6:05 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. All right, you guys are fired up, right? My work here is done tonight. No, just kidding. (Laughter.) You all, please, rest yourselves. Thank you so much. It is truly a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you.
I’ve got so many -- so much of my history here. We’ve got -- I’ve got former mentees, I’ve got former staff. We got former White House staff, classmates. This has just been just a wonderful reunion in so many ways. But I want to start by thanking Barbara for that very kind introduction and for the outstanding work that she is doing every day to empower women all across this country. Let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.) She’s amazing.
And I am thrilled to be in this magnificent museum. I am so glad that we’re doing this here. Contemporary art is something that we care passionately about, so it’s wonderful to be able to be in this magnificent space, although I will only see the kitchen -- (laughter) -- and the service entrance. But I’ve heard it’s a really pretty building. (Laughter.)
I also want to recognize the extraordinary women that you all heard from earlier today -- Nancy, Stephanie, Jessica, Paula, Liz -- you guys, thank you so much for being with us this evening. (Applause.) I hear they had a lot of good things to say. (Laughter.) It’s good stuff.
And of course, I want to give a big shout out to Marianne Karmel and all of our host committee for their wonderful work in making this evening such a terrific success. (Applause.) And finally, I want to thank all of you, truly -- thank you for your support. Thank you for being here with us this evening. It means so much.
And I know that there is a reason why you are all here -- and it’s not just to see me. (Laughter.) You can see me on Ellen. (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 -- and the clock is ticking -- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And I know that you are here because you know that choice will not just affect all of us, but it’s going to affect our children, our grandchildren, for some of us, our great grandchildren, and the world we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And that is truly why I am here today. And I’m going to be out there all over the country as much as I can. I’m in this for our children, for our future.
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this magnificent country, and I get to meet folks from all different backgrounds and all walks of life, hearing what’s going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about how people are trying to keep it all together. I hear about their struggles -- the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about how they’re taking that extra shift, how they’re working the extra job, how so many people are saving and sacrificing, rarely spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And, truly, make no mistake about it, I mean, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost of things like gas, groceries, tuition have continued to rise, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom just completely fell out.
Now, let’s be clear -- over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess. Yes. (Applause.) And we have made some very important progress. Now, you may remember that when my husband first took office, this economy was losing an average of more than 750,000 jobs a month -- that’s when he took office. Well, today we learn that we’ve now had 24 straight months of private sector job growth. (Applause.) So, for -- just in case we all got our math right, that’s two years. (Laughter.) Two straight years we’ve been adding private sector jobs -- a total of more than 3.9 million jobs. So I am proud of everything my husband has done to get our economy moving in the right direction and I know that you all are too. We’re proud of everything he has done to get this economy back on track. But we also know that we still have a long way to go.
We still have a long way to go in rebuilding our economy on a vision that we all share -– the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone in this country should get a fair shot, they should do their fair share, they should play by the same rules.
Truly, those are all the foundation for an economy that’s built to last. They are our basic American values -- the values that so many of us were raised on, including myself. You guys know my story by now. My father was a blue-collar worker at the 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 let me tell you what they did do: they worked, they saved, they sacrificed everything so that me and my brother could have more than they could have ever imagined.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake in this election -- 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 on just about every single issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face. That’s the choice.
For example, let’s just talk about tax cuts for middle-class folks. When you hear all that the President is saying about those tax cuts or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, well, you hear that -- that’s about whether people will be able heat their homes; that’s about whether they’ll be able to put gas in their car so that they can even look for a job. It’s about whether folks can send their kids to college, whether they can retire with a little dignity and security. And it’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. But that’s what’s at stake.
And when it comes to jobs, I want you to think back to when all those folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs on the line. But Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people. (Applause.) And thankfully today, the auto industry is back on its feet, and more importantly, people are back at work, back to providing for their families. But that is what’s at stake. That’s the choice that we face.
And think for just a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumer. I’m talking about families getting hit with all those hidden credit card fees. I am talking about students -- our students -- drowning in all that debt, seniors -- our parents, grandparents -- losing their homes and their savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, probably couldn’t understand.
And that is why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with one simple mission -– and that is to protect folks from exactly those kinds of abuses. Because when you’ve worked hard and you saved and you followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone just looking to make some easy money. So your President knows that that is not fair. He knows that’s not right, and he is working to do something about it. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And what about all that we’ve done together for our small businesses? These are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year in this economy. It’s two-thirds of all jobs. I’m talking about the mom who opens up the dry cleaning shop on the corner to provide for her kids. That’s who we’re talking about. We’re talking about the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who started that startup and trying to pursue the American Dream that he fought so hard for. That’s who we’re talking about.
These are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, and then they head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
Now, for these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed, for them, this means the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips, between keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good. That’s the choice that we face. Those are the stakes.
And how about, as Barbara said, the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the very first thing he did as President -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -– a woman with a high school education -– who worked her way up to become the vice president of a little community bank. And he saw how hard she worked and how good she was at her job. But like too many women, she hit that glass ceiling, and watched men no more qualified than she was –- men she had actually trained –- climb that corporate ladder ahead of her. So believe me, for Barack, this issue is not abstract. This is not hypothetical.
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 and put school clothes on the backs of their kids, to feed 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. (Applause.) That he knows.
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. But that is what’s at stake. We have to understand that. Those are the choices that we face.
And let’s just talk for a minute about health care. Because last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. Finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now there are folks actually talking about repealing that reform. So today, ladies, we have to ask -- and gentlemen, because I know we got a few men -- (laughter) -- we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and just let that happen?
Since we passed this law, millions of our seniors have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. So are we going to take those savings away from our seniors? Or will we make sure that our parents and our grandparents can afford to stay healthy in their golden years? 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 pre-existing conditions -- things like cancer, diabetes, 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? What are we going to do? (Applause.)
And when those beautiful children grow up and they graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find jobs with insurance, right? How many young people in here struggling with that? Yes. That is why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old. And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. So are we going to take that insurance away from our kids? Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out, trying to build families and careers of their own? But that’s the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And think, for a moment, about what has been done on education. (Applause.) Think about all the investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children. These are our children in this country -- kids we know that are sitting in crumbling classrooms today. Kids with so much promise. Kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
And think about what my husband has been fighting for with the DREAM Act -- (applause) -- so that talented, hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own, so they can have a chance at citizenship. These are responsible young men and women who want to go to college, defend their country, contribute to this economy -- and it's time that we gave them a chance. It is time. (Applause.)
Think about how we’ve tripled investments for job training at community college. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to do what it takes to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. They’re doing everything we could ask of them. 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, this investment in our students and in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. It will determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will allow us to compete with any country anywhere in the world. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our daughters and sons watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) But more importantly, let us not 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 love whomever we choose. That is what’s at stake. Those are the choices. (Applause.)
And finally, let us not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) 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. He kept his promise -- brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And we’re working to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.) And of course, 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. (Applause.) That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care, the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country -– but more importantly, who do we want to be. Who do we want to be?
Will we be the country where opportunity is limited to just a few at the top?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Coughs.)
MRS. OBAMA: It makes you sick, doesn’t it? (Laughter.) I know.
Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Right? Who are we? (Applause.) Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are struggling just a little bit, are we going to tell those folks, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Who are we? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that in this country, we are strongest when we’re all better off? Who do we want to be? That’s what we have to ask ourselves. Will we continue all the change we’ve begun, all the progress we’ve made, or are we going to just let it all slip away -- everything we’ve fought for? Who are we? But that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes. That is it. I am not exaggerating.
But believe me, your President, Barack Obama, 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 up? His grandmother -- waking up every morning to take that bus before dawn to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she never complained. Like so many people we know in our lives, she just kept getting up, just kept moving forward, doing her best. That’s who we are.
So Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. Believe me. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have the chance to fulfill their potential. These are the experiences that have made him the man, and more importantly, the President that he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And I share this with everyone -- that is what I hear in his voice when he returns home after a long day in the Oval Office or traveling around the country. He tells me about the people he’s met. That’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, long after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s still up, poring over briefings and the letters he receives from people everywhere. 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 letters from far 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 going through.” He tells me, “Michelle, this is not right. We have got to fix this. We have so much more work to do.”
See, what you need to know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) It gets a little annoying at times. (Laughter.) 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 in his heart. And that is what he carries with him -– our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. 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 seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by all the chatter and the noise. Like his grandmother, he just keeps moving forward. See, because your President has a vision for this country, so you have to have a vision if you're going to lead America -- and it is a vision that we all share. I don't care who you are, we share this vision. This is what we all want for our country.
But I have said this before, and I will say it again -- I will keep saying it: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. That was never the promise. He needs your help. This has never been about him. He needs your help. He needs you to register those voters. He needs you to make those phone calls. He needs you to take those "I’m In" cards and sign them, and get your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues to sign them. Convince them to join in this effort; that giving just a little part of themselves each week to this campaign will make a world of difference. Let them know what's at stake.
Because we all know that this was never about one extraordinary man -- this was never about Barack Obama. This has always been about us. It’s always been about us -- all of us -- coming together for the values that we believe in and the country that we want to be. And for something like that, you've got to work for it. You got to work for it.
Now, I’m not going to kid you, I know this all too well -- this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. We are used to that. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. I mean, the truth is real change is slow. Real change never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, and fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then we eventually get there. We always do. That has been the history of this country. We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes; 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 are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and daughters, for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them -- just like so many people did for us.
And believe me, I am not fighting this battle just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. We're already seeing it. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be fine. My girls are blessed. I tell them that all the time. (Laughter.) I say, get that look off your face, you're blessed. (Laughter.) They have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that is probably true for so many of the young people in this room.
But I think 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 he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune. Because that's not who we are. In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. And that's a good thing. That's the beauty of America.
And we know that if we make the right choices, and if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. But that's what’s at stake. Those are the choices.
But we have some say in this. We have a chance to move and impact our destiny. So it’s time for us to get moving. It’s time for us to get to work. It's time for us to answer one last question. I mean, my question for you is: Are you in? Are you ready to do this work? (Applause.) I mean, I can't really hear you. I don't know if you really feel it. (Applause.) Because it is going to take work. And we are going to need all of you in.
Because I know I am in. I know the future I want. I know the kind of country I want to hand over to my kids. And I know it's going to take all of us working together. So we are going to need you all fired up. We're going to need you serious. If you've got it all together in this state, go to the next state and get it together. (Laughter.) There is a lot at stake, and we don't have time to waste. So we're going to need you every step of the way.
And believe me, I will be out there, my husband will be out there. There is a wonderful story to tell of what this President has done for this country, and we need to make sure everybody knows it. (Applause.)
Thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.)
6:34 P.M. EST