Remarks by the First Lady at a Fundraising Event -- New York, New York
New York, New York
7:14 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: (Applause.) Thank you, everyone. Oh, my goodness. Yes! (Applause.) It is so good to be here. It is so good to see all of you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Yes! Yes, we can. Yes, we can. We will again and again. (Applause.) Thank you so much. All right, you all, rest yourselves. Just settle down. (Laughter.) I know you do. I know you do.
Now, let me just point out that there are very few people who I speak after where I have to pull the mic down. (Laughter.) It’s a very great feeling. So let me start by thanking Jason for not just that very kind introduction, but he’s amazing. He’s a natural. We are so -- Jason, we are so proud of you. We are proud of your talent, your character, your courage, and we are so proud. I mean, that’s why I had to tweet him. I wanted to send my love out to him right away, to tell them that he made history and he has just made the difference in the lives of so many of our young people. So let’s give one more round of applause to our friend, Jason Collins. We love you so much, Jason. (Applause.)
And I want to recognize a few people who are here with us as well. Jason mentioned many of them, members of Congress who are here. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is here. Yes, indeed. (Applause.) Carolyn. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney is here. (Applause.) Hugs to the little ones. Congressman Mark Tokano is here. (Applause.) And one of our little people is here -- (laughter) -- my dear friend, our fabulous DNC Chair, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. (Applause.) I was teasing her mercilessly because Jason and me and Debbie took pictures. She was way down low. (Laughter.) We love you, Debbie. You’re doing a phenomenal job. Thanks -- yes, she is. She’s doing a great job. (Applause.)
And to our DNC Treasurer, Andy Tobias. Yes, Andy! (Applause.) You’re awesome. Our DNC Finance Chair, Henry Muñoz, who is -- there you are. (Applause.) You didn’t come take a picture with me. It’s okay. It’s okay. I know you have 12, but I missed you. (Laughter.) You are both doing a terrific job, and this event is amazing, but the work you are doing for the DNC, you know how much it means to this nation. So thank you both.
And I have to give a special shout-out to someone who keeps me laughing, not just backstage but on TV, just a wonderful spirit -- Andy Cohen. We are thrilled that he could join us today. Yes, Andy! (Applause.)
And I have to recognize one of my favorite artists and someone I consider one of my sisters, because her music pumps into my head when I’m on the road and keeps me positive and feeling strong, Sara Bareilles. Thank you, Sara, for gracing us with your performance. (Applause.) Sara, Sara.
And of course, most of all, I want to thank all of you for being here today. I also want to thank you for being there for Barack -- not just once, but twice. Yes, two times. (Applause.) Thank you for working so hard. Thank you for loving us and supporting us and believing us, making calls and knocking on doors, and getting everyone you know to the polls. You all should understand what you have done.
Because of you, we didn’t just win two elections, we made real and meaningful change in this country -- change that our children and grandchildren will feel forever. Because of you, our economy continues to strengthen with 38 straight months of job growth -- three years. Three years under this President. (Applause.)
Because of you, we passed health reform so that 41 million Americans -- (applause) -- can finally get the insurance they need and the peace of mind they deserve.
Because of you, we are taking on climate change, gun violence, comprehensive immigration reform. (Applause.) And because of you, yes, we have a President who stands up for our most fundamental rights, from ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” to strengthening hate crimes to supporting our right to marry the person we love. Because of you. (Applause.)
We have a President who said in his inaugural speech, and this is a quote, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” (Applause.) All of that and so much more has happened because of you. And that’s what elections are all about. It’s like Barack said in his 2008 Election Night speech. He said, “This victory alone is not the change we seek -- it is only the chance for us to make that change.” And that was true back then and it’s even more true today. Because while we’ve made a lot of important changes these past four years, we still have so much left to do.
Although our economy is improving, too many families, middle-class folks are still struggling. And that fundamental American promise that so many of us grew up with -- that no matter where you start out, with hard work, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and your grandkids -- that promise is no longer within reach for too many of our families.
In fact, it probably wouldn’t be in reach for my family if I were growing up now in today’s economy. As many of you know my story, neither of my parents had a college degree. But my father’s job at the city water plant paid him a decent enough wage. We always had food on the table. With the help of student loans, he sent both me and my brother to college. That precious job also gave him health insurance and a pension that my mother still lives on today.
Now, we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but we had stability and peace of mind. Because when I was growing up, a family of four living on a single blue-collar salary could build a solid life without much debt and without relying on any form of public assistance. But today, for so many families, that’s no longer possible. Folks are working harder than ever, doing everything right, but it’s still not enough. And while there’s so much talk and noise and back-and-forth going on in Washington, hardly any of it seems to be about the struggles these families face.
So yes, it’s easy to get frustrated and to become cynical. And now that the excitement that comes with a presidential campaign has faded, it is so tempting to just turn off that TV and wait another four years to re-engage.
But make no mistake about it, while we are tuning out, let me tell you, other folks are tuning in; others are doing everything they can to make their voices heard. And we are seeing the effects of that kind of imbalance every single day in Washington.
Just last month, we saw the failure of common-sense legislation to protect our kids from gun violence -- legislation, by the way, that 90 percent of the American people supported. Failed. (Applause.) We are seeing a budget stalemate and a sequester, resulting in children across the country being turned away from Head Start, so many of our seniors losing their Meals on Wheels. And now there’s talk about cutting food stamps, which could mean hundreds of thousands of kids going to bed hungry each night -- here in the wealthiest nation on Earth.
And that is not who we are. That’s not what this country is about. We are so much better than that. We are so much more compassionate and fair, so much more decent than that. And we know this because we see it every day in communities all across this country, where people are working hard at their jobs every day, sacrificing for their kids, doing everything they can to help their neighbors.
We especially see it in times of tragedy and crisis -- in those teachers who rushed children to safety in Newtown, teachers who risked their lives to save students in Oklahoma. We saw it in the volunteer firefighters who plunged into flames in Texas, and in all those folks in Boston who ran toward the explosions and spent hours tending to perfect strangers.
Let me tell you, none of these folks asked the people they were helping whether they were Democrats or Republicans. They didn’t ask whether they were Christians or Muslims or Jews. They didn’t care whether they were gay or straight. It was simply enough that they were fellow Americans who were suffering and needed aid. And shouldn’t that be enough for all of us?
And that was the question that I was asking myself during a recent visit to my hometown of Chicago, when I had the privilege -- yes, South Side -- (laughter) -- when I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with a wonderful group of students at a school called Harper High. Now, Harper is located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city -- a community that has been torn apart by poverty and hopelessness, by gangs and drugs and guns.
And that afternoon, I sat down with about 25 students, and these kids were the best and brightest at the school -- the valedictorian, the football star, the kids in ROTC. But let me tell you what I learned: Every day, these kids are facing impossible odds -- jobless parents addicted to drugs, friends and loved ones shot dead before their very eyes.
In fact, when the counselor asked the group of young men and women whether they knew someone who had been shot, every single one of those kids raised their hand. Every single one of them. She then asked, “What do you think when the weather forecast says ‘85 and sunny’?” Now, you’d assume that nice weather like that would be a good thing for young people. Not for these kids. They replied that a weather report like that puts fear in their hearts because in their neighborhoods, when the weather is nice, that’s when the gangs come out and the shootings start.
So instead of reveling in the joys of their youth -- enjoying things like filling out their college applications, getting ready for prom, getting their driver’s license -- these young people are consumed with staying alive. And there are so many kids in this country just like them -- kids with so much promise, but so few opportunities; good kids who are doing everything they can to break the cycle and beat the odds.
See, they are the reason we’re here today. They are the reason. And today, we need to be better for them. We need to be better for all of our children in this country because they are counting on us to give them the chances they deserve for the futures they need. So we can’t wait for the next presidential election to get fired up and ready to go. We don’t have time for that. Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids.
So we must recapture that same passion, that same energy and urgency that we felt back in 2008, 2012. We must keep on working together to build a country worthy of all of our children’s promise.
And where do we begin? Let’s start with ensuring that every child has access to quality pre-K, excellent schools -- all of them -- affordable college, because we want all our kids to fulfill their boundless potential. Let’s start there. (Applause.) Let’s do something simple like finally passing common-sense gun safety laws, because no mother or father should ever have to worry about dropping their kid off at a movie, or a mall, or school. (Applause.)
And when these kids grow up, let’s make sure they have jobs that pay a decent wage, because we know that it’s wrong for anyone in this country to work 40 or 50 hours a week and still be stuck in poverty. And let’s make sure they have health care they need, because no one in this country should get their primary care from an emergency room. (Applause.)
And when it comes to women’s health, let’s keep fighting for our most fundamental, personal rights, because we know as women that we’re more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies. We know that. We know that. (Applause.)
And see, here is the beauty: I know we can get all of this done. We can do this. But make no mistake about it -- and this is the key point I want to make here today -- Barack Obama cannot do it alone. I have said that time and again. You all have heard me say this. He cannot do it alone. He needs folks in Congress to help him every single step of the way. And that’s why it is simply not enough just to elect a President every four years. It’s not enough. We need you to be engaged in every election, because special elections matter, midterm elections matter; it matters who we send to Congress.
And if you don’t believe me, just look at the record. Look at the difference that just a few votes in Congress can make when it comes to the issues we care about.
For example, legislation on equal pay for women failed by two votes in the Senate. Two. The DREAM Act -- the act that gives our immigrant kids a fair shot in this country -- this act failed twice, once by five votes, and once again by just four. So, as you know, the President had to sign an executive order to finally get anything done. And that common-sense gun bill I talked about earlier -- that bill failed. Want to know by how many votes? Just six. Just six.
So like I said, it matters who we send to Congress. So we need all of you to be engaged in every special election and every midterm election all across this country. We need you to keep on writing those checks -- (laughter) -- and if you haven’t maxed out, you know, what’s my motto? Max out. (Laughter.) Let’s say it together. Max out. (Laughter.) And if you’ve maxed out, get your friends to max out. It’s a very -- maxing out. Sounds kind of baller, too -- maxing out. (Laughter.) Everyone here should be maxed out. (Laughter.)
And while raising money is important, you know it’s not nearly enough. We also need you working on making those phone calls, looking into the states where you know people, getting the folks you know in the states where their race is, getting them to the polls. And I know it won’t be easy. It never is. I know that plenty of special interests are going to be pouring all kinds of resources into these elections. So we really need you to stay engaged and bring everyone you know along with you.
And if anyone tries to tell you that they’re too busy, or that it’s too much of a hassle, or that these elections just don’t matter, I want you to share one final story with them. I want you to tell them about a woman named Desiline Victor who Barack spoke about at the State of the Union Address, and she joined me in the box there.
Desiline lives down in Florida, and she waited for hours in line to cast her vote last November. Now, you might think that’s not so unusual because a lot of people had to wait in long lines this past election. But here’s the thing: Desiline is 102 years old. And she was born before women had the right to vote, and she’s been a citizen of this country for less than ten years. Yet even though she was tired -- and I’m sure she was -- even though her feet probably ached, lime mine do, she was determined to cast her vote. She was determined to have her voice heard in the country that she loves.
So here’s what I tell myself, and I hope you think about this, too. If Desiline Victor can summon that kind of passion and energy, then we don’t have any excuse. If she can summon that kind of patriotism and determination, then so can we. (Applause.) And if you all keep on working and organizing and engaging, then I know that we can keep on making the change we believe in, and together, we will build a country worthy of our children.
You all have been amazing. I just have to say, from the bottom of my heart, the kind of energy and spirit that you give to me personally means the world. And if you take a fraction of that love and support and turn it into work, like you have done, then we will get this done. And as you think about this, think about those kids whose lives will be changed forever because the world they live in will fortunately never be the same. It will always grow and open its arms, and more people will be welcomed in because of your sacrifice. Kids today will never have to struggle with what we’re struggling with today because of all of you. So as you max out -- (laughter) -- I want you to think about that.
Thank you all. God bless. We love you.
7:35 P.M. EDT