In a six-person roundtable meeting (pictured with NewsOne Senior Editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher (pictured left in black) in Leesburg, Va., First Lady Michelle Obama discussed her reaction to her husband’s debate performance, what’s at stake in this election, and whether Black women have her husband’s back before connecting with local residents in a electrifying rally.
Dressed in a lovely patterned dress that accentuated her svelte frame, the distinguished First Lady didn’t mince words on how she felt President Obama fared on his first debate last week.
“You know I’m biased. I think my husband has done a phenomenal job not just in the debate but over these last three and a half years, and I continue to be in awe with just how poised and consistent and honest he is and his ability to lay out a detailed and common sense plan,” Mrs. Obama said.
“I always sit there, like, He’s right! This is where we need to go! So I don’t feel the horse race of it. We just don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. I’m so proud of him, and I make sure that he knows it every single day.”
Proving just how unfazed they — and Obama supporters — were by any negativity stemming from President Obama’s performance, Mrs. Obama added that afterward, they not only went on to celebrate their 20th anniversary privately at a restaurant, but then the next day, the President was met with 35,000 “passionate” ralliers.
“There was a 35,000-person rally in Madison, Wisc. So what we always see is there’s sort of the scrum [the drama] and then there’s what’s happening in the world. You have 35,000 people…feel so passionate about this race that they want to make sure that they are engaged. That’s always been this road we’ve been on: There’s sort of this scrum, the punditry, and the analysis — and then there’s the passion we see every single day.”
To Mrs. Obama, voters are more concerned with the real issues as opposed to what the media and various politicos have to say, “People are really focused on the choices. And the choices are clear. Like the debate or don’t like the debate, the truth is there are a lot of women out there who care deeply that we and our daughters have the right to make decisions about our own bodies. We have people who are desperate to ensure that their kids can stay on their insurance until they are 26 years old.”
Shifting gears, the First Lady shared her thoughts about what is at stake this election. Under GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Affordable Health Care Act — which will grant 32-million Americans access to health insurance and stop insurance companies from denying children health insurance due to pre-existing conditions among other sizable gains — will likely be repealed. Legislation won decades ago in the Roe v. Wade landmark case for abortion rights is also threatening to be dialed back.
Attuned to the reality of what’s at stake, Mrs. Obama further expounded on these potential losses, “I think it is important for [voters] to understand that you are always fighting, you are always in there, you always have to vote. We said this at the last election to all the supporters, ‘It’s not just about this one election.
“Voting is our most-important nonviolent tool for change. And every now and then there is that reminder that someone with a different agenda may come in and completely disagree with everything that we take for granted. So if we want to protect it, young people, you’ve got to be at the table if you want to define the country you are going to inherit. Otherwise, you can’t be mad!
“So the solution is to get involved…I think it is important that we focus on making sure what is at stake. Whatever you believe, vote. And you’ve got to pay attention.”
It is no secret that a large segment of the African-American community put President Obama in office, with 95 percent of African Americans voting for him in 2008. And according to the NY Times, “Virtually every Black woman who voted did so for Mr. Obama,” making African-American women the largest voting bloc among all groups.
Mrs. Obama believes that Black women will continue to lead in voting because many of the hot-button issues that are at stake in this upcoming election affect our community directly.
“There’s definitely urgency this this election, but I think the urgency is different from 2008. In the first election, there was urgency, pride, and being a part of history with electing the first Black African American [President] and having a Black family in the White House and having a First Lady that women could identify with.
“But now it is about something bigger.
“For me, when I talk to Black women, when I see them out there, the issues are the same. It’s fighting about health care. The issue of health reform is a Black women’s issue. In so many instances, not only do you have gender disparities, but you have race disparities. If you look at breast cancer and the like, many of us [Black women] get it [illness] in a more dramatic form. Many of us are still [late in] getting preventative care and doing our mammograms.
“And then if you don’t have access to preventative care, you don’t have a regular doctor; you’re not able to go to a nutritionist. Then we catch our diseases way down [the road]. We’re Stage 4 by the time we are diagnosed.”
Obviously, health care isn’t the only issue that is an obstacle for our community. While the Labor Department released numbers last week that indicated that Black unemployment has dropped from from 14.1 to 13.4 percent and African-American teen joblessness has dropped slightly from 37.9 to 36.7 percent, we still continue to have the highest jobless rate in the nation.
Contrary to what some may think, Mrs. Obama didn’t skirt this issue, contending that how this nation addresses education, with the majority of African-American youth being a product of public schools and Black women facing stiff financial struggles during college, translates directly to our ability to succeed:
“Employment, is a huge issue for us. Making sure that we are on the right track, that we aren’t balancing the budget and lowering the deficit at the expense of education for our children. It is important that we are bolstering the public school system, which many of our children are coming out from.
“College is big for Black women and so many of us, me, my husband, we could not have gone to college without financial aid and that’s true for so many of us, Black, White, Blue, Green, you name it. But it is particularly true [for Black people] because so many of us are still first-generation college kids,” the First Lady said.
“There are Black women who didn’t go to college because their parents weren’t willing to sign the FASFA [Free Application for Student Aid form] and have their financial package looked at. Many Black women are going through college all alone coming out on the other end with so much debt, and you can’t even think about buying a home even if you are a lawyer because you are trying to pay down $100,000 to $200,000 on loans.
“So the issues are real and they are still there. So there is a seriousness about the direction of the country but let me tell you, older Black women love Barack Obama! Don’t mess with Barack Obama! There’s a lot of prayers going out and when you see the secret service, they’ve got to bolster up because they [Black women] are not going to let that [Obama losing the presidency] go!”
On a cool autumn day, hundreds of supporters stood for hours in — what looks to be — a barnyard. There are old people sitting along with rotund babies in strollers and children running to and fro in anticipation of hearing what the First Lady has to say. Not far from visible tractor trailers and rolling plains with grass that itches one’s ankles as they walk, Obama supporters jam out to everything from Bruce Springsteen‘s “We Take Care of Our Own” to Jennifer Hudson‘s “Love You I Do.” Right before Mrs. Obama hits the stage (pictured throughout), she explains why this November we can’t let up:
“The rhythm of the election is still the same. The ups, the downs, that was a part of it too — that we’ll never make it or we’re not raising enough money, but yeah, we are actually raising a lot of money. The last election, there were so many things I’d read in the paper and I’d go, No, it’s great out there!
I still feel that [way], but I think it is important for us to not take anything for granted. We have to be hungry, but it’s not just about re-electing Barack Obama, it’s about us voting and being engaged.”
Watch part of Mrs. Obama’s speech to ralliers here:
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