Last Friday Ms Soapbox and her friend spent an intimate evening with Michelle Obama.
True, we were packed into the Stampede Corral with 6000 other people, but as soon as Michelle Obama stepped on to the stage, we were captivated by her intelligence, kindness, and wit.
Michelle told us about growing up in a blue collar family on the south side of Chicago, attending public school, Princeton and Harvard law school, and then meeting Barack at the law firm where they both worked. She tried to fix Barack up with her single friends. Apparently, she liked Barack as a friend but wasn’t “feeling him at first”. Barack persisted, and the rest is history. (It really is history, there’s a plaque at Baskin Robbins commemorating their first kiss–much to the horror of their children).
She described the groundswell of support that propelled Barack from the Illinois senate to the Democratic nomination, and the speed-of-light transition that started on Nov 3 when her “baby-faced big eared” husband became President Elect, until Jan 20 when he was sworn in as President of the United States.
Michelle talked about Inauguration Day (there was a huge crowd) and how she looked at her little girls, aged 7 and 10, and thought, it’s very cold, they should be wearing hats. She talked about the stress of pulling the girls out of school in Chicago so they could start at their new schools on January 1st and then watching them go off to school in a three-car motorcade under the protection of men with guns.
Michelle gave full credit to her mother who accompanied the Obamas to the White House but never succumbed to the White House “hooey”.
Michelle could have spent the entire evening reeling off her long list of accomplishments as First Lady but chose instead to take us behind the scenes at the White House.
She was determined to make the White House a home. She talked about walking into broom closets when trying to leave a room (the White House has many doors) and trying to teach Sunny the dog that the Lincoln bedroom wasn’t actually “outside” in the “I need to go outside” sense.
She said the West Wing could be a “dark place” where somber people spoke in hushed tones, but the East Wing was lively, filled with children, dogs, laughter, and music. It was a venue for arts and culture, poetry slams and Paul McCartney. It brought balance to the White House because normalcy is important, it’s not good for the country to be in a constant state of chaos.
Michelle talked about Parker Curry, the little girl who was mesmerized by Michelle’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. She said kids don’t see enough people who look like them. She hoped Parker was dreaming of being like Michelle one day but thought it was equally possible the little girl was simply blown away by size of the painting which Michelle said was “pretty big”.
Michelle and Barack see themselves as role models for all children. They choose their words carefully and conduct themselves appropriately because “children watch us” and “we show them who they can be in the world”.
A Woman President
When asked whether the US would ever elect a woman president, Michelle replied there would be a woman president when American women were ready for a woman president. Hillary Clinton was an extremely qualified candidate, but women chose the alternative because Hillary wasn’t perfect. Women need to believe they’re worthy to be president before they’ll cast a vote for another woman running for the position.
Michelle Obama shared many insights over the course of the evening including:
- Women can have it all if they take it in turn, they can’t have it all at once; and developing a core group of friends who support each other is crucial for sanity.
- Young women are “still bottled up”. They choke their own voices and hold themselves back, they need to be as free as men, this includes the freedom to fail.
- Men can’t have it both ways. They can’t boast about being good to their wives and daughters and then go to the office knowing women are paid less then men. Men need to stand up for women.
- Adversity is a constant in life. We need to be resilient and protect ourselves by eliminating negative people from our lives and replacing them with positive people who add value.
- Change takes time. We plant seeds for the future and mustn’t stop because we don’t see immediate results.
Michelle Obama closed the evening with a message for young people: she said we believe in your resilience, persistence, honesty, and inclusion, we’re counting on you and will support you all the way.
The auditorium exploded in applause. We joined the young woman in the pussy hat to our left and the young woman in the ripped jeans to our right to give Michelle Obama a standing ovation.
Michelle said when the world pushes young people, they push back.
This is good.