Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Charlottesville, VA
5:33 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) This is a great -- thank you all. Thank you so much. Oh, my goodness. Rest yourselves. You’ve earned it. Have they fed you anything yet? (Laughter.) All right, I’m going to talk quick so you can get to dinner.
But I am just thrilled to be here. It is such a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you. I want to thank Karen for that very kind introduction. And while I know that Carter couldn’t be here this evening, I want to thank both him and Karen and their beautiful family. We got brothers and sisters and moms -- everybody is here. (Laughter.) Thank you for inviting me into their lovely home.
And Nadja, thank you for that beautiful tribute. She did a wax figure of me. Well, no, she did a report on me, and you were a wax figure and you were me. (Laughter.) And the dress was amazing. (Laughter.) So let’s give them all a round of applause. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize a few other people who are here -- your former mayor, Mayor Norris, is here. Thank you for your service and for joining us here tonight. I’m not sure where everyone is around here. Yay! (Applause.)
I want to thank Sonjia Smith and Bruce Murray for their outstanding work as co-chairs of this event. (Applause.) Where’s Bruce? Bruce is not the -- where is Bruce? Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. I wasn’t expecting Bruce. (Laughter.) It’s like, you’re not a Bruce. (Laughter.) She tricks us all with that. She’s a Bruce. (Laughter.) Thank you all. This is amazing -- amazing job.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for joining us here this evening, for coming out in the pouring rain. I heard it was sunshiny up until now. I usually bring sunshine, so this is a little odd. (Laughter.) But I really appreciate you all taking time out of your busy lives and being here with me.
And I know that you’re -- I know why you’re here. And it’s not just to see me, it’s not just to eat a good meal. You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And you’re here because you know that in less than a year from now, we’re 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 each of us. It will also 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’m here tonight as well. That’s why I’m going to be out there campaigning for my husband.
See, as the First Lady, I have 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 people’s struggles -– the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat.
I hear about how folks are taking that extra shift, working that extra job, how people are scrimping and saving and sacrificing; many 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 for things like gas, groceries, tuition have been steadily rising, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom completely fell out.
Now, as Karen mentioned, over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess. We’ve all worked very hard, and we’ve made some important progress. We have had 22 straight months of private sector growth, and unemployment now is at its lowest in the last three years, and that’s good news. But we have a long way to go.
And you have a President that has been working hard to rebuild our economy based 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, everyone should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. And these are basic American values.
They’re the kind of values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. And many of you know, my father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant, and my family lived in little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. That’s where I grew up. Neither of my parents attended college, but what they did was work really hard. And they saved, and they sacrificed, because they wanted something more for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, it’s important for us to remember that’s 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.
And on just about every issue, from health care to education to the economy, that is the choice that we face.
For example, when you hear people talking about tax cuts for the middle-class families, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, I mean, what that is about is --it’s about whether people can heat their homes. It’s about whether people can put a hot meal on their table, put gas in their car to look for a job.
It’s about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with 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 is the choice that we face. And think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers. I’m talking about families getting hit with hidden credit card fees. I’m talking about students, our students, drowning in debt. Our seniors losing their homes and savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford.
And that’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission: to protect folks from exactly that kind of abuse. (Applause.) Because your President believes that when you’ve worked and you’ve saved and you followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. That’s not right. That’s not fair. And we’re all working to do something about it.
And what about all we’ve done together for our small businesses? The companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this country each year. Two-thirds. And I’m talking small businesses. Think about the mother who opens up the drycleaner store on the corner to provide for her kids. We’re talking about the family that’s running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues the American Dream that he fought so hard for.
See, these are the folks who are working themselves to the bone during the day, then they head home just to pore over the books more late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
For these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed mean the difference between these kind of hardworking people hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It means the difference between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good. That is the choice that we face.
And then how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) 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 -– work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. She worked hard, and she was good at her job. But like so many women even today, back then, she hit a glass ceiling 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, your President, for him, 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 pocket to buy gas, groceries, to put clothes on the backs of their kids.
He did it because he knows that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. And 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. (Applause.)
And we have to spend a minute talking about health care, because last year we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) Wonderful progress. But now there are some folks actually talking about repealing this reform.
So today, we must ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen? I mean, really? Are we going to let insurance companies refuse to cover things like cancer screening, prenatal care, that don’t just save money, but they save lives? Or are we going to stand up for our lives and for the lives of the people that we love?
Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have a preexisting 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 bankruptcy or watching their children suffer because they can’t afford a doctor? (Applause.)
And when our kids get older and they graduate from school -- I know many people are in that situation -- we know how hard it is for them not only to find a job, but a job with insurance. And that’s why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. And today, that’s how about 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage.
Will we take that insurance away from those kids, 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, when they’re just starting to build families and careers of their own? But that’s the choice that we face.
And think, for a moment, about what’s been done on education. Think about all the investments that your President has made to raise standards and to reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions, millions of children in this country -- kids who are sitting in crumbling classrooms. Our kids, kids with so much promise. Kids we know could be anything they wanted if we would just give them a chance.
And think about how we have tripled investments for job training at community colleges. I mean, this is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages.
I mean, these folks are doing everything right. They’re doing it all. They’re working full-time. They’re raising their kids. But they’re still making it to night class, and studying 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 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 -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.)
And let’s 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’s what’s at stake. (Applause.) That is the choice that we’re facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let’s not forget all that this administration has done to keep our country safe and 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 kept his promise: ended the war in Iraq and brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits they’ve 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. That is what we’ve done. That is what this President has accomplished. And I could go on.
But make no mistake about it, 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, but more important it will determine who we want to be. Who are we? Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? 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? Who do we want to be?
Will we tell folks who have 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 that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? Who do we want to be?
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun, all the progress we’ve made? Or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away? Because that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack knows this better than anyone. He understands these issues, because like so many of us, he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school, pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up but his grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn, catching that bus to the job at the bank. And even though she was being passed over for all those years, his grandmother didn’t complain.
Sound familiar? She just kept on showing up, just kept on doing her best. 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. See, those are the experiences that have made him the man, and more importantly, the President he is today.
And that’s what I hear in his voice when he returns home from a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he’s met. And that’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, when the girls have gone to bed, and he’s poring over the letters that he gets from people. He reads them every night.
The letter from the woman who is dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father struggling to pay the family’s bills. The letters 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 tells me, “You will not believe what folks are going through.” He says, “Michelle, this isn’t right, and we got to fix it. We have so much more work to do.”
See, when it comes to the people that he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. I tell people this all the time -- 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 what he carries with him every single day -– it is our collection of struggles, and hopes and dreams.
And that is where your President gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that’s why, even in the some of the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost and we’re wringing our hands, and wondering, oh, no, what’s he thinking, what’s he doing, let me tell you, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. Never loses sight. He never lets himself get distracted by all that chatter and noise, because he just keeps moving forward. Just keeps showing up. Because, see, he has what many don’t -- it’s a vision for this country. And it’s a vision that we all know and we all share. It’s our vision. We all know that vision.
But I’ve said this before, and I’m going to say it again: He cannot do this alone. He cannot do this alone. Never could. It was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs you to make those calls, to register those voters. He needs you to take those “I’m in” cards and to sign them and to sign up your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues, and convince them to join in giving just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign.
Need you to make that one-on-one contact, because people want to know what has this President done, and they’re doing to trust you, as their neighbors and friends, to share with them what you know. That’s how you win elections. It’s person to person, it’s not PAC money. It’s not -- it’s one-on-one conversations with people, your neighbors. Because we all know that this election is not just about one extraordinary man -– though I’ll admit I’m a little biased. I think he’s pretty cool. (Laughter.)
This election is and will always be about us. It’s about all of us. Who are we? It’s about all of us, coming together for the values we believe in and the country we want to be.
Now, I’m not going to kid you, either, that this journey is going to be long. And it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to have many twists and turns along the way. That is guaranteed. I guarantee you. I don’t expect anything less. And if it happens, I will be surprised.
But the truth is, that’s how change always happens in this country. The reality is that change is slow. Real change takes time, and it never happens all at once. But we know in our hearts that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, doing what we know is right, then we eventually get there, because we always do. We always have in this country. That is our history. 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 really all about.
I mean, in the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting these battles for our sons and our daughters. We’re fighting these battles for our grandsons and granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world that we want to leave for them. This is not about us. It’s about them. And I am certainly in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my daughters, I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can and should do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay.
See, my girls are like so many. They’re blessed with plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for so many of the kids right here 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’s not our daughter.
If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune, because 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 we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together.
And we know that if we make the right choices, and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone, everyone is this country gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That’s what’s at stake.
So it is time for us to get moving. It is time for us to get to work. So I have one final question: Are you all in? (Applause.) Are you all in? Are you all ready for this? Because let me tell you something -- I am in. I am so in. (Applause.) That vision that we know, that world we want to create, we know what it is, but we have to work for it and we need you fighting, working, hustling every second of the day until election day.
So I look forward to working with you all. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. (Applause.) Thank you for everything you’re doing to do. And God bless you all. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
5:59 P.M. EST