2/21/2012 8:00:00 AM Remarks by the first lady at 2012 Women in Technology event Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.
1:34 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Rest yourselves. Rest yourselves. That was a great picture. I love that. Class photo. (Laughter.) It was awesome. I've never seen 250 people get absolutely quiet - snap of a finger. (Laughter.) It's wonderful. It is a pleasure and truly an honor to be here with all of you.
I'm going to start by thanking Kathy, not just for that very kind introduction but for all the work that she's done, as well as all of the other co-chairs for making this event a tremendous success. We have to give them all a round of applause for just an amazing job. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank Senator Gillibrand, who has been just an amazing friend, supporter, Senator, fighter, worker. And she's gorgeous, and gets the job done. (Applause.) Absolutely.
And we have my dear friend, Melody Barnes, who is here. And she looks fabulous because she's out of the White House. (Laughter.) She's rested and all that - barely recognized her. So that's what it looks like when you get some sleep? (Laughter.) But let's give Melody a round of applause as well. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you - all of you for your support and for joining us today. And I know that there's a reason why you all are all here, and it's not just to get a picture. It was a good picture, but it's not just about the picture.
You're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You're here because you know that in less than a year from now - time is ticking away - we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you're here because you know that that choice won't just affect all of us, but, more importantly, it's going to affect our children, it's going to affect our grandchildren, and it's going to affect the world that we leave for them long after we're gone.
And truly, that is why I'm here today. That's why I'm going to be everywhere, all over this country over the next several months. Because, as First Lady, I have had the - what has been a privilege of traveling all across this wonderful country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their lives. And every single day, I hear about how people are struggling to keep it together - the bills they're trying to pay, the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about how they're taking that extra shift, how they're working that extra job, how they're saving and sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids. That's what I hear.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new - not at all. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The costs for things like gas and groceries and tuition have continued to rise, but people's paychecks just haven't kept up. So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just fell out. Just fell out.
Now, fortunately, over the past three years, we have had a President who has worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. (Applause.) And a lot of important progress has been made. We have had 23 straight months of private sector job growth; the unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been in nearly three years. (Applause.) That's all good news.
But we know that we still have a long way to go. And we've been working hard - this President has been working hard to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share - the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone should get a fair shot, right? Do their fair share, and play by the same rules.
See, these are basic American values. They're the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. I mean, you all know my story - my father was a blue-collar worker, city plant. My family lived in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents attended college, but they worked, and they saved, and they sacrificed everything - everything - because they wanted something more for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what's at stake. That's what's at stake in this election. The fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself, and an even better life for your kids.
And on just about every issue - from health care to education to the economy - that is the choice that we face. That's the choice. For example, when you hear all the talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, or you hear about unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that's about whether people can heat their homes, right? Or put a hot meal on their table, or put gas in their car so that they can even look for work - that's what that's about. It's about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity, a little security. It's about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. That's what's at stake. That's the choice that we face.
And think for just a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumer. I'm talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees. I'm talking about our students drowning in debt, our seniors losing their homes and their savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn't afford.
And that's why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission, and that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. (Applause.) Because when you've worked and you've saved and you've followed the rules, you shouldn't lose it all to someone just looking to make some easy money. See, that's not fair. It's not right. And your President is working hard to do something about it.
And what about all that we've done together for our small businesses? The companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year - two-thirds. I'm talking about the mother who opens up that drycleaner down the street to help provide for her kids. Or the family that runs that neighborhood diner - run it for generations. Or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues the American Dream he fought so hard for. See, these are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, then they head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up.
See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this administration has passed, this means the difference between those folks hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; it's the difference between them keeping their doors open or closing shop for good. See, that is the choice we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law? Talk about this every - remember the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) See, your President did this because he knows what it means when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother - woman with a high school education - watched her work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard; she was good at her job. But like so many others, she hit that glass ceiling, and she watched men no more qualified than she was - men she had actually trained - be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So, believe me, for Barack this issue isn't abstract. This isn't hypothetical. And he signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap - see, that can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money for gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids. See, he did it because he knows that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, that women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. He knows that. (Applause.)
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace.
See, that's what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
And let's talk for a minute about health care. Yes. See, last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. But now, there are some folks actually talking about repealing this reform.
And today, we have got to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Since we passed this law, millions of seniors have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. So are we going to take those savings away from our seniors?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we make sure that our parents and our grandparents can afford to stay healthy in their golden years? What are we going to do? Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have preexisting conditions like cancer or diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one - no one - should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can't afford a doctor.
See, when our kids get older and graduate from school, we all know how hard it is for them to find jobs, let alone jobs that provide insurance. That's why, as part of health reform, kids now can stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 years old. (Applause.) And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage - 2.5 million. (Applause.) So we have to ask ourselves, will we take that insurance away from those kids? Or will we say that we don't want our sons and daughters going without health care when they're just starting out, trying to build families and careers of their own? But that's the choice we face.
And think for a minute about what's been done in education. Think about all of the investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country - these are our babies. Kids sitting in crumbling classrooms; kids with so much promise, kids who could be anything - anything - they wanted, if we just gave them a chance.
So, you think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks - folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. Folks who are doing it all, doing everything they can - working full-time, raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, still study late into the night. Why? Because they are desperately working for something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this investment in our students and our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy - nothing less. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That is what's at stake.
And let's not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices - (applause) - and for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) More importantly, let us not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come - on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake. That is the choice we're facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let's not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe, and to restore our standing in the world. Thanks to the brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) Your President ended the war in Iraq and brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits they have earned. And because my husband ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) Because that is what's at stake. That's what's at stake.
So make no mistake about it, whether it's health care, whether it's the economy, education, foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but, more importantly, who do we want to be? Who do we want to be?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Who are we? Will we tell folks who've done everything right but are still struggling just to get by, are we going to tell them, tough luck, you're on your own? Who are we? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we're all better off?
But who are we? Will we continue all the change we've begun, all the progress we've made? Or will we just allow everything to just slip away? Who are we? See, that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
But believe me, your President knows this all too well. He understands these issues, because he's lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school, pay the bills. When she needed help, who stepped up? His grandmother stepped up, waking up every morning before dawn to get on some bus to go to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she didn't complain - sounds familiar. She didn't complain. She just kept on showing up, doing her best.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn't have a chance to fulfill their potential. Because those are the experiences that have made him the man and the President he is today. We are blessed to have somebody like that in the Oval Office. (Applause.)
And that's why I'm here. That's why I'm here. See, that's what I hear in my husband's voice when he comes home after traveling, a long day, all over the country, and he tells me about the people he's met. See, and in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he's sitting there poring over briefings and the letters that people have sent him. Every night he reads these letters - a woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care. The letter from the father struggling to pay his family's bills. The letters from far too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion, the worry, the determination in his voice. He's like, "you won't believe what folks are going through." That's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this ain't right. We have got to fix this. We have so much more to do."
See, I tell this to everybody: When it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but if he's had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. See, and that's what he carries with him. He carries, every single day - it's our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams.
That is where Barack gets his passion. That's where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that's why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal, never lets himself get distracted by all that chatter, all that noise. He just keeps moving forward. Just keeps moving forward. (Applause.) Because he has a vision for this country. He has a vision. And it's a vision that we all share. We all share this vision.
But I've said this before, and I will say it again: He cannot do it alone. That was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs you all over this. Needs you to make those calls, needs you to register those voters. He needs you to take those "I'm In" cards - because hopefully you have them in here somewhere - and sign them up; get your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues. You've got to convince more and more people that giving just a little part of their lives - just a little part of their lives - each week to this campaign will make the world of difference because of what's at stake.
Because we all know that this isn't about one extraordinary man. This is not about Barack Obama - although I will admit I'm a little biased. I think he's wonderful. (Laughter and applause.) But it has always been about us - all of us. All of us coming together for the values we believe in, and for the country we want to be. We have to work for that
And I'm not going to kid you - I never do - this journey is going to be long. It is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country - always. The reality is that real change is slow, and it never happens all at once. But one thing I do know is that if we keep showing up, and if we keep fighting the good fight, then we always get there. We always do. We always have. We always get to that better place. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, right? Maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes.
Because in the end, that's really what this all - it's all about. In the end, we're not fighting these battles for ourselves. We're fighting them for our sons and our daughters. We're fighting them for our grandsons and for our granddaughters. We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. This is not about us.
And I'm in this not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I'm in this as a citizen who knows that we can do so much to change this country for the better. Because the truth is that no matter what happens, my girls are good. See, they're blessed. My girls will have all the advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that's probably true for so many of your children as well, children in this room.
But I think that the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she's not our daughter, even if he's not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune, right? (Applause.)
Because in the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story, because we know that in this country we rise and we fall together. (Applause.) And we know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone - everyone in this country - gets a fair shake, and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That's what's at stake.
So it is time for us to get moving, right? It is time for us to get this thing going, right?
MRS. OBAMA: So I have one final question: Are you in? (Applause.) Wait, wait, wait, I didn't hear that. Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready for this? (Applause.) You all have to be fired up about this. This is going to be long. This is going to take a lot of work. It is not going to be easy. But there is too much at stake. There is too much at stake to miss this opportunity. I am going to be working so hard, but we need each and every one of you to be working just as hard.
I look forward to seeing you all out there. We've got to get this done. Thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.)