Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event -- Petersburg, VA
Virginia State University
5:33 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Wow! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness! All right. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you so much. Oh, I am beyond thrilled to be here. Four more days! (Applause.) Four more days.
But before we get started, in light of what's been going on with our weather situation here on the east coast, I want to take a moment to talk about the devastating storm that is affecting so many communities, including some right here in Virginia. And like all of you, Barack and I, we are heartbroken for all those who have lost loved ones in this storm. And of course, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected.
And as you've been seeing, Barack has been working tirelessly with governors and mayors and our outstanding first responders to make sure that everything folks need is right there and they do their jobs. So I know that we all will come together, because that’s what we do in crisis -- we come together to help our citizens. (Applause.) So even in light of all this excitement and the election, we can't forget, when people are struggling, we have to have our focus and our priorities straight, right?
So with that, I have to also thank Brandon for that -- whoa -- that introduction. (Applause.) Brandon, oh, he is working so hard. He's going to be working on Election Day, and I hope you'll be right there with him. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank the President, Doctor Miller, and his wife Nicolette for hosting us here at Virginia State. (Applause.) Thank you all so much for this wonderful welcome, this warm welcome.
I also want to recognize Mayor Moore for his leadership and his service. He's here today, as well. (Applause.) And I want to also thank your wonderful former First Lady, Anne Holton, for her remarks. (Applause.) And I know that her husband, Governor Tim Kaine, is going to be an outstanding senator for the state of Virginia, so we've got to get that done as well. (Applause.)
But most of all, I want to thank all of you. It is so good to see so many faces, so many young people, so many folks from all over the region. (Applause.) It sounds like you're fired up and ready to go! (Applause.) And believe me, I am fired up and ready to go myself, because in four days, we get the opportunity to reelect a man who is decent and honest -- can I say that again -- decent and honest -- (applause) -- a man whose courage and integrity we have seen every day for the last four years -- you know who I'm talking about -- the man I have loved for 23 years, my husband, President Barack Obama. (Applause.)
And let me tell you -- I love you, too -- but let me explain something to all the fellas, because I want you to know what it takes. What really made me fall in love with Barack all those years ago –- (applause) -- because you know my heart is taken -- but it was his character -- you hear me, fellas? His character, his compassion, his conviction, his commitment to helping others -- that’s who he has always been.
I also loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) All right, fellas? So it's important how you treat your mother. See, because I saw the respect that Barack had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she had put herself through school while still supporting him and his sister as a single mom.
Let me tell you, I saw the tenderness he felt for his grandmother and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning, catching that bus to her job at the community bank. And he watched her as she was passed over for promotions year after year just because she was a woman. But here's what he also saw -- he saw a woman who kept getting up every day, doing that same job year after year without complaint or regret.
See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago -- (applause) -- we've got a lot of Chicagoans -- but I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. And I saw my father carry himself with that same dignity, that same pride in being able to provide for his family, that same hope that one day his kids would have opportunities he never dreamed of for himself.
See, and like so many families in this country -- and I know so many families like all of you have come from -- our families just weren’t asking for much. That’s the darn thing. They didn’t want much. They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. They didn’t mind if others had much more than they did –- in fact, they admired it. And that’s why they pushed us. I know that’s why so many of you are here. (Applause.)
But they simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids. And they believed that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and you've finally walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don't slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.)
See, that’s how Barack and I and I know so many of you here were raised. And more than anything else, that is what this election is about. It’s about choices. It's about -- a choice about our values, and our hopes, and our aspirations. It’s a choice about the kind of country we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids.
And in that country we believe in a lot of stuff. We believe in an America where every child has access to good schools that push them, and inspire them, and prepare them for jobs of the future. (Applause.) We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick or loses a job.
We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own, and we treat everyone with dignity and respect -- from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.) And in this America that we have been building together, we believe that the truth matters; that you don’t take shortcuts, you don’t game the system.
And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. What do I mean? Everyone in here knows good and well that cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget. (Applause.) We know better than that. Instead, we know we need to cut wasteful spending, but we also have to make smart investments in things like education and in infrastructure for an economy that’s built to last.
That’s what my husband stands for. That's the country he’s been working to build. And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis -- I have been there -- that is what we’ve seen in our President.
Think back to when Barack first took office. This economy was on the brink of collapse. You don’t have to take my word for it. Newspapers were using words like “meltdown," “calamity;” declaring “Wall street implodes," “Economy in Shock.” See, what was going on -- the auto industry was in crisis. The economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month, and a lot of folks were wondering whether we were headed for another Great Depression.
See, and this is what Barack faced on day one as President. But instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, your President got to work. (Applause.) Because he was thinking about folks like my Dad and like his grandmother. And that’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families -- because he believes that here in America, that teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)
And that’s why, while some folks were willing to let the auto industry go under -- you know who I'm talking about -- with more than a million jobs that would have been lost, see, Barack had the backs of American workers. And that’s why, today, the American auto industry is back on its feet again. (Applause.)
And, yes, while we still have a way to go to completely rebuild this economy, there are more and more clear signs every day that we are on the road to recovery: Exports have grown by 45 percent. This morning, we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months. (Applause.) For the majority of my husband's presidency, now, 32 straight months of private sector job growth –- nearly five and a half million new jobs created under this administration -- good jobs right here in the United State of America.
Now, when it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve, understand this -- Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, there is absolutely no way we could have gone to college without financial aid. (Applause.) We would not be standing here today without financial aid. We didn’t have parents with money that could pay our tuition.
So understand this -- when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we've been there. And that’s why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants and fought so hard to keep interest rates down. Because fortunately, we have a President who understands how important it is for all of our young people to have a chance to go to college without a mountain of debt.
And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women –- (applause) -- look, we all know that my husband will always have our backs, because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. And that’s why the very first bill he signed into law as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to make sure that we as women can make our own choices about our bodies and our health care. (Applause.)
And we cannot forget that because of health reform -- the health reform he passed -- the historic health reform that he passed -- insurance companies can no longer charge women more than men for the same coverage. Also, because of health reform, they won’t be able to discriminate against any of us because we have a preexisting condition -- let's say diabetes or asthma. (Applause.) And as Brandon mentioned, young people can stay on your parent’s insurance until you’re 26 years old. (Applause.)
And here’s one that always gets me, and it’s a wonder how many people have dealt with this situation -- if you get a life-threatening illness and you need expensive treatment, insurance companies can no longer tell you, "sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more." That is now illegal because of health reform. (Applause.)
So with four more days to go, I know -- I know you’re going to be out there talking to folks. (Applause.) I know you’re going to be out there working. And when you run into people who are trying to decide who is the best person to keep this country moving forward, here’s just a few things you can tell them.
In addition to telling them about all that Barack has done for our economy, health care and education, tell them about how he ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.) Remind them, under his leadership, how we took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how this President has been fighting every day to get veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about all the young immigrants who live throughout this country who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they have ever called home. (Applause.)
Tell them about all the brave servicemembers who will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
And if they want to know about plans, future plans, send them to our website, barackobama.com/plans, and you can learn about everything this President is going to do -- creating more jobs, reducing the deficit, and do so much more. So much more.
But here’s what I really want you to tell them, what I think is so important for people in this country to understand. I want them to know that Barack understands the American Dream because he’s lived it. (Applause.) And he has been fighting every day so that every one of us in this country can have that same opportunity no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.
But let’s be clear. While he is very proud of all that we’ve achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. Of all the people on this planet, Barack knows better than anyone that too many people are still hurting. But as President Clinton said, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to finish rebuilding an economy from the brink of collapse, and everybody knows that. (Applause.)
But here’s what I also know: For the past four years, together, slowly but surely, we’ve been pulling ourselves out of that hole that we started in. We’ve been moving forward and making real, meaningful change. (Applause.)
So before anybody goes to the polls, we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us in that hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we just going to sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away.
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? (Applause.) What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Forward! Forward! We need to keep moving forward.
But in the end, here’s the thing. The answers to these questions, right now, is on us -- all of us. Because, believe me, all of our hard work, all of the wonderful progress that we’ve made, understand it’s all at stake. I mean, the choices in this race are so clear.
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is the only guarantee. And it will all come down to what happens in just a few battleground states like right here in Virginia. (Applause.)
So as you all start gearing up for the next four days, let me just put some things in perspective, just how close these elections are. Back in 2008, Barack won Virginia by about 235,000 votes. And while that might sound like a lot, when you break that number down across precincts across an entire state, that’s just 100 votes per precinct. And in North Carolina the margin of difference was even closer. That’s another battleground state. It was just five votes per precinct. All right?
And just think about that. That could mean just one vote in a neighborhood, just a single vote in an apartment building, on your college campus. So if there is anyone here, anyone you know who might be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter, that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference -- they absolutely can -- I want you to think about those 100 votes. There are 100 votes of folks who aren’t sitting here. We all know somebody that didn’t vote in the last election. We all know five, 10 people. We all know people right now who might not make it to the polls. Think about those 100. Everybody here is responsible for five people -- we win. We win. (Applause.)
So I want you to think about how with just a few more hours knocking on doors this weekend, making calls, with just a few hours getting some more people to the polls, just a few of you here today could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And if we win enough precincts, we will win this state. And when we win this state, we’ll be well on our way to putting Barack back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.) It absolutely matters.
So before you leave today, find one of our volunteers with clipboards, because we’ve got them here. Sign up to volunteer on the campaign.
But more importantly, for the next four days -- especially our young people because this is a -- it’s Friday. (Laughter.) I know you’ve got plans. (Laughter.) Put those plans off till next weekend. (Applause.) Just one weekend. And spend it reaching out to everyone you know. Everyone you know, even if they’re not on campus -- call home. Call home. Call your friends, the neighbors, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while, that classmate sitting next to you who you know is not going to get up and go to vote. (Laughter.) You all know at least one, two, three of those classmates.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: What about the military?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely the military.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
MRS. OBAMA: I will talk to you after this because I’m not going to be able to have a full conversation with you in the room, but I’ll be right down. (Laughter.) I love you, though. I love you, though. But you know one of my primary issues has been working for military families, and we need four more years of good, solid work. (Applause.)
But if anybody has any questions, send them to vote.barackobama.com for all of the information they need to make their voices heard.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Love you!
MRS. OBAMA: Love you. Love you, too. Love you, guys. (Applause.)
And just know this -- that everything we do between now and November will absolutely make the difference.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
MRS. OBAMA: We love you! I love you! (Applause.) You all don’t know how much your love, support and prayers keeps Barack and I standing up straight. So don’t ever, ever underestimate that.
But make no mistake: All that love, take it to the polls. (Applause.) Take it all to the polls. Because make no mistake about it, what we do between now and Election Day, over these next four days, will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and wondering, “Wow, could I have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years.
So from now until Election Day, we need you to work and push like never before. See, because here’s the thing. And what I want young people to understand, especially our young people in college, because I know that you face some struggles and you have some doubts and you hit some barriers and you wonder where this is all worth it, whether this change can really happen.
But please know this: That’s how change always happens in this country. We know from our history that change is hard. Shoot, life is hard. But let me tell you something, it requires patience and persistence and tenacity. As you’ve watched this President over the past four years, and you’ve seen his calm, his steadiness as he’s been hit with thing after thing after thing, that’s the kind of tenacity that it takes.
But what we understand is that if we keep showing up -- if we keep showing up -- (applause) -- if we keep fighting that good fight and doing what we know in our hearts is right, then understand this: Eventually we get there. We always do. You have to know that in your minds. And that is why we have every reason -- all of you, especially our young people all over the country, you have every reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead. Because we know that here in America, we always move forward. We always make progress. We never go backwards.
And in the end, that’s what this is about. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. That’s what elections are always about. Elections are about hope. (Applause.)
What kind of hope am I talking about? The hope that I saw on my father’s face as I walked across the stage to get my college diploma -- the diploma that he took out loans to help me get. (Applause.) The hope Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope of all of those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift for us, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could be here. We are standing on their shoulders. (Applause.) The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our own kids and grandkids -- that’s the hope I’m talking about.
And that is why we’re here. We’re here today because of our kids, because we want all of our kids in this country to have a solid foundation for their dreams. We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise, because I don’t care where you live, what party you belong to, we all know good and well that every child in this country is worthy. (Applause.) We want to give them that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet -- do you young people hear me? -- (applause) -- there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it. (Applause.)
So here’s what me and Barack tell ourselves every day: We cannot turn back now. Not now. We will not turn back now. (Applause.) We have come so far, but we’ve got so much more work to do.
So let me ask you one last question. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to go? (Applause.) Four more days for four years! Let’s get to work.
Thank you. God bless.
5:58 P.M. EDT