New Orleans, Louisiana
1:33 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you so much. (Applause.) Please, rest yourselves. It is a true pleasure, delight and honor to be here with all of you. This is -- it’s beautiful here. I think I’ll stay. (Laughter.)
I have to start by thanking Wendell for that very kind introduction, but more importantly, thanks to you and your partners for all of the outstanding work you’re doing in the community, working to alleviate food deserts and for making this event such a huge success. Thank you so much.
And of course to Jill and Avi for opening up your beautiful home. I’m going to stay here. (Laughter.) And for all the work you did on this event. And to your two gorgeous daughters, who are doing terrific things and skipping school -- for a very good reason, mind you. Thank you, thank you for the gifts for the girls as well.
I also want to acknowledge Congressman Richmond who is here, and Mayor Landrieu who is here as well. Thank you so much, it’s great to see you again. Thanks for your leadership, thanks for the work that you’re doing, and for all the support you’ve given to us over the years.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us here this afternoon. And I know there’s a reason why you are all here today. You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And I know you’re here because you know that in little over a year, we’re going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you’re here because you care for your fellow citizens, you care about your kids, you care about your grandkids, and you care about the world that we’re leaving behind for all of them.
And that’s truly the reason why I’m here today as well.
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this great country, meeting with folks from all different backgrounds and hearing about what’s going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about the businesses that they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor bills they can’t afford, the mortgage they can no longer pay. I hear about how they’re taking the extra shift, doing everything they can to keep up; working that extra job; how they’re scrimping and saving and sacrificing -- 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. And the costs of things like gas and groceries and tuition have been continuing to rise while people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom completely fell out. So the question today is: What are we, as a country, going to do about this? Where do we go from here?
And I know that amidst all of the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to clearly see what’s really at stake. Because these issues are complicated, and quite frankly, folks are busy. People are raising families, working full-time jobs; many of us helping out in our communities to boot. And many of us just don’t have time to follow the news and to sort through all of the back and forth and figure out how all of this stuff connects to our daily lives.
But the fact is that in just a little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country. And I’m here today 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 this country, have never been higher. Never.
Let’s start with the American Jobs Act that my husband just sent to Congress.
When we talk about how this bill would give tax cuts to 6 million small business owners, it’s important to understand that we’re talking about the folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year in this economy. Two-thirds.
We’re talking about the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, every day, and then they head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
We’re talking about a tax cut that, for these individuals, could mean the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; between keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good.
And that’s what’s at stake.
When we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans, we have to remember that we’re talking about folks who are just weeks away -- weeks from losing the only source of income they have.
So this is literally about whether or not millions of families and children will have food on their tables or a roof over their head. It’s about whether folks will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. But more importantly, it’s about whether we, as a country, will honor that fundamental promise that we made generations ago, that when times are hard, we don’t abandon our fellow citizens. We don’t let everything fall apart for struggling families. That’s not who we are.
Instead we say, “There but for the grace of God goes my family.” Instead we remember that we are all in this together, and we extend a helping hand.
And that is why, even though there are some trying to stop this bill from moving forward, my husband -- your President -- will not give up. He is going to keep on fighting for what are common-sense jobs proposals. Whether it’s tax cuts for workers, or tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, or jobs for teachers and construction workers, or job training for unemployed or low-income folks, rebuilding our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant or foreclosed homes and businesses -- this is what’s in the American Jobs Act, all of that. That is what we’re fighting for. That is what’s at stake in this election. That’s the choice.
And then how about the very first bill my husband signed into law? It was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 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. He did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, then women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy.
And 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 for their kids. That’s the choice that we’re making in this election.
And then let’s talk about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. But now, there are some folks out there talking about repealing this reform. So the question that we have to ask ourselves is, will we let them succeed? Will we let insurance companies 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 do not let our fellow citizens go bankrupt because they get sick?
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care –- things like cancer screenings and prenatal care that save money and save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives -- or more importantly, for the lives of the people we love?
That’s what’s at stake. That is the choice that we make in this election.
And then think for a moment about what this administration has done on education. Think about all the investments we’ve made to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in our country -- millions of our children, kids sitting in crumbling classrooms, kids that we know have so much promise, kids who could be anything in the world they want if we just gave them the chance.
Think about how we’ve tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year alone. And that’s about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. I mean, these are folks who are willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives.
These folks are working full-time. They’re raising their kids. But they still make time every evening to study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, these kind of investments 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.
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons -– watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. And then we can’t forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That’s what’s at stake.
And as Wendell said, think about how we are finally bringing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a responsible end. And think about how we’ll be bringing those troops home from Iraq by the end of this year, and they will have an opportunity to celebrate the holidays with their families.
Think about all that we’re doing to help our veterans and their families get the education, the employment and the benefits they’ve earned -- because we believe that we should serve our men and women in uniform as well as they have served us.
And of course, we cannot forget how, because my husband finally ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” 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 horrific acts of terror.
And how we finally have a foreign policy where, yes, we work to keep our country safe but we also restore our standing in the world. That’s what’s at stake in this election.
So make no mistake about it -- I mean, whether it’s health care or the economy, education or foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country -– but more importantly, who we want to be. Who are we?
Will we be a country that tells folks who’ve done everything right, but are struggling to get by, “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, and that when one of us is hurting, then we’re all hurting? Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top? Or will we give every child -- every child -- a chance to succeed, no matter where they’re from or what they look like or how much money their parents have? Who are we?
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Or will we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work really pays, and responsibility is rewarded, and everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and does their fair share? That’s the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And what I tell people when I travel around the country -- that your President knows this all too well. He understands these issues, because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped in but his grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take the bus to her job at the bank. And his grandmother worked hard, and she happened to be very good at what she did.
But for nearly two decades, she was passed over for promotions because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified then she was –- men she had actually trained -– climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, 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.
Those are the experiences that have made him the man -– and more importantly, the President -– he is today. And that is what I hear in his voice when he comes home after a long day in the Oval Office, traveling around the country, and he shares with me the stories of the people he’s met. That’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have long gone to bed, and he’s still up poring over briefings and letters. Letters 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 -- too many young people -- with so much promise, and so few opportunities.
And I do hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, “You won’t believe what folks are still going through” -- that’s what he tells me. And he says, “Michelle, this isn’t right. We have to fix this. We have so much more work to do.”
See, what I want everyone in this country to understand about their President is when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but if he’s 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 single day -– it is our collections 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 is why, even in the darkest moments, the hardest times, when it seems like all is lost and we’re sweating Barack, and we’re wringing our hands, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end game. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. He always sees the end game.
But I have said this before, I said it in the last election, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. He cannot do this alone. He needs your help. He needs you to work as hard as you can, to make those calls and register those voters. Make sure that you sign our “I’m in” cards, get those signed. Get your neighbors and friends and colleagues to sign them. Help people understand the choices, what’s at stake. Convince them that joining in and giving a little part of their lives each week to this campaign is well worth their time.
But I am not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long. And it will most definitely be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. That is how it always happens. The reality is that change is slow. Real change is slow. Real change doesn’t happen all at once.
But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing, then we always get there. We always get there -- maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, or our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end, that is really what this is all about. In the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for our sons and our daughters. We’re fighting them for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. That’s what people did for us.
And I’m in this fight not 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. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed. They have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of your children as well.
But I think the last few years have really shown us the truth of what Barack 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. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune -- because that’s not what we do in America. 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’s how it should be. 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 can’t afford to be complacent. We can’t afford to be tired. We can’t afford to be frustrated. We simply don’t have time for that. It is time for us to work and to work hard.
So I have one last question, and I need to hear it loud and clear: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Really now, are you really ready for this? (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wait, wait. Well, you all have got to be very fired up for this. This is going to require every single one of us to work so hard to fight so forcefully to help people understand the stakes and the choices. We need you to do that. And if you are ready and fired up, we can make this happen. There is no other answer than this one.
So I hope you all are fired up and ready to go, because I certainly am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We got your back!
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, thank you. (Applause.) I look forward to working with you all in the months and the years ahead. We are going to work so hard, but it will be so worth it. And I want to thank you all for all you have done for us and all that you will continue to do. We could not do it without you.
Thank you all. God bless you. (Applause.) Take care. Thank you so much. Keep it going! Stay fired up! (Applause.)
1:57 P.M. CDT