Beverly Hills, California
6:56 P.M. PST
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you so much. (Applause.) It's always a pleasure to be here, and it's an honor to be with all of you.
And I want to start by thanking my dear friend, Ambassador Avant -- love saying that. And thank you for that kind introduction, but as I told her, she is a pretty phenomenal woman herself -- taking one for the team, awesome; just being there, so steadfast. (Applause.) And, Ted, what a smart man. (Laughter.) It's all I can say. You all have a beautiful family. You all have been just such terrific friends. I can't thank you enough for your steadfast support and love.
And I also want to thank Joshua Radin for performing, and his crew. (Applause.) Thank you so much for being here.
And I want to thank all of the host committee, everybody. We have -- this is a fabulous crew. Four years -- three years ago -- how long has it been? (Laughter.) You remember that first time? You all did a great job. (Laughter.) Remember that? We know you're going to do it again. You all are just -- become true friends, and we wouldn't be able to do this without you. We truly couldn't.
And I want to thank everybody else, all of you, for taking the time to be here this evening.
And I know that there’s a reason why you're all here tonight, and it's not just to see me -- because it's a little chilly out here and I know you Californians aren't used to the cold air. (Laughter.)
But you’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You’re here because you know that in less than a year from now, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us; it will affect our children, it will affect our grandchildren, and it will affect the world that we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And that is why I am here tonight. That’s why I'm here tonight, that's why I'm going to be out here for the next year, that's why we're ready for four more years. (Applause.)
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling across this country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds, and hearing what’s going on in their lives.
And every day, I hear about how folks are struggling to keep it together -- how they're trying to pay the bills, how they’re trying to keep that business afloat. I hear about how they're taking that extra shift, how they're working that extra job; how they’re 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. The cost of things -- basic things: gas, groceries, tuition -- have been continuously rising, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up.
So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just completely fell out. Now, over the last few years, your President has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess. And he has made -- we have made some magnificent progress. (Applause.) We have had 22 straight months of private sector job growth, and the unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in nearly three years. (Applause.)
But we know that there are still a lot of people struggling, and we have a long way to go. And we've been working hard to rebuild this economy based on a vision, your President's vision, a vision that we all share -– the belief that, as Barack says, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone -- everyone -- should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. These are basic American values. These are the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.
And you know my story: My father was a blue-collar worker, city water plant. My family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents went to college, but they worked, and they saved, and they sacrificed -- shoot, my mom is still sacrificing for us -- because they wanted something better for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake -- 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 an even better life for your kids. That's what's at stake.
And on just about every issue -– from health to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face.
For example, when we talk about tax cuts for the middle class, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, we're talking about whether people can heat their homes. We're talking about whether folks can put a meal on the table, put gas in their car so that they can go look for work. I mean, these kind of cuts are about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity and security. It’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs.
That’s what’s at stake. That's the choice we face.
And if we think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumer -- I’m talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees; I’m talking about students -- our students, America's students -- drowning in debt; seniors -- our seniors, America's seniors -- losing their homes, losing their savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, couldn't understand.
And that’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission, and that is to protect folks from exactly these kind of abuses. That's what it's about. Because he believes that when you’ve worked, and you’ve saved, and you've followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. That’s not fair. That's not right. And, believe me, your President is working hard to do something about just that.
And what about all that we have done together for our small businesses? I mean, these are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- two-thirds of all new jobs. I’m talking about the mom who opens the drycleaner on the corner to help provide for her kids, or the family that's been running the neighborhood diner for generations, or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream that he fought so hard for.
See, these are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, then they head home and pore over the books into the night, determined to make the numbers add up. And for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this President has passed mean the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; it's the difference between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good.
That's the choice that we're going to make in this election.
And then, of course, we can't forget the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) The very first thing he did as President.
And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. And he watched his own grandmother -– a woman with a high school education –- work her way up to become vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard, and she was good at her job. But he watched as she hit that glass ceiling that is so familiar to so many, and she watched men no more qualified than she was -– men she had actually trained -– be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack, for him, this issue is not abstract. This isn't hypothetical. And he signed the bill because he knows that closing that pay gap, that can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each check, or having that money to buy gas, groceries, school clothes for their kids.
He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. And he did it -- (applause) -- he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace.
And that is what’s at stake.
And let’s talk for just a minute about health care. Because last year, we all made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) We all did that. But now, there are folks who are actually talking about repealing that reform. So today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen? Are we going to let insurance companies refuse to cover basic things like cancer screenings and prenatal care that don't just save money, but save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives, and for the lives of the people we love?
What are we going to do? Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have a pre-existing condition like cancer, diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor?
And when our kids get older and graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find jobs that provide insurance. That’s why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old -- 26 years old. (Applause.) And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage.
So will we take that insurance away from our kids? Or will we say that we don't want our sons and our daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out, when they’re just trying to build families and careers of their own? But that is the choice we face.
And think, for a moment, about what has been done for education. I mean, think about all the investments made to raise standards and reform our public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country. Kids that we know today are sitting in crumbling classrooms -- our kids, kids with so much promise, kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.
And think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges. I mean, this is about hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who are determined to get the skills they need to get a better job and better wages. I mean, these folks are doing everything right, everything they’re supposed to. They’re working full-time. They’re raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, study late into the night because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, these investments in our students, in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine nothing less than 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 our history, our daughters and sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) And we cannot forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly and, yes, love whomever we choose. That’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice that we are facing in this election. (Applause.)
And, finally, let’s not forget all that this administration has done to keep our country safe and to restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) And thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
My husband ended the war in Iraq and brought home our troops for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working vehemently to give our veterans and their families the kind of education, employment, and benefits that they have earned.
And because my husband 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. (Applause.) That is what’s at stake. (Applause.) That is what’s at stake.
So make no mistake about it -- I mean, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country and, more importantly, who do we want to be. I mean, who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top? Who are we? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead no matter who you are or how you started? Who are we? Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are still struggling to get by, are we going to tell them, tough luck, you’re on your own? Who are we?
Or will we honor the fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? What’s it going to be? Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made, or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away? Because that’s the choice, and those are definitely the stakes.
And, believe me, Barack knows this better than anybody. He understands these issues, because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother he watched struggle to put herself through school and pay the bills. This isn’t a joke. When she needed help, his grandmother stepped in, waking up every morning to catch some bus before dawn to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for those promotions, she didn’t complain. She just kept on showing up and doing her best.
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, because those are the experiences that have made him the man and, more importantly, the President he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that’s what I hear in his voice when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country and he tells me about the folks he’s met. And I see that in those quiet moments when the girls have gone to bed and he’s up poring over letters and briefings, letters from people all over the country. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care; the letter from the father still struggling to pay his family’s bills; the letter from too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, "You won’t believe what folks are still going through." That’s what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this ain’t right, and we have to fix this. We have so much more work to do."
And I tell this to everybody, but 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’s like it becomes imprinted on his heart. And that's the things he carries with him every single day -- it’s our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams.
And that is where Barack gets his passion. That’s where Barack gets his toughness and his fight. And that’s why, even in the hardest moments when it seems like all is lost and we're sweating it, and we’re sweating him -- (laughter) -- Barack never loses sight of the end goal. He sees it so clearly. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward.
Because he has a vision for this country. A President has to have a vision. He has a vision that we all share. But I have said this before and I will say it again -- many of you has heard me before -- he cannot do this alone. That was never the promise -- never. I know I didn’t make it. (Laughter.) He needs your help. (Applause.)
He needs your help. We need your help. He needs you to make those phone calls, write those checks, but register those voters. He needs you to take the “I’m In” cards, sign them. Get your friends and neighbors and colleagues to sign them. Convince people what’s at stake, and ask them to give just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign.
Because we all know that this is not just about one extraordinary man. It never was -- although I think he is fabulous, my husband. (Laughter.) He's very cute and he can sing, go figure. (Laughter and applause.) This is really about us. This is about all of us. It always has been. It’s about us coming together for the values we believe in and for the country we want to be.
And I’m not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long and it is going to have many twists and turns along the way. But the truth is that that’s how change always happens in this country, always. The reality is that change is slow. Real change -- real change never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up -- if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep believing in the country that we know is right -- then eventually we get there. We always do. We always get there in this country -- maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end, that’s what this is all about. In the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for the children in our lives, our sons and our daughters, our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. It’s about them.
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 that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed. They will have plenty of advantages and opportunities. And I know that’s probably true for many of your kids as well.
But I think that the last few years have 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.
In the end, we cannot separate our individual stories from the broader American story, because we know that in this country we rise and we fall together. That’s who we are. (Applause.) That’s who we are. (Applause.)
And we know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone in this country, everyone gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That’s what’s at stake.
So, folks, it is time for us to get moving. It is time for us to get to work. (Applause.) So I have one last question: Are you all in this? Are you in this? (Applause.) Wait, wait, wait -- come on. I need to -- I know it’s a little chilly, but I need to know: Are we in this? (Applause.) Are you all ready to get fired up about this like me? Because I am ready. (Applause.) I hope you all are ready to go, because I look forward to being out there. I’m going to be out there hard, and we’re going to need you with us every single step of the way.
Thank you all so much. God bless. (Applause.)
7:20 P.M. PST