Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event — San Francisco, CA

March 30, 2012

California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, California

6:36 P.M. PDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, this is so nice.  (Applause.)  Did you all have fun?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  How about the kids, you guys having fun?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Yay!  It is a pleasure to be here with all of you.    It really is.

And I want to start by thanking your outstanding Attorney General, Kamala Harris — (applause) — not just for that kind introduction, but she has been a true friend and a supporter, and just an amazing voice here in this state, and an example around the country.  So we are just thrilled that she’s on our team, and you all are blessed to have her on yours.  So let’s give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I also got a chance to meet POPLYFE — the POPLYFE people!  (Applause.)  Good young people.  We want to thank them for their terrific performance.  I understand they’re coming to the White House, is that true?  (Applause.)  See, I’m not always up on everything that happens in my house.  (Laughter.)  But that will be exciting.

And I also want to thank the California Academy of Sciences.  I mean, this is an amazing facility, and we are just so lucky to be here today.  So we want to give them a round of applause and thank them for hosting us today.  (Applause.)

And of course we have to give a big shoutout to everyone on the host committee who helped make this event such a success.  All of you all, you did an outstanding job.  Way to go.  Yes.  Yay!  (Applause.)

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for taking time to join us today.  And I particularly want to recognize all of the young people who are with us today.  These events mean so much to me; the fact that we are doing an event that includes families.  Because the truth is, you all — these young people — are the reason that we’re here.

You see, we’re here today because we know that next November, we are going to make a choice that will affect not just our lives, but it’s going to affect your lives as well; it’s going to affect the world we leave for all of you long after us old people are gone.  And truly, that is really what’s at stake here.

That’s what I see as I travel all across the country, and I meet with folks from all different backgrounds and all walks of life.  And, kids, I want you to know that everywhere I go, I hear about people’s worries and hopes and their dreams.  I hear about the bills people are trying to pay, struggling to keep up.  I hear about the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat; about the home they love, but can no longer afford.

But, kids, what’s important is that no matter what people are going through, no matter what challenges they face, folks everywhere, they keep working and sacrificing — why? — because they desperately want something better for their kids.  That’s why they do it.  (Applause.)  We are here because of you.

They believe in that fundamental vision of our country that we all share — the idea, as my husband says, that everyone in this country should get a fair shot, that everyone in this country should do their fair share, and everyone should play by the same rules.  (Applause.)

And the truth is, those are the values that we all live by.  Regardless of party, religion, race, we all live by those values.  They are basic American values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.

Many of you know my story, but I want the kids to understand.  My father was a blue-collar city worker; he worked at the city water plant.  And my parents, my family didn’t have a lot of money.  We lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago.  (Applause.)  South Side!  (Laughter and applause.)  And what’s important to understand is that neither one of my parents ever went to college, but what they did do is they worked very hard, and they saved, and they sacrificed so much for us — they sacrificed everything — because they wanted something more for me and my brother.

And while pretty much all of my tuition from college came from student loans and from grants, let me tell you something, my father was so diligent about paying the small portion of my tuition that was part of his contribution.  He took pride in being able to pay that and pay that on time — never late.  He was so proud that his kids were going to colleges — good schools.  He couldn’t bear the thought of me or my brother missing registration because his check was late.  That was unheard of.

And more than anything else, truly, that is what’s at stake here — that fundamental promise that no matter who you are, or how you started out, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids.  (Applause.)  And on just about every issue, that is the choice we face.

For example, think about how my husband fought for those tax cuts for middle-class families; how he fought for unemployment insurance for folks out of work.  And think about how, back when he first took office, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month.  That’s what was happening when he took office.  But for the past 24 months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs — a total of more than 3.9 million jobs in just two years.  (Applause.)  We have to remember that.

So while we still have a way to go, we have work to do to rebuild our economy, today, the truth is millions of folks are collecting a paycheck again.  Millions of folks can provide for their kids today.  And that is what’s at stake.  That’s what’s important.
And how about the very first bill that my husband signed into law, the very first thing he did — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  The very first thing he did, young ladies.  Because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their kids, pay for doctors’ bills.  And he signed this bill not just as President, but as a father who wants his daughters and all our sons and daughters to be paid fairly for their work.  But that’s what’s at stake.

And let’s talk just for a minute about health care.  (Applause.)  Let’s talk about what it means for all of our beautiful young people who are here with us today.  Let’s just think about that for a moment.  Because two years ago, we made history together by finally passing health reform.  (Applause.)  Yes, we did.  And because we passed this law, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny our children coverage because of a preexisting condition like cancer or diabetes, even asthma.  (Applause.)  Kids can now stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old.  (Applause.)  And I know many parents understand that.

So when our kids graduate from college, they won’t have to go without health insurance while they’re out there looking for a job, trying to build a life of their own.  And now that’s how 2.5 million of all of our young people are getting their coverage today.

So we have to ask ourselves, are we going to take that coverage away from our kids?


MRS. OBAMA:  Will we allow insurance companies to refuse coverage for kids who need it most?


MRS. OBAMA:  Or will we say that here in America, no child, no young person should ever go without health care they need?  Who are we?  (Applause.)  But that is the choice we face.  Those are the stakes.

And think for a moment about all we’ve been doing to give our kids a good education.  Think about the investments we’ve made to raise standards and reform our public schools, and help millions of young people afford to go to college.  And think about how my husband took billions of dollars in taxpayer money that had been going to banks and middleman lenders, and sent that money where it belongs — to help millions of young people pay their tuition.  (Applause.)

See, it wasn’t that long ago that Barack and I just finished paying off our student loan debt.  And I know many people are in that position — probably some — many still paying it off.  Neither of us could have attended college without that kind of support.  We wouldn’t be here without it.  And we know those investments won’t just determine our children’s success; they will determine nothing less than the success of our entire economy.  They’ll determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will allow us to compete with any country, anywhere in the world.  But that’s what’s at stake.

And let’s not forget how my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices.  (Applause.)  And let’s not forget how, for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court.  (Applause.)  And we are now feeling the impact of those court decisions and what effect that will have on our children’s lives for decades to come — on their privacy and security, on whether they can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes, love whomever they choose.  (Applause.)  That’s what’s at stake.  That’s the choice we’re facing.

And finally, think about all this administration has done to keep our families safe and restore America’s standing in the world.  (Applause.)  Thanks to our 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.  My husband kept his promise and ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home for the holidays.  (Applause.)  And that is why we are working so hard to give our troops and their families the benefits that they’ve earned.  And finally, 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.)  But that’s what’s at stake.  That is what’s at stake.

So I don’t want anyone — not even our children — to make any mistake about it.  Whether it’s health care or our economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than what kind of world we’re leaving for our kids. That’s really what it’s about.  In the end, that’s what it boils down to — just one simple question:  Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made, or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away?


MRS. OBAMA:  But that’s the choice we face.  We have to understand that.  And I want you all to understand that your President knows this all too well.  He understands these issues because he’s lived them.  This isn’t hypothetical.  He was raised by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills and put herself through school.  And when she needed help, who stepped up?  His grandmother — waking up every morning before dawn to take a bus to a job at the bank.  And let me tell you, his grandmother worked hard and she was good at her job.  But like far too many women, he watched her hit that glass ceiling.  And she had to watch men no more qualified than she was be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.

So, believe me, Barack Obama knows what it means when a family struggles.  He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have the chance to fulfill their potential.  Those are the experiences that have made him the man and the President he is today.  And we are blessed to have him.  (Applause.)

And I share this with everyone, everywhere I go.  That is what I see in my husband in those quiet moments late at night after our girls have gone to bed, and he is poring over the letters people have sent him.  The letter from the 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 letter from far too many young people with so much promise but so few opportunities.

See, and that is the time when I really hear the passion and the determination in his voice.  He says, “Michelle, this is not right.”  He says, “We’ve got to fix this.  We have so much more work to do.”  That is what your President carries with him every single day.  It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams.

And that’s why, even in some of the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, and you look at your President and he’s right here.  He’s calm.  He’s cool.  He’s collected.  Because he never loses sight of the end goal, the long-term plan.  (Applause.)  He just keeps moving forward.  He just keeps fighting for our children and for our future.

But I have said this before and I will say it again and again and again — he cannot do this alone.  That was never the promise.  That was never the promise.  He needs your help.  (Applause.)  And I’m not just talking about the adults here today.  I want you young people to know that you can help, too.  You might not be old enough to vote, but understand that your voices are still so important, not just in this election but every election.  You have to learn now the importance of using that voice and talking about some of these issues that impact all of you and understanding what it means to your future, and talking about them with your friends and your parents.

I mean, I can’t tell you in the last election how many grandparents I ran into who said, I wasn’t going to vote for Barack Obama until my grandson talked to me, until my great-grandson talked to me, and talked about the future he wanted for this country.  (Applause.)  So you guys can’t underestimate the power of your voice.

You can get out there with your parents.  You guys can knock on doors.  I had one young lady who brought me a petition — she’s already working.  You can convince wrong people.  Sometimes we don’t listen to ourselves, but we will listen to our children.

So don’t be afraid to get involved.  Your voices matter.  And that’s why I’m always so happy when you all come to these kinds of events with your families, and families share this experience of changing our country together — and this is true no matter who you are.  This is beyond party, it’s beyond President.  It is what we need to have a strong country.  Generations of young people understanding the importance of democracy, understanding how change happens.  That’s what’s important.  That’s why events like this are so important.  (Applause.)

But my husband needs everyone out there doing whatever they can.  And he needs all of you to take those “I’m In” cards.  Take them.  (Laughter.)  Sign them.  Get your friends to sign them, because we’re talking about a multiplying effect.  There is you, and you need to replace yourself with 10 more people, and they with 10 more, and 10 more.  And in the end, that’s how it happens; that’s how it happened before.  Convince them to join you in giving just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign.

Because we all know that this is not just about one extraordinary man — although I think my husband is awesome.  (Laughter and applause.)  But this is really about us.  This is about us, it’s about all of us.  It’s about all of us coming together for the values we believe in, and for the country we love.

And I’m not going to fool you — 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 we have to remember — and I think I was talking to someone in the photo line — that’s how change happens.  It happens in the voices and experiences of our children, and what they see and what they take in, and how that affects how they are.

Real change never happens all at once.  Real, important change is slow.  But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there.  We always do.  As frustrating as it may seem, we never move backwards, because of our children.  They see a different world.  They see a different possibility, and they keep moving us forward, in spite of ourselves.

Maybe that change doesn’t happen in our lifetimes, but maybe it happens in our children’s lifetimes, in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.  Because in the end, that’s really what this is all about.  In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves.  Like so many people who fought for us, we are fighting these battles for these young people here today.  We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them.

And if you detect any passion in my voice over these issues it is not for me, as First Lady; it is for the legacy that I want to leave for my daughters and for all of these children.  (Applause.)  But that is what’s at stake.  We cannot take it for granted.

So I have one last question to ask all of you — are you all in?


MRS. OBAMA:  Are you ready for this?


MRS. OBAMA:  Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and work?  Because I’m in.  I am so, way-far in!  (Applause.)

So I need you guys — all of you — to be fired up and ready to go.  I need you to find more people out there, fire them up, make sure they understand what’s at stake.  Because it gets confusing sometimes, right?  They need to know what we’ve done, they need to know where we’re going, and they need to understand why.  You are our voices on the ground.

So I look forward to seeing you all out there on the campaign trail in the weeks and months to come.  We must do this.

Thank you all, and God bless.