Remarks by the First Lady at DNCC Women's Luncheon
San Francisco, California
11:45 A.M. PST
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you all. It is great to be here. Thank you so much.
Well, it is truly a pleasure to be here today with so many fabulous women -- and a few brave men I see out there. (Laughter.) And speaking of fabulous women, I want to start by thanking Leader Nancy Pelosi not just for that kind introduction but for her outstanding and historic leadership in Congress. (Applause.) She is a fighter. She has courage. She's willing to take the risks, and she has been behind our President every step of the way. We love you. We love your family. You are amazing. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And I also just want to mention that, as you know, Nancy was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame, and Barack and I could not be more proud. It is the right thing. That’s where you need to be. So keep it up, Nancy, we need you. Let's give her another big round of applause. (Applause.) We love you.
I also want to recognize the many terrific members of Congress who are joining us here today. You guys are doing a phenomenal job. Keep it up. Thank you for your leadership, your service. Thank you to your families for the sacrifices they make.
And of course, I want to thank Joan Baez for gracing us with her performance. (Applause.) That was amazing. We are thrilled she could be here today.
But most of all, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here today. And I want to thank you for everything that you’ve done for Barack and for so many other leaders who share our values. Thank you for being there for them year after year and election after election. And I know it feels like a long journey sometimes, I know that it hasn't always been easy. But if you have ever wondered whether your support makes a difference, I just want you to think for a moment about what Barack said in his State of the Union speech earlier this week.
I want you to think about the vision that he laid out for our future. Think about everything he's asked Congress to help him achieve over the next three years: ending gun violence, raising the minimum wage, investing in job training and scientific research, opening the doors of pre-K for all of our children -- and so much more. There's so much work that needs to be done. (Applause.) And that is how your President wants to lift up the middle class and restore opportunity to everyone in this country.
And make no mistake about it, when we talk about the 2014 midterm elections -- and that’s what we are going to talk about a lot -- elections that are less than 10 months away -- please understand that that’s what's at stake. And we need to ask ourselves whether we will have leaders in Congress who share our values and who will work with Barack to keep moving this country forward. And that’s why the midterm elections are so critical.
And that’s why we need your support, and that’s why I’m here today. I’m here because like all of you, I believe that in America, no matter how you start out, if you are willing to work for it and sacrifice for it, you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. That is the American Dream that we all believe in -- all of us.
And we don’t believe in handouts. We don’t believe that anyone should get a free ride. But we also understand a pretty simple principle: that “there but for the grace of God go I” -- that in the blink of an eye, any of us could be faced with a terrible diagnosis, any of us could be injured in a horrible accident, any of us could lose the job we count on to support our family.
And when that happens, it shouldn’t mean falling off a cliff. It shouldn’t mean having to go without food or medicine or a roof over our heads. Not here in America. That’s not who we are. Here in America, while we expect everyone to do their fair share, we also believe that we should give everyone a fair shot. We believe that everyone should have the basic security they need to provide for their families and give their kids a decent shot in life. And that’s certainly the kind of security that I and I know so many people here grew up with.
As you know by now, my family wasn’t rich, growing up -- far from it. Neither of my parents were able to go to college. But I was fortunate. I had decent public schools that prepared me to succeed. I had parents who pushed me and supported me every step of the way. And because my dad’s job at the city water plant paid him a decent wage, he and my mom were able to build a stable life for me and my brother. They were even able to pay that tiny bit of my college tuition that wasn’t covered by student loans and grants.
So I was able to get a college education, go on to law school. And let me tell you, for a working-class kid from the South Side of Chicago, being able to get my education meant everything to me. It was the foundation for my career. It was the launching pad for my dreams. It let me build a life for myself that my parents never could have imagined for themselves -- never.
And today, there are so many kids out there just like me, just like Barack –- kids with such big dreams and so much promise, but kids who never get those opportunities; kids who have the potential to be anything in the world -- surgeons, teachers, engineers, and yes, President of the United States. (Applause.)
But no one is willing to invest in them. No one ever encourages them to go to college. No one ever explains the complicated financial aid process. No one helps them shape a vision for what their lives could be with a decent education. No one ever gives them the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
And what’s even worse is that when we fail to invest in our young people, that just doesn’t limit their future, it limits our country’s future as well. And let me tell you, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about the millions of kids who are falling through the cracks of opportunity in this country, because I can’t help but think how their story could be my story. But I also remember that my story can be their story if we give these kids a chance.
And that’s why Barack and I are and will be working so hard to help more of our young people afford college. We're going to be working to inspire them to apply -- (applause) -- especially kids in underserved communities. And that is why Barack is also fighting so hard to ensure that once these kids graduate, that they actually have good jobs with good wages so that they can pass that gift of opportunity on to their own kids.
But let’s be clear -- and I have said this again -- Barack cannot do this all alone just sitting by himself in the Oval Office. (Laughter.) It's a sad thought, isn't it? It's a sad little thought. (Laughter.) And we know this. We know this by now. We’ve seen it time and again. He needs help.
Remember the Recovery Act that helped rescue our economy and helped our businesses create 8.2 million new jobs in the past 46 months? It's good stuff. Well, we needed Congress to pass that bill. Remember the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? I know you all remember that one. (Applause.) Well, that bill was passed by Congress back in 2009. And of course, there’s the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it, it matters who we elect to represent us in Washington. It matters. And right now, we are just 17 seats away from winning back the House of Representatives -- 17 seats. (Applause.) But I’m also going to be straight with you: Most districts in this country are not like San Francisco. (Laughter.) And we have a lot of tight races in other parts of California and all across the country. And every single one of these seats matters. Every single vote in the House of Representatives matters, because so many critically important issues come before our Congress.
I’m talking about issues like contraception, and whether we as women can make the most private choices about our bodies and our health. (Applause.) And I’m talking about issues like repealing the Affordable Care Act, and whether Americans could once again be denied insurance because of preexisting conditions –- things like breast cancer diagnoses from ten years ago, childhood asthma. I’m talking about issues like whether we can marry the person we love, whether our kids will be safe from gun violence in their classrooms, whether hardworking Americans struggling to get back on their feet will have the unemployment insurance they need.
So these midterm elections matter, because it is simply not enough to elect Barack Obama President if we don’t also elect leaders in Congress who will work with him to keep making the changes we believe in. (Applause.) And we have some of them here -- leaders like Staci Appel from Iowa, Amanda Renteria from here in California, Martha Robertson from New York. (Applause.) All of them are here today. They need our help. They can make a difference.
So starting right now, today, we need to be as passionate and as hungry as we were back in 2008 and 2012. In fact, we need to be even more passionate and more hungry, because these races will be even harder, and even closer, than those presidential elections. We’re talking about races that are won or lost by just a few thousand or even a few hundred votes.
And here's the thing that caught me by surprise: I learned that one of the reasons these midterm races are so tight is because too often, we don’t show up. History shows that there is a significant drop-off in voting among women, minorities, and young people during the midterms as compared to general elections. It's on us. They're not beating us, we're losing. We're not voting.
So if we truly are serious about continuing to move this country forward, then we can’t just sit back and hope for the best, and then be surprised and outraged when things don’t work out. I see that all the time. We need to be engaged right from the beginning, right now.
And this is where all of you here -- talking to all of you all here right now -- come in, because there is something that all of you can do right now, today, to make a difference: you can write a check. Yes. And if you've written one, you write another one. (Laughter.) Because seriously, that’s what we need you to do right now. Write a big old check. Write the biggest check that you can possibly write.
And I know that so many of you may be tired of people always asking you for money, and I understand because it's not always easy being one of the ones always asking you. (Laughter.) But we do this because writing those checks is the single most impactful thing you can do right now to affect the outcomes of the midterms. That is not joke. Because it will be the strength of our resources that will make the difference this November.
Again, it is simply not enough for us to have the best candidates if we don’t give them the resources they need to win elections. It’s not enough to have the best ideals and values if we never get the chance to make them into laws and policies. It’s not enough to simply stake out the moral high ground, feel good about ourselves, and then wait for things to turn out okay. We need to act.
And when we translate our actions into dollars, that in turn translates into staff hired, offices opened, doors knocked on, ads running where they need to run. And yes, time is of the essence. We cannot wait until next spring or summer or fall to get this going. These candidates need those resources right now -- in fact, they needed them yesterday.
So we need you to dig deep. We need you to max out. And once you’ve given what you can, then we need you to go out there and volunteer. Leave San Francisco. (Laughter.) Leave this bastion. Go out into the wilderness. (Laughter.) And roll up your sleeves, because we know that those person-to-person contacts, those calls and doors knocked on, all of that can also mean the difference between victory and defeat.
And finally, please know that the stakes this year simply could not be higher, because so many people are counting on all of us to make our voices heard -- families who are working harder than ever before and deserve to make a decent wage. They are counting on us, because no one in this country should work 40 or 50 hours a week and still be stuck in poverty. Not in the greatest nation on Earth. That’s not who we are. (Applause.)
Women who don’t want anyone interfering with their most private health decisions –- women who are more than capable of making their own choices about their bodies -- they are counting on us. Our young daughters are counting on us to fight for their rights and freedoms. This fight is not over. They’re counting on us to keep fighting for equal pay, for workplace policies that women and men –- help us all -- balance the needs of families with the responsibilities of their jobs. Because as my husband said in his State of the Union address, as Nancy also mentioned, and I'm proud of him for saying it: “When women succeed, America succeeds.” (Applause.)
And of course, our children and grandchildren across this country –- children who deserve good schools and the chance to go to college and build a decent future for themselves -- all those kids are counting on us. And I’m thinking about the story of one of those kids; a young man named Troy Simon who Barack and I met at a White House college summit just a few weeks ago at the White House. Troy introduced me, and he told his story.
Troy grew up in a struggling family in New Orleans. And for years, he, like so many kids, was shuffled between relatives. He spent his days skipping school and getting into trouble on the streets. That’s why at the age of fourteen, Troy still couldn’t read. Troy couldn’t write. Troy couldn’t even count very well.
But then Troy made a decision. He decided that he wanted to set a better example for his brothers and sisters. So he decided he wanted to own his future and commit to his education. So Troy got to work, because he had to make up for lost time. He buckled down at school; he sought out the help he needed to catch up. He found a college prep program to help him succeed in high school and then help him apply to college. He found a scholarship program to pay his college tuition. And today, Troy is a sophomore at Bard College majoring in American Literature. (Applause.) And he is a phenomenal young man.
And there are so many kids just like Troy all across this country -- young people who’ve had a tough start, but are still so hungry to succeed; young people who are desperate to lift themselves up if we just gave them a chance. And that ultimately is why we’re here today. And that’s why we need to work so hard between now and November.
And if during this time you ever start to get tired or frustrated, if you ever think about giving up, I just want you to think about all those folks who are counting on us -- all those young people like Troy who deserve a shot at their dreams, all those families who are struggling to build something better for their kids. We need to be energized for them. We need to be inspired for them. We need to pour everything we have into these elections so that they can have the opportunities they need to build the future they deserve.
And the beautiful thing is we have done this before. We've done this. And if we do it again, if we all keep stepping up and digging deep and bringing others along, then I know that we can keep on making the change we believe in. I know that we can keep on moving this country forward. And together, we can build a future worthy of all of our children.
You all ready for this -- midterms? Are you ready? (Applause.) Are you ready? Are you ready to roll up your sleeves? This is going to take an active set of actions on the part of everyone here. We can't be passive when there isn't a president running. We have to be as passionate as we were when we got Barack elected into office.
So we need you guys. Are you up for this? (Applause.) You've got to be real up. You've got to be ready for this.
Thank you guys. Thank you so much. We love you. Thank you for all your support. God bless. (Applause.)
END 12:06 P.M. PST