Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
4:05 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hey! (Applause.) All right, you all already sound pretty fired up and ready to go, so I'll just go home. (Laughter.) Let me tell you, I am beyond thrilled to be back home. (Applause.) Yes. And it is so good to see you all. You're looking good. This is a pretty hip venue. (Laughter.) My venues are not usually this hip. This is really pretty nice.
Let me start by thanking Jarvis, first of all, for that very rousing and kind introduction. Give Jarvis a round of applause. (Applause.) And I want to thank both Jarvis and Kyle for everything they’re doing for this campaign. They have just been amazing and we are truly grateful.
And I have to thank Jim Messina, for he has just been an amazing campaign manager. His leadership, his organization, his focus -- he is going to be one of the reasons why we will be doing another four more years pretty soon. (Applause.)
And, finally, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us here for today’s Gen44 event. I love you all. This is such a good -- Gen44. (Applause.) It is good stuff.
And I know that it's not always easy to take time out of your busy lives and do stuff like this. You guys have a lot to do. I know in your lives you've got your jobs, careers you're building; some of you are still attending classes and trying to get those degrees in order. Many of you have families to raise and mortgages to pay and rent to get --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mm-hmm.
MRS. OBAMA: Mm-hmm. (Laughter.) But I also know that there's a reason why you all are taking time out of your lives to be here today. And it's not just because we all support a phenomenal President of the United States, right? (Applause.)
Let me tell you, it's not that I'm married to the President that I think he is awesome. (Laughter.) But we have a really, really tremendous leader in the White House in my husband. (Applause.) And we're not just here because we want to win an election -- which we do and we will.
But we’re doing this because of the values we believe in. That's why we're here. We’re doing this because of the vision for this country that we all share. And I say that time and time again -- we cannot forget what we're focused on. We are doing this because we want all of our children to have good schools. You know what kind of schools I'm talking about -- the kind of schools that inspire them, and push them, and prepare them for good jobs and opportunities in the future. We want that for every child.
We want our parents and our grandparents to be able to retire with a little dignity, because we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, in America, they should be able to enjoy their golden years, right? (Applause.) We are here because we want to restore that basic middle-class security for our families, because we believe that in America folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because somebody gets sick. You shouldn't lose your home just because you lose your job -- not in America. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded, that hard work should pay off. And we believe that everyone should do their fair share, but play by the same rules.
But these values, this isn't new. These are basic American values. Those are the basics. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself -- and all of you all were raised just like me. (Applause.) Now, I know where I am now. (Laughter.) You all know my background. My father was a blue-collar worker. He worked for the city water filtration plant, right here by Navy Pier, all of his life. And my family lived in a very small, barely one-bedroom apartment on the South Side -- South Side! (Applause.)
And I know you all can relate to my upbringing. My parents never had the kinds of educational opportunities that we had. And growing up, what I saw every single day -- I saw two parents who saved for us and sacrificed everything for us. They poured everything they had into me and my brother. They held us to the same high standard of excellence, because they wanted both of us to have the kind of education they could only dream of.
My parents did everything in their power to support my college education. And like many people, while most of my tuition came from student loans and grants -- yes, a lot of head-nodding going on there. You can relate to that -- (laughter) -- my dad still paid a small portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time -- because he was proud to be able to send his kids to college. And he did all he could to lessen the financial burden on us by ensuring that neither me nor my brother missed a registration deadline because his check was late. That’s what my father worried about. And like so many people in this country, my father took great pride in being able to earn the kind of living that allowed him to handle his business, to take care of his responsibilities to his family. That’s all he wanted. He wanted a job that allowed him to pay his bills and to pay them on time. That’s all he wanted.
But more than anything else, that is what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why we’re here. And we can never forget what this is about. It is that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, in America, if you work hard you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. And it is that promise that we have to remember that binds us together as Americans. It’s what makes us who we are. It’s what makes this country special.
And between now and November, Barack is going to need you to get out there and tell people about this vision. Tell them about these values that we’re working for, and let them know what’s at stake in this election. That’s your job -- because people might be confused. (Laughter.)
Now, when it comes to the economy, you can start by telling them how Barack fought for tax cuts for working families and small businesses, because he understands that an economy built to last -- it starts with the middle class. It starts with the folks who are creating jobs and putting people back to work. And remind people about how, back when Barack first took office -- remind them -- this economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs every single month. Yes, surprising. That’s what he inherited. That’s what he walked into the Oval Office after all that wonderful inauguration stuff -- that’s what was waiting for him. But let people know that for the past 27 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs -– a total of more than 4 million jobs in just two years. (Applause.) So you have to let people know.
So while we still have a long way to go to build our economy, today people have to understand millions of people are collecting a paycheck again; millions of people like my dad are able to pay their bills again. Let people know.
You can remind people also about how there were folks in Washington telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs on the line. You remember that?
MRS. OBAMA: People said, let it go. But Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people. And as a result, today, the auto industry is back on its feet again and, more importantly, people are back at work, providing for their families again. Let people know. Let people know -- that’s what we need you to do. (Applause.)
When it comes to health care, I want you to tell people how insurance companies will now have to cover preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care at no extra cost. That’s what health reform has done. Millions of our senior citizens have saved hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs because of health reform. And young people can now stay on their parent's insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And what people don’t understand is that is how 3.1 million more young people in this country are getting the health care they need. Let them know. Let them know. (Applause.)
When it comes to education, you can tell Barack -- tell folks that Barack knows what it’s like to be drowning in student debt. Let them know. Back when we first started out -- and we were trying to build a life together when we first got married -- our combined student loan bill was actually higher than our mortgage. And that’s why Barack has worked to double Pell Grants, helping 4 million more students afford the education they need for the jobs of the future. (Applause.)
And when it comes to increasing opportunities for all of our young people, tell folks about how Barack has been fighting for the DREAM Act -- (applause) -- because he believes that it is time to stop denying responsible young people opportunities in this country because their parents are undocumented immigrants. It’s time to stop that. That’s what your President is working for. (Applause.)
When it comes to keeping our country safe, you can remind folks that Barack kept his promise and brought our troops back home from Iraq. (Applause.)
And please, don’t let people forget about how our brave men and women finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks. Remind them what our troops did. (Applause.)
And you can also tell them that our troops no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love -- because Barack finally ended "don't ask, don't tell." Let them know. (Applause.)
And ladies, when it comes to supporting women and families in our country, please tell people about how Barack fought to make it easier for women to get equal pay for equal work -- and that’s because of the very first bill he signed into law. The very first thing he did as President was sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (Applause.)
And it’s important to know why he signed this, why this was a priority. See, because Barack knows that closing that pay gap for women can mean the difference between them losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas, and groceries, and put clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when so many women are now breadwinners for our families, women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to the Supreme Court, don’t forget to tell people about those two brilliant Supreme Court justices Barack appointed, and for the first time in history, our sons and daughters watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. Let them know. (Applause.)
Now, look, I could go on and on and on and on, but I’m not going to. (Laughter.) Because you all are standing up, and at a point you stop listening. (Laughter.) But the important point that I want to make is that all of this and so much more -- all of this is at stake in November. It is all on the line. And it all boils down to just one simple question: Are we going to continue the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or are we going to allow everything that we have worked so hard for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: What are we going to do? No, we cannot turn back now. Not now. We have to keep moving forward. We have to keep moving forward. And more than anything else, that’s what we’re working for -- the chance to finish what we started; the chance to keep fighting for the values we believe in and the vision we all share. We all share this vision. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from or what you look like, this is an American vision that we share. And let me tell you, that is what my husband has been doing every single day as President. He’s been working for that vision.
And let me tell you something, as First Lady, over the past three and a half years I have had the wonderful chance to see up close and personal what being President really looks like. (Laughter.) And let me tell you something -- and this is important for people to understand as we select the next leader. Because I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- always: the problems with no easy solutions; the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, there is no margin for error. That’s what your President deals with.
And as President, you are going to get all kinds of advice and opinions from all kinds of people. But in the end, when it comes time to make that decision as President --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: He listens to his wife. (Laughter and applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: A smart President will -- (laughter) -- take into account the views and positions of his other half. (Laughter.) But seriously, this is a serious point, because when you’re dealing with those kinds of decisions where there isn’t a clear right answer -- there isn’t even a clear good answer -- all a President has to guide them is their life experiences. All they have to draw on are those values. All they have is the vision that they have for this country. So you have to know what that’s about, and where people stand. You have to know that.
But we all know who my husband is, right? We all know what Barack Obama stands for, don’t we? (Applause.) And if you don’t, let me just remind you: He is the son of a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. He is the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn every day to catch a bus to her job at the bank. And even though Barack’s grandmother worked hard to help support his family, and she was good at her job, like so many women she hit that glass ceiling and men no more qualified than she was, she watched them be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack Obama knows what it means when a family struggles. For him, this is not a hypothetical. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. (Applause.) And let me tell you, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want something better for your kids. Those are the experiences that have made him the man -- and the President -- he is today. And that’s what we’re working for. (Applause.)
So when there is a choice about our children’s future -- about investing in their schools, about helping them attend college without a mountain of debt -- you know where Barack will stand, don’t you? When it comes times to stand up for our workers and our families, so folks can make a decent wage and save for retirement, see a doctor when they’re sick, you know what Barack Obama is going to do. When we need a President to protect our basic -- most basic rights, no matter who we love or where we’re from or what race or what gender we are, you know you can count on Barack Obama, because that is what he’s been doing every single day as President of the United States. And people have to know that. People have to know that. (Applause.)
But I have said this before, and I will say it again, everywhere I go, every day if I have to: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. And if anybody was under that misperception -- (laughter) -- get over it right now. (Laughter.) Barack needs you. He said this election was going to be even closer than the last one. So he needs your help. The outcome of this election will potentially have the greatest impact on the young folks in this room. So all of you young folks -- and I consider anybody younger than me young -- (laughter) -- understand that you have a unique stake in what happens in this election.
And truly, sitting on the sidelines or only coming to an event like this, while fun, it is simply not an option. If we want to keep this country moving forward, it’s not an option. We need you to be actively and passionately engaged in this election. We need you to make those calls. We need you to do that real work. We need you to organize more events. I want you to think about it -- Barack needs you to multiply yourselves. Think about multiplying yourselves. Reach out to your friends and your family, your colleagues, your neighbors, your classmates -- reach them, grab them, shake them. (Laughter.) And direct them to how they can get involved in this campaign. Send them to barackobama.com to find out what they can do, because there are many things to do. And if things are looking good where you are -- if you’re feeling like, oh, you know what, Chicago is locked down -- (laughter) -- then pack a bag and spend some time in a battleground state. (Applause.) Go to Iowa. We are going to win Iowa, but we’re going to win it even more with you. We need you to talk to undecided voters, particularly your peers, and remind them what’s at stake. Remind them what’s at stake.
And join your neighborhood team. These are groups of people all over the city and all over the country who are giving just a little bit of their time and energy to make a difference in this campaign. And everything that we do on the ground runs through these kind of teams. And I’ve met with dozens of phenomenal team leaders of all ages. I met a little 14-year-old girl who was like the computer analyst for her team. (Laughter.) It was amazing. She was very focused. (Laughter.) And I love that -- when a 14-year-old is on the phone making calls, that is amazing. So you all should be doing that. (Laughter.)
And today we’ve got volunteers at the back of the room. You guys, raise your hands if you’re back -- let me see, volunteers with clipboards. Because this is a can-do thing. (Applause.) They can answer your questions. They can get you signed up. So this is about action today.
And if you have any doubt about the difference you can make, I just want you to remember that in the end this election could all come down to those last few thousand people that we register to vote. We’ve seen that before, right? Remember, it could come down to the last few thousand people we help get to the polls on November the 6th. And so with every conversation you have, with every interaction that you have on behalf of this mission, I want you to remember -- just think to yourself, this could be the one. This could be the one. So there is no wasted conversation. There is no one in your family who should go untouched. This could be the one that makes the difference in this election. That is the kind of impact that each of you can, and each of you will, have.
And I’m not going to kid you, the only thing I can guarantee you is that this journey is going to be long. It’s only 130-something days left, but it’s going to be long. (Laughter.) And it is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way -- there always is. But we have to remember, that’s how change always happens in this country. Real change takes some time, and it can be a little complicated, and it can feel a little uncomfortable. But if we keep showing up, and if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep fighting for the things we know are right, then eventually we get there. We always do. In this country we have never gone backwards. That is the beauty of America: We always keep moving forward. Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because, in the end, we have to remember that’s what this is all about. It’s not about us, it’s about them. And that’s why I can get so passionate. That’s why I can stay so focused and work so hard, because when I tuck my girls in at night, that’s what I think about. I think about the world I want to leave for them, and for all of our sons and daughters. I think about how I want to do for them what my dad did for me. And I want to give these kids a foundation for their dreams -- all of them. Because all of them are worthy of this promise. I want to give them everything that’s worthy of their dreams. I want to give them that sense of limitless possibility; that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.
So we cannot turn back now. Not now. There is too much at stake. We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.
So the last question I have for you all is: Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Are you in? (Applause.) No, no, I’m not just talking about comfortable in, I’m talking about rolling-up-your-sleeves kind of in. (Applause.) I’m talking about finding someone with a board and signing up. I’m talking about packing-a-bag-and-getting-to-a-battleground-state in. I’m talking about getting-on-a-phone-and-calling-some-people in. Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Are you fired up? (Applause.) Let me tell you, I am so fired up because I have seen what’s at stake. I have seen the vision for this country that we can have. I know what we can do, and I know Barack Obama is the man to get us there. I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t the one.
So you all just get it together. (Laughter.) Stay focused. Stay fired up. Do not get tired, and let’s get this done.
Four more years. Thank you. (Applause.)
4:31 P.M. CDT