what we've done on education. And think about the investments we've made to raise standards and reform our public schools. It's about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country. I mean, kids we know are sitting in crumbling classrooms -- kids we know who have so much promise; kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance. (Applause.)
I mean, just think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year. And this is about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to do what it takes to get the skills they need to better themselves -- better jobs, better wages. Folks who will do anything that it takes. These folks aren't lazy; they're ready to get involved. (Applause.) These folks work full-time jobs, they're raising their kids, but they still make time to go to class at night, study late into the evening because they desperately want to do something to better their lives and their families.
And make no mistake about it, this investment in our students and in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country, anywhere in the world. That's what's at stake here.
And let's not forget that -- what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices. (Applause.) 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.) And we cannot forget the impact that the decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and our security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That's what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
And think about how we are finally bringing our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. (Applause.) And more importantly, we're helping them and their families get the education, the employment and the benefits that they have earned. And let's not forget how, because we finally ended "don't ask, don't tell" -- (applause) -- our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love.
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 just think about what it means to finally have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe, but also -- also restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it -- whether it's health care, 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.
Who are we? Will we be a country that tells folks who've done everything right, but are struggling a little bit -- will we tell them, 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, that I am my sister's keeper -- (applause) -- and if one of us is hurting, then all of us are hurting? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Or will we give every child -- every child -- a chance to succeed, no matter where she's from, or what she looks like, or how much money her parents are? Who are we? That's what's at stake here.
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Or can we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work pays and responsibility is actually rewarded, and everyone -- everyone -- in our country gets a fair shake and does their fair share? Who are we? (Applause.)
That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes. But believe me, my husband knows this all too well. He understands these issues because he's lived them. He was raised by a single mother struggling to put herself through school and pay the bills. And then when she needed help, who stepped in? His grandmother -- waking up every morning before dawn to take a bus to her job at the bank. And she worked hard, his grandmother; she was good at what she did. But for nearly two decades, she was passed over for promotions. Why? Because she was a woman. She watched men no more qualified than she was -- men she had actually trained -- climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.
So 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 believe me, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your child to grow up with no limits to their dreams. I mean, those are the experiences that have made him the man and the President that he is today, and we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
That is what I hear in his voice when he returns home after those long days traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he's met. That's what I see in those quite moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he's still up poring over the letters people have sent him. 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 and so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. You won’t believe what these folks are going through -- that’s what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this is not right. We’ve got to fix this. We have way too much more work to do." (Applause.) See, what you all have to remember is that when it comes to the people that he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. It messes me up sometimes. (Laughter.) I mean, he might not remember your name, but if he has 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 our collection of hopes and struggles and dreams. And 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 it all seems lost and we’re sweating it -- trust me, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. (Applause.)
That is who your President is. But I have said this before -- and many of you have heard me say this -- I will say it again. He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. That was never the deal. (Applause.) He needs your help. He needs you to keep up the terrific work that you’ve been doing. He needs you to make those calls and to register those voters. That will make the difference.
And he certainly needs you to take those “I’m In cards you got and sign up, and turn them back in. And then, work and get your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues, convince them to join you in giving just a little part of your life each week to getting this country where we know it should be. (Applause.) That’s what he needs from all of you.
But I’m not going to kid you, the next phase of this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. Is she okay? See, that’s always a problem -- standing up in heels. (Laughter.) But, hopefully, she’ll be fine.
But this journey is going to be long and we have to understand that. It’s going to be hard. It is going to be complete with so many twists and turns along the way. But the truth is -- and we have to remember this -- that is how change always happens in this country. That is nothing new. We all know that. The reality is that real change is slow and it doesn’t always happen 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 get there. (Applause.) Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, or our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end that’s what this is all about. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandchildren, yes. We’re fighting for the world we desperately want to leave for them.
And I’m not in this just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. (Applause.) Because the truth is no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed. They will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives and we thank God every day for that. And that’s probably true for a lot of your families as well.
But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack Obama has always said, that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us. Even if she is not our daughter, even if he is not our son, that is our child. (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 this country, 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 is 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 have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead.
So we cannot afford to be complacent. We can’t afford to be tired or frustrated. We don’t have time for that. It is time to get to work. So let me ask you one final question: Are you in? (Applause.) No, really, are you in? Because I am. (Applause.) I am in. And I’m going to work my tail off to make sure that we keep this country on the right track. And I hope all of you are fired up and you’re ready to go. You’re ready to roll up your sleeves and work harder than ever before. We’re going to need you every single step of the way.
Are you in? (Applause.) Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
END 6:39 P.M. EDT