3 Key Speeches from the DNC Opening Night
Here are three key speeches from the first night of the Democratic National Convention that rocked the house in Charlotte, North Carolina – Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, and First Lady Michelle Obama.
The transcripts are of the remarks as prepared.
Tammy Duckworth, candidate for U.S. Congress
“My name is Tammy Duckworth. I’m running to serve Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. My father served in the Army and the Marine Corps. A Vietnam vet, his family has worn our nation’s uniform since the American Revolution. My husband is an Army officer. My brother saved lives in the Coast Guard. My mom is Thai and Chinese. She proudly became a citizen in her fifties.
Dad’s work took us all over the world until he lost his job. It was a tough time. We used up our savings, moved into a studio apartment. But our family did the responsible thing and rolled up our sleeves. Mom took in sewing.
My 55-year-old dad tried to find work. But at 15, I was the only one with a job—after school, for minimum wage. Thank God for the food stamps, public education and Pell grants that helped me finish high school and college.
In time, we pulled through. With this start, I was able to earn my own commission as an Army officer. I became an assault helicopter pilot, working my way up to command a Blackhawk helicopter company. In 2003, my National Guard unit was mobilized, and I became one of the first Army women to fly combat missions in Iraq.
Almost a year into my tour I was wounded, and recovered at Walter Reed with other wounded warriors. Some of us had obvious injuries. Others had scars on the inside that were less visible, but no less real. At the hospital, I realized my new responsibility: to honor the buddies who saved me by serving our military men and women. I became director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. We led the nation in screening for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, and we created a tax credit for Illinois businesses that hire veterans.
Then President Obama asked me to help keep our sacred trust with veterans of all eras at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We worked to end the outrage of vets having to sleep on the same streets they once defended. We improved services for female veterans. I reached out to young vets by creating the Office for Online Communications.
Barack Obama has also lived up to his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, ending the war in Iraq, refocusing on Afghanistan and eradicating terrorist leaders including bin Laden. President Obama pushed for fairness in the military, listening to commanders as we ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and on how to allow women to officially serve in more combat jobs—because America’s daughters are just as capable of defending liberty as her sons.
When it comes to our men and women in harm’s way, we have a clear choice on November 6th. Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he is seeking to command. But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word “Afghanistan.”
Barack Obama will never ignore our troops. He will fight for them. That’s why he is my choice on November 6th. My choice is to do what my family did when times were hard: roll up our sleeves and get to work. My choice is to do what my crew did for me in a dusty field in Iraq.
On November 12th, 2004, I was co-piloting my Blackhawk north of Baghdad when we started taking enemy fire. A rocket-propelled grenade hit our helicopter, exploding in my lap, ripping off one leg, crushing the other and tearing my right arm apart. But I kept trying to fly until I passed out. In that moment, my survival and the survival of my entire crew depended on all of us pulling together. And even though they were wounded themselves and insurgents were nearby, they refused to leave a fallen comrade behind. Their heroism is why I’m alive today.
Ultimately, that’s what this election is about. Yes, it’s about the issues that matter to us: building an economy that will create jobs here at home and out-compete countries around the world. But it’s also about something else. It’s about whether we will do for our fellow Americans what my crew did for me; whether we’ll look out for the hardest hit and the disabled; whether we’ll pull together in a time of need; whether we’ll refuse to give up until the job is done.
So let’s finish what we started. Let’s keep moving forward with Barack Obama. Let’s do what this country has always done: look adversity in the eye and work together to overcome it. God bless our military and their families, and God bless America.”
Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas
My fellow Democrats, my fellow Texans, my fellow Americans: I stand before you tonight as a young American, a proud American, of a generation born as the Cold War receded, shaped by the tragedy of 9/11, connected by the digital revolution and determined to re-elect the man who will make the 21st century another American century–President Barack Obama.
The unlikely journey that brought me here tonight began many miles from this podium. My brother Joaquin and I grew up with my mother Rosie and my grandmother Victoria. My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio, where some relatives had agreed to take her in. She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family. My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one.
As my grandmother got older, she begged my mother to give her grandchildren. She prayed to God for just one grandbaby before she died. You can imagine her excitement when she found out her prayers would be answered–twice over. She was so excited that the day before Joaquin and I were born she entered a menudo cook-off, and she won $300! That’s how she paid our hospital bill.
By the time my brother and I came along, this incredible woman had taught herself to read and write in both Spanish and English. I can still see her in the room that Joaquin and I shared with her, reading her Agatha Christie novels late into the night. And I can still remember her, every morning as Joaquin and I walked out the door to school, making the sign of the cross behind us, saying, “Que dios los bendiga.” “May God bless you.”
My grandmother didn’t live to see us begin our lives in public service. But she probably would have thought it extraordinary that just two generations after she arrived in San Antonio, one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way–the good people of San Antonio willing–to the United States Congress.
My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward. America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build.
The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won–these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.And that’s the middle class–the engine of our economic growth. With hard work, everybody ought to be able to get there. And with hard work, everybody ought to be able to stay there–and go beyond.
The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans. It’s a human dream, one that calls across oceans and borders. The dream is universal, but America makes it possible. And our investment in opportunity makes it a reality. Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow.And it starts with education.
Twenty years ago, Joaquin and I left home for college and then for law school. In those classrooms, we met some of the brightest folks in the world. But at the end of our days there, I couldn’t help but to think back to my classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. They had the same talent, the same brains, the same dreams as the folks we sat with at Stanford and Harvard. I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive. The difference was opportunity.
In my city of San Antonio, we get that. So we’re working to ensure that more four-year-olds have access to pre-K. We opened Cafe College, where students get help with everything from test prep to financial aid paperwork. We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education. We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity. They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow. And it’s paying off.
Last year the Milken Institute ranked San Antonio as the nation’s top performing local economy. And we’re only getting started. Opportunity today, prosperity tomorrow.Now, like many of you, I watched last week’s Republican convention. They told a few stories of individual success. We all celebrate individual success. But the question is, how do we multiply that success? The answer is President Barack Obama.Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. “Start a business,” he said. But how? “Borrow money if you have to from your parents,” he told them. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether you can pursue your dreams.
I don’t think Governor Romney meant any harm. I think he’s a good guy. He just has no idea how good he’s had it. We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re promising us.The Romney-Ryan budget doesn’t just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training. It doesn’t just pummel the middle class–it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class. When it comes to getting the middle class back to work, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to respecting women’s rights, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, “No.” Actually, Mitt Romney said, “Yes,” and now he says, “No.”
Governor Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain’t pretty. So here’s what we’re going to say to Mitt Romney. We’re going to say, “No.”Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it. Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too. Folks, we’ve heard that before. First they called it “trickle-down.” Then “supply-side.” Now it’s “Romney-Ryan.” Or is it “Ryan-Romney”? Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price. Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it.
But Barack Obama gets it. He understands that when we invest in people we’re investing in our shared prosperity. And when we neglect that responsibility, we risk our promise as a nation.
Just a few years ago, families that had never asked for anything found themselves at risk of losing everything. And the dream my grandmother held, that work would be rewarded, that the middle class would be there, if not for her, then for her children–that dream was being crushed.
But then President Obama took office–and he took action. When Detroit was in trouble, President Obama saved the auto industry and saved a million jobs. Seven presidents before him–Democrats and Republicans–tried to expand health care to all Americans. President Obama got it done. He made a historic investment to lift our nation’s public schools and expanded Pell grants so that more young people can afford college. And because he knows that we don’t have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it’s time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they’ve ever called home: America.
Four years ago, America stood on the brink of a depression. Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action, and now we’ve seen 4.5 million new jobs. He knows better than anyone that there’s more hard work to do, but we’re making progress. And now we need to make a choice.It’s a choice between a country where the middle class pays more so that millionaires can pay less–or a country where everybody pays their fair share, so we can reduce the deficit and create the jobs of the future.
It’s a choice between a nation that slashes funding for our schools and guts Pell grants–or a nation that invests more in education. It’s a choice between a politician who rewards companies that ship American jobs overseas–or a leader who brings jobs back home.This is the choice before us. And to me, to my generation and for all the generations to come, our choice is clear. Our choice is a man who’s always chosen us. A man who already is our president: Barack Obama.
In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor. My grandmother never owned a house. She cleaned other people’s houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college.
And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone. And while she may be proud of me tonight, I’ve got to tell you, Mom, I’m even more proud of you. Thank you, Mom. Today, my beautiful wife Erica and I are the proud parents of a three-year-old little girl, Carina Victoria, named after my grandmother.
A couple of Mondays ago was her first day of pre-K. As we dropped her off, we walked out of the classroom, and I found myself whispering to her, as was once whispered to me, “Que dios te bendiga.” “May God bless you.” She’s still young, and her dreams are far off yet, but I hope she’ll reach them. As a dad, I’m going to do my part, and I know she’ll do hers.
But our responsibility as a nation is to come together and do our part, as one community, one United States of America, to ensure opportunity for all of our children. The days we live in are not easy ones, but we have seen days like this before, and America prevailed. With the wisdom of our founders and the values of our families, America prevailed. With each generation going further than the last, America prevailed. And with the opportunity we build today for a shared prosperity tomorrow, America will prevail.
It begins with re-electing Barack Obama. It begins with you. It begins now. Que dios los bendiga. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
Over the past few years as First Lady, I have had the extraordinary privilege of traveling all across this country.
And everywhere I’ve gone, in the people I’ve met, and the stories I’ve heard, I have seen the very best of the American spirit.
I have seen it in the incredible kindness and warmth that people have shown me and my family, especially our girls.
I’ve seen it in teachers in a near-bankrupt school district who vowed to keep teaching without pay.
I’ve seen it in people who become heroes at a moment’s notice, diving into harm’s way to save others…flying across the country to put out a fire…driving for hours to bail out a flooded town.
And I’ve seen it in our men and women in uniform and our proud military families…in wounded warriors who tell me they’re not just going to walk again, they’re going to run, and they’re going to run marathons…in the young man blinded by a bomb in Afghanistan who said, simply, “…I’d give my eyes 100 times again to have the chance to do what I have done and what I can still do.”
Every day, the people I meet inspire me…every day, they make me proud…every day they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth.
Serving as your First Lady is an honor and a privilege…but back when we first came together four years ago, I still had some concerns about this journey we’d begun.
While I believed deeply in my husband’s vision for this country…and I was certain he would make an extraordinary President…like any mother, I was worried about what it would mean for our girls if he got that chance.
How would we keep them grounded under the glare of the national spotlight?
How would they feel being uprooted from their school, their friends, and the only home they’d ever known?
Our life before moving to Washington was filled with simple joys…Saturdays at soccer games, Sundays at grandma’s house…and a date night for Barack and me was either dinner or a movie, because as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.
And the truth is, I loved the life we had built for our girls…I deeply loved the man I had built that life with…and I didn’t want that to change if he became President.
I loved Barack just the way he was.
You see, even though back then Barack was a Senator and a presidential candidate…to me, he was still the guy who’d picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door…he was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was half a size too small.
But when Barack started telling me about his family – that’s when I knew I had found a kindred spirit, someone whose values and upbringing were so much like mine.
You see, Barack and I were both raised by families who didn’t have much in the way of money or material possessions but who had given us something far more valuable – their unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice, and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves.
My father was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when my brother and I were young.
And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain…I knew there were plenty of mornings when it was a struggle for him to simply get out of bed.
But every morning, I watched my father wake up with a smile, grab his walker, prop himself up against the bathroom sink, and slowly shave and button his uniform.
And when he returned home after a long day’s work, my brother and I would stand at the top of the stairs to our little apartment, patiently waiting to greet him…watching as he reached down to lift one leg, and then the other, to slowly climb his way into our arms.
But despite these challenges, my dad hardly ever missed a day of work…he and my mom were determined to give me and my brother the kind of education they could only dream of.
And when my brother and I finally made it to college, nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants.
But my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition himself.
And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short.
He was so proud to be sending his kids to college…and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late.
You see, for my dad, that’s what it meant to be a man.
Like so many of us, that was the measure of his success in life – being able to earn a decent living that allowed him to support his family.
And as I got to know Barack, I realized that even though he’d grown up all the way across the country, he’d been brought up just like me.
Barack was raised by a single mother who struggled to pay the bills, and by grandparents who stepped in when she needed help.
Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling.
And for years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.
But day after day, she kept on waking up at dawn to catch the bus…arriving at work before anyone else…giving her best without complaint or regret.
And she would often tell Barack, “So long as you kids do well, Bar, that’s all that really matters.”
Like so many American families, our families weren’t asking for much.
They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did…in fact, they admired it.
They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that, even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.
That’s how they raised us…that’s what we learned from their example.
We learned about dignity and decency – that how hard you work matters more than how much you make…that helping others means more than just getting ahead yourself.
We learned about honesty and integrity – that the truth matters…that you don’t take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules…and success doesn’t count unless you earn it fair and square.
We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.
Those are the values Barack and I – and so many of you – are trying to pass on to our own children.
That’s who we are.
And standing before you four years ago, I knew that I didn’t want any of that to change if Barack became President.
Well, today, after so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are – it reveals who you are.
You see, I’ve gotten to see up close and personal what being president really looks like.
And I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones – the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer…the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error.
And as President, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people.
But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as President, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are.
So when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother.
He’s thinking about the pride that comes from a hard day’s work.
That’s why he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work.
That’s why he cut taxes for working families and small businesses and fought to get the auto industry back on its feet.
That’s how he brought our economy from the brink of collapse to creating jobs again – jobs you can raise a family on, good jobs right here in the United States of America.
When it comes to the health of our families, Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president.
He didn’t care whether it was the easy thing to do politically – that’s not how he was raised – he cared that it was the right thing to do.
He did it because he believes that here in America, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine…our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick…and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or illness.
And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care…that’s what my husband stands for.
When it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could’ve attended college without financial aid.
And believe it or not, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.
We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.
That’s why Barack has fought so hard to increase student aid and keep interest rates down, because he wants every young person to fulfill their promise and be able to attend college without a mountain of debt.
So in the end, for Barack, these issues aren’t political – they’re personal.
Because Barack knows what it means when a family struggles.
He knows what it means to want something more for your kids and grandkids.
Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it…and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.
And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity…you do not slam it shut behind you…you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.
So when people ask me whether being in the White House has changed my husband, I can honestly say that when it comes to his character, and his convictions, and his heart, Barack Obama is still the same man I fell in love with all those years ago.
He’s the same man who started his career by turning down high paying jobs and instead working in struggling neighborhoods where a steel plant had shut down, fighting to rebuild those communities and get folks back to work…because for Barack, success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.
He’s the same man who, when our girls were first born, would anxiously check their cribs every few minutes to ensure they were still breathing, proudly showing them off to everyone we knew.
That’s the man who sits down with me and our girls for dinner nearly every night, patiently answering their questions about issues in the news, and strategizing about middle school friendships.
That’s the man I see in those quiet moments late at night, hunched over his desk, poring over the letters people have sent him.
The letter from the father struggling to pay his bills…from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care…from the young person with so much promise but so few opportunities.
I see the concern in his eyes…and I hear the determination in his voice as he tells me, “You won’t believe what these folks are going through, Michelle…it’s not right. We’ve got to keep working to fix this. We’ve got so much more to do.”
I see how those stories – our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams – I see how that’s what drives Barack Obama every single day.
And I didn’t think it was possible, but today, I love my husband even more than I did four years ago…even more than I did 23 years ago, when we first met.
I love that he’s never forgotten how he started.
I love that we can trust Barack to do what he says he’s going to do, even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard.
I love that for Barack, there is no such thing as “us” and “them” – he doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above…he knows that we all love our country…and he’s always ready to listen to good ideas…he’s always looking for the very best in everyone he meets.
And I love that even in the toughest moments, when we’re all sweating it – when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass, and it seems like all is lost – Barack never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise.
Just like his grandmother, he just keeps getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.
And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here…and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.
But eventually we get there, we always do.
We get there because of folks like my Dad…folks like Barack’s grandmother…men and women who said to themselves, “I may not have a chance to fulfill my dreams, but maybe my children will…maybe my grandchildren will.”
So many of us stand here tonight because of their sacrifice, and longing, and steadfast love…because time and again, they swallowed their fears and doubts and did what was hard.
So today, when the challenges we face start to seem overwhelming – or even impossible – let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation…it’s who we are as Americans…it’s how this country was built.
And if our parents and grandparents could toil and struggle for us…if they could raise beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, and connect the world with the touch of a button…then surely we can keep on sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids.
And if so many brave men and women could wear our country’s uniform and sacrifice their lives for our most fundamental rights…then surely we can do our part as citizens of this great democracy to exercise those rights…surely, we can get to the polls and make our voices heard on Election Day.
If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.
Because in the end, more than anything else, that is the story of this country – the story of unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle.
That is what has made my story, and Barack’s story, and so many other American stories possible.
And I say all of this tonight not just as First Lady…and not just as a wife.
You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief.”
My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.
But today, I have none of those worries from four years ago about whether Barack and I were doing what’s best for our girls.
Because today, I know from experience that if I truly want to leave a better world for my daughters, and all our sons and daughters…if we want to give all our children a foundation for their dreams and opportunities worthy of their promise…if we want to give them that sense of limitless possibility – that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it…then we must work like never before…and we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward…my husband, our President, President Barack Obama.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.