Remarks by the President at an Organizing for Action Dinner
St. Regis Hotel
5:18 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: I got to sign Trina’s remarks here real quick. Everybody have a seat while I’m doing this. (Laughter.)
How’s it going, everybody? (Applause.) Well, listen, I just gave a big speech, so I’m not going to give a long one here. Usually, in these kinds of settings I may give some brief remarks at the top, and then the press will leave and I’ll be able to do a little bit of Q&A.
But I just want everybody to know that when I listen to Trina, I am reminded of why I got into politics -- because I was raised by a single mom, and she was somebody who was unlikely to be involved in activism of any sort, grew up in a small Kansas town and then her parents moved to Seattle. Had a baby when she was only 18 years old, but ultimately ended up being involved in development in poor countries, and women’s empowerment, and giving them microloans to start their own businesses. And taught me so much about what was important and the values that I care about, and the belief that if you empower people, if you give them the tools, then they can do amazing things. But you just have to have confidence that good things happen because “ordinary people” get a chance. And when that happens, good things happen to the economy. When that happens, good things happen in our politics. When that happens, great things happen in our culture.
And so as I was listening to Trina, I think you’re absolutely right. I think -- Ashley?
MS. LONGACRE: It’s Ashley.
THE PRESIDENT: I think Ashley is watching you right now and you’re empowering her, and then she in turn is going to empower somebody else. And that’s at the core, the faith of my politics. And that’s why all of you have hung in there so tough all these years, through all the ups and downs and twists and turns -- also because you’re a little scared of Sarah -- (laughter) -- because she’s a hard taskmaster. (Applause.)
So where are we right now? The economy has improved by every measure. The fact of the matter is, is that if you ask the question Ronald Reagan said was the most important thing to ask about a presidency, and that is, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” You are. We’ve made great strides on health care. We’ve made strides in education and access to college. We’ve made serious strides in clean energy. You know the statistics.
But where we haven't made as much progress as I would like is in people feeling connected to their government and people feeling control over their lives. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that, but a lot of it just has to do with the fact that this brand of politics a lot of people in power find threatening. They’ve got a different theory -- that somehow the country works better when you discourage people from voting, and you discourage people from getting facts and evidence and information, and think that their interests are advanced by dividing each other rather than us finding common ground.
And it’s not necessarily just some big conspiracy. A lot of it has to do with the way our societies are organized now, because of the nature of communities and technology. And so often it breeds isolation. And we each find refuge in media that confirms our biases as opposed to trying to get us to open up our attitudes and to see the world through other people’s eyes and standing in other people’s shoes.
And yet, when you look at what ails our democracy, more than any material issue it is actually this -- this sense of do I have the power to determine the shape of my life and my communities; do I have the ability to make sure that my values are heard; do I have a community with which to find meaning. Those things are hard to measure, but those are things that matter deeply. And our democracy only works when people are involved.
If you back to the earliest years of this democracy and you look at de Tocqueville writing about America, what set us apart was the degree to which we were involved and engaged. And if something was broken, we decided we’re going to go fix it. We’re not going to just complain. We’re not going to throw up our hands hopelessly. No, we’re going to figure out a better way to do this thing. And wave after wave of grassroots reform is what made everything from the 40-hour work week, to the woman’s right to vote, to the Civil Rights Movement, to ending disastrous wars. It was because people said, no, we’re Americans -- I want to change something.
So, OFA is an embodiment of this hope that we can get involved. But it’s more than just a hope; it’s a belief that we can find practical applications of it and pass on skills, and get people involved. And if you’ve met any of the young people who are some of the OFA fellows here, you know that it works. And they are already doing amazing things. And they look really young each year that passes. (Laughter.) It’s like -- they’re starting, disturbingly, to look like Malia. (Laughter.) And there’s a reason for that, because Malia is about to go to college, and I’m getting old. But that’s okay. As long as I see what these young people are doing, I have confidence in the future of this country. But we just want to make sure that we’re duplicating that. And that does not happen if it’s not for the support of so many people around this room.
So for the fellows who are here, I couldn’t be prouder of you. You are an embodiment of what this organization is about. For the organizers and staff of OFA, I couldn’t be prouder of you, because you used to be these young kids. I remember. (Laughter.) But you’re passing it on and keeping it going. For those of you who are supporting this with your skills and talent, and your checkbooks, we are truly grateful -- because I’m reminded of Bobby Kennedy’s speech, “Ripples of Hope” -- that hope is like that pebble that lands in the lake. And this ever-expanding set of ripples, you don’t know exactly how it’s going to change the country. But this young lady, Ferosa (ph), and Ashley, Trina’s daughter -- they’re going to do something that’s remarkable. And that’s going to be our greatest legacy. More important than any bill we pass. More important than any law we advance. It’s creating this movement of citizenship around this country.
So thank you for all the participation and all the great work you guys are doing. All right? Thanks, everybody. (Applause.)
5:28 P.M. EST