Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
DNC Women's Leadership Forum
Marriott Marquis Hotel
Washington, DC
September 19, 2014

[transcript © DEMOCRACY IN ACTION / video]

(Introducing Clinton, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz stated, "We have no finer role model as women leaders..."

Wow.  Thank you very much.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you all.  Wow.

It is great to be back here at WLF and to see so many very familiar faces and even better to see so many new faces.  I want to thank Debbie for that very generous introduction.  You know Debbie wears so many hats so well—DNC chair, congresswoman, trusted friend, mom—and her courage in beating breast cancer and going on to pass groundbreaking legislation that is helping other women beat it too is an example for us all.  It is a truly inspiring and moving story, which is one of the reasons I was so pleased that just yesterday Susan G. Komen honored Debbie for her courage and achievement because on the Hill and on the trail she fights for women, for kids, for families; she fights for all of us.  So let's give our chair another round of applause.

I want to thank everyone with the Women's Leadership Forum who made this conference possible and a special personal shout-out to my long-time friend Lottie Shackleford, our new chair of the DNC Democratic Women's Caucus.  I was thinking when Debbie was introducing me, it has been more than 20 years since Tipper Gore and I began gathering Democratic women together and formed this organization. 

Now a lot has changed since then.  We've elected dozens of women Senators and congresswomen; we've seen our first woman Speaker of the House in Nancy Pelosi; and most important, we've brought the concerns and hopes and dreams of women from the margins to the mainstream of American public life.  You've done that; you've moved those political mountains and I thank each and every one of you. 

But as much as things have changed, here's what's stayed as true as ever.  The Democratic Party is at its best, just like America is at its best, when we rally behind a very simple yet powerful idea: family.  Family is the building block of any society; it's the building block of our party and our country.  When Democrats fought for labor rights so more families could make it into the middle class; when Democrats fought for Social Security so that our parents wouldn't live in poverty; when Democrats fought for health care and education and civil rights so all our children could grow up with opportunity and equality, we have fought for families, for moms and dads and kids and the values that hold us all together. 

So don't let anyone dismiss what you're doing here today as women's work.  Don't let anyone send you back to the sidelines.  We're here, proud Democratic women and proud Democratic men, to stand up not just for ourselves, not just for women, but for all our people—for our families, our communities and our country. 

Now I know you've already heard from our fabulous First Lady yesterday and from our absolutely committed Vice President this morning, and you'll hear from President Obama later today.  And I want to say that from his very first week in office, and the first law that President Obama signed—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—this president has been a tireless advocate for women and families.  You know yesterday I was with Nancy Pelosi and a group of Senators and a congresswoman and others at the Center for American Progress, and Leader Pelosi put it well.  When women vote, America wins.  And that's whey we're all here today.

 We're here because there's a movement stirring in America.  You can see it in the parents in California who demanded paid sick leave so they didn't have to choose between their jobs and their kids.  You can see it in the moms demanding equal pay for equal work and the dads demanding access to quality affordable child care.  You can see it in the fast food and domestic workers all across our country who ask for nothing more than a living wage and a fair shot.  This, this is a movement that is not waiting for Washington with its gridlock and grandstanding.  This movement won't wait and neither can we, and that's why we're here today. 

We're also here because the mid-terms really matter.  Now I know they may not be as glamorous as presidential election, but these upcoming mid-term elections really are crucial for our country's future—for our jobs, our schools, our health care, for our families—so they deserve our undivided attention.  In just 46 days American voters have a choice and a chance.  It's a chance to put America's families first.  At a time when corporations have all the rights of people but none of the responsibilities, we have a choice to make.  It's a chance to elect leaders who know that women should be able to make our own health care decisions, and it's a chance to elect Democrats who will fight every day to make sure our economy and our democracy work for every American.  You know at a time when the deck does seem stacked against middle class families in so many ways, we have a choice to make. 

On Sunday I was in Iowa with a candidate for Congress named Staci Appel.  She is a great mom who worked her way up from minimum wage to management, and with enough support she could be the first woman ever elected from Iowa to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Staci is one of more than 100 Democratic women running for the House this year, and I can't think of a better way to make Congress start working for American families again than electing every last one of our women candidates come November.   And ten Democratic women are running for the Senate.  Six women are running for governor.  If I could vote for all of them, I would. 

And I know that Mary Burke from Wisconsin spoke here yesterday.  She is offering a choice between more angry gridlock and progress that will actually make a difference for Wisconsin families.  Better jobs, better wages, better schools.  And we can compare, just to understand what's at stake, what has happened in Wisconsin and in neighboring Minnesota under very different governing philosophies over the last few years.  Because I come from the school that says results matter, evidence matters, and the evidence is in.  Smart progressive policies in Minnesota led to more job creation and more economic growth.  Wisconsin deserves better and with Mary Burke it will get better for the people and families of Wisconsin. 

Now here's what we know.  When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out far and wide.  Weren't you proud when a coalition of women Senators broke the logjam during last year's government shutdown?  And then when Sen. Patty Murray stepped up to get a budget passed.  I saw her yesterday and we were talking about it, and she said you know it just comes down to building relationships, listening to each other, spending time, understanding that nobody gets everything you want in Congress, or may I add, in life.  But you work together and you get the best outcome you can.  Now that we're hearing Republicans talking about another potential shutdown if they gain control of the Senate, it is yet one more reason to elect more Democratic women who will prioritize people over politics.  And here's why it matters.

Yesterday at the CAP event, I met a single mom from Chicago named Reanna [phon.] who talked about being caught between the needs of her family and the demands of her job—every mother's worst nightmare.  There was a day this past winter that was so cold—she said it was way below zero—that the city schools had to shut down.  She scrambled to find child care for her son, who has autism, but she couldn't find any at such short notice, so she called in sick to the national' supermarket where she worked, and the next day she was fired. 

As I sat there listening to her story I remembered how I felt as a young mother so many years ago.  I had many more advantages, much more support, and yet I too felt that squeeze.  There was one morning when I was due in court at 9:30 for a trial.  It was already 7:30 and Chelsea, just two years old, was running a fever and throwing up.  My husband was out of town.  The normal baby sitter called in sick with the same symptoms.  I had no relatives living nearby, my neighbors were not home, and so, frantic, I called a trusted friend who came to my rescue.  Still I felt terrible that I had to leave my sick child at all.  And I called back at every break in the trial and I rushed home as soon as court adjourned.  When I opened the door and saw my friend reading to Chelsea, who was clearly feeling better, my head and stomach stopped aching for the first time that day.

But for so many moms and dads as well that ache is with them every single day.  The most vulnerable families in our country have the least support.  Today women hold a majority of minimum-wage jobs in our country and women hold nearly three-quarters of all jobs like waiters, bartenders and hair stylists that rely on tips because legally they are paid an even lower minimum wage, and many of these workers are even more at risk from exploitation like wage theft and harassment.  So think about a mom trying to succeed at work and give her kids the support they need with a job like that.  Without flexibility or predictability, without access to quality, affordable child care, without paid family leave—because as we know the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without it. 

No wonder there were 5.1 million more women in poverty than men last year.  No wonder so many American families are hurting today.  Far too many women, too many families, they don't just face ceilings on their dreams; it feels to them as though the floor has collapsed beneath their feet.  That's not how it's supposed to be in America.  This is the country where if you work hard, you can make it.  And each generation is supposed to have it a little bit better that the one before. 

Now while these challenges are most acute for women fighting to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, women up and down the income ladder face double standards and barriers to advancement.  We see it with the middle class moms who take home less money than their male co-workers.  We see it in the still too small percentage of women in corporate boardrooms.  And we see it in the motherhood penalty with many women forced to take a pay cut when they have children, while men who become fathers often get a pay bump. 

So let's be clear.  These aren't just women's issues; they are family issues, they are American issues, and they hold back our entire economy.

But the good news is it doesn't have to be this way.  We know we can do better; we have done better.  And I've seen it all over the world.  Strong women and strong families can grow economies.  We create change, we drive progress, we make peace.  If we close the gap in workforce participation in the United States between men and women, our national economy, our gross domestic product, would grow by nearly 10-percent by 2030.  Think about it.  Can we afford to leave that kind of growth on the table?

And that's also why the midterms matter.  Just go issue by issue and what they mean for women and families. 

Take equal pay.  We've been fighting for paycheck fairness for more than 15 years.  Because if women work hard all day, they've earned equal pay.  More than 15 years we've been waiting, and this week the Senate Republicans blocked the bill again.  That's why mid-terms matter. 

Or look at health care.  The Affordable Care Act was a step forward for women and families, covering important prevention procedures like mammograms, family planning, pre-natal services, preventing insurance companies from charging women more solely because of their gender, which actually happened in more than 90-percent of individual insurance plans before the new law went into effect.  I think it's fair to say that just as the Affordable Care Act was going into effect, the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision pulled the rug out from beneath America's women.  It's a slippery slope when we start turning over a woman's right to make her own health care decisions to her employer, and my question is will Congress do anything about it?  That's why mid-terms matter.

Look at violence against women.  Twenty years ago this week my husband signed the Violence Against Women Act.  It was a great victory thanks to years of hard work from leaders like Vice President Biden.  But celebration of this anniversary was tempered by troubling news on many fronts from the outrages of the NFL to more assaults against women in uniform and at college.  One student at Columbia University in New York, a survivor of sexual assault, began carrying her mattress around campus.  She was tired of being overlooked, tired of waiting for change, and that was the best way she could think of to draw attention to the dangers facing female students.  That image should haunt all of us, and I'm very pleased that President Obama is supporting a new effort to address sexual assault on campuses across the country. 

Just think about it.  We ask so much of our young women.  We ask them to delve into fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics where they haven't been well represented.  We ask them to go to college or technical school even though it's often really expensive and they end up with hefty student debt.  We ask them to study hard, to work hard, to lead; we ask them to lead, we ask them to take responsibility for caring for children and aging relatives, and to do any of these, let alone more than one or all of them, they face so many obstacles still. 

So voters have a choice in November.  A choice between those who blocked paycheck fairness, who applauded Hobby Lobby, who tried to stop the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, or leaders who will fight for women and girls to have the same opportunities and rights that they deserve, leaders who will fight for families and for all of us.  We have so many reasons to be hopeful.  Mary Burke gives me hope, Maggie Hassan gives me hope, Martha Coakley and Wendy Davis give me hope.  Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, Michelle Nunn, Jeanne Shaheen, Natalie Tennant—they all give me hope.

But you know, we're in the home stretch, and it all comes down to who makes the effort to show up and vote.  Now I've been thinking a lot about family because you know I'm on grandbaby watch, and I think a lot about this new member of our family and what he or she can look forward to.  And I am well aware that we will certainly do everything possible to prepare this child, to protect this child, but I want that for everybody's child and everybody's grandchild.  I want every one of our children to feel that they are inheriting the best of America, that they have the chance to do what I believed was possible for me and what my husband believed was possible for him, and what we instilled in our daughter—that really this country is on your side.  This country will give you the fighting chance, the fair shot you deserve to have; this country will maintain a level playing field.  So whether you're the grandchild of a president or the grandchild of a janitor, whether you're born in a city or in a small rural village, no matter who you are, you have a right to inherit the American Dream.

And based on, based on everything I've done over my long career of fighting for women and children and fairness and equality and justice I believe with all my heart that this mid-term election is a crucial one.  There is so much at stake.  So as you gather here today to support WLF and the DNC, I hope when you return home each and every one of you will get on the phone, get on the Internet, get any way you can to encourage your friends, your family, your neighbors, people you've never even met to turn out and vote.  Tell them that Democrats are fighting for them and their families.  Tell them when we fight for equal pay for equal work, we're fighting for everyone.  No special deals—we're fighting for them, because when women succeed families succeed, and when families succeed our country succeeds.  This is the great unfinished business of the 21st century. 

Let's make sure we do everything we can to keep America on the path toward that better future that so many of you have worked so long to support leaders like President Obama, like Bill Clinton, like others who have kept pushing those boulders up the hill, taking on the special interests, taking on those who claim that they climbed the latter and there's no reason to leave it behind for anybody else and get out the vote for these mid-term elections.  Thank you all very, very much.

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