By Cathy Markes
Nearly 300 people crowded a renovated theater in downtown Pontiac last Wednesday to hear Michelle Obama share her hopes for America’s future and to campaign for her husband. In what became a rally for her as much as Barack Obama, a warm and empathic audience confirmed that Michigan will be a pivotal state in the November elections.
“We’re here because this is a wonderful opportunity to see, possibly, the first African-American First Lady,” excitedly explained Debra, 45 years old and Sherry, 51, both from Pontiac.
Two other women felt that their presence at the event made a strong, visible statement of support.
“Michelle Obama offers a lot of young people of color inspiration and hope. We can do all things…she herself does that so well,” Detroit resident Meagan Pitts, 27, said.
Tene Ramsey, 59, also from Detroit, chimed in. “I’m a big supporter of Barack Obama and want to see him become president, and I’m here for Michelle because she’ll need all of us to support her,” she explained. “It is so important to support her, too.”
Mayors from Southfield and Pontiac, as well as Democrat Colleen Ochoa-Peters and Governor Jennifer Granholm, all concurred in their introductions that Michelle Obama is a woman who inspires and appreciates the struggles that many citizens are facing today.
“She understands pocketbook issues,” said Granholm.
“She understands that we need change now,” Colleen Ochoa-Peters stressed.
Michelle Obama’s entrance onto the stage rivaled any rocks stars’ with screaming fans and wild applause. People craned their necks and twisted their bodies to watch her walk onto a stage draped with the American flag and festooned with campaign posters for economic change. This was her first visit to Michigan.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s wife began her remarks with encouraging Colleen Ochoa-Peters to “hang in there” as her husband, Gary, runs for a local congressional seat. She also told the crowd that they were fortunate regarding their choice of governor.
“I am not going to speak about policy details today,” Obama declared, “Barack can do that.”
She continued by explaining that her most important role is being a mother. The Harvard Law School graduate finds herself endlessly thinking about her daughters’ welfare and wondering if she is doing enough for their well-being.
Telling the group that her husband was aware of and understood her concerns, she stated, “Barack carries our struggles with him every day.”
She also reminded voters that he had been raised primarily by women, with his grandmother being the breadwinner for his childhood home.
“Right now, 40 percent of American women do not have any sick leave – that’s 22 million people,” Michelle Obama said, echoing her husband’s sentiment for the need for expanded medical leave. “Women should not be punished if they need to take a sick child to the doctor’s office.”
Sharing some more personal exchanges with her husband, she spoke of the earliest moments of the campaign.
“When Barack first came to me thinking that he might want to run for president, I said ‘No, please don’t do it!’ because I didn’t want our children’s lives turned upside down,” Obama said to the crowd. “It is not the life I would want for them.”
“So, I had to step back and take off my ‘me’ hat and put on my ‘citizen’ cap and think seriously about the world that I want my girls to grow up in and so – I needed to support Barack Obama to get that for all children. What our mothers and grandmothers dreamt of for us.”
Promising that her meetings would continue across the country and also into the presidency, Michelle Obama said that she’d return to Michigan. “We know that Michigan is going to be an important state for us,” she said. “We’ll be back and we will continue this conversation for years to come.”