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DNC Begins with Fair Pay Advocate Lilly Ledbetter, Mayor Julián Castro and First Lady Michelle Obama

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The 2012 Democratic National Convention kicked off in Charlotte on Tuesday with a heavy focus on President Obama’s achievements on issues ranging from healthcare and women’s rights to immigration and ending combat operations in Iraq. We hear excerpts of the speeches of three speakers: women’s equality leader Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law; San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, the first-ever Latino to keynote the DNC; and first lady Michelle Obama. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We are “Breaking With Convention.” This is “War, Peace and the Presidency.” And we’re broadcasting from Charlotte, North Carolina, daily two hours of coverage from the Democratic National Convention, inside and out.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention has entered its second day here in Charlotte. Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak tonight. Other speakers today include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood; and Sandra Fluke, the recent graduate of Georgetown University Law Center who came under attack earlier this year by Rush Limbaugh and others after she spoke out for insurance coverage of contraception.

The convention opened Tuesday, exactly nine weeks before the general election. On the opening night, Democrats touted President Obama’s achievements on issues ranging from healthcare and women’s rights to immigration and ending the war in Iraq. About two dozen Democratic congresswomen and candidates took the stage together to criticize the Republicans on a number of issues, including healthcare, equal pay and domestic violence. Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs serving in Iraq, criticized Republican nominee Mitt Romney for ignoring the war in Afghanistan. Other speakers included Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. We’ll hear excerpts from their speeches in a moment. But the evening culminated with first lady Michelle Obama. These are some highlights.

MICHELLE OBAMA: 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 and 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.

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, and 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, now 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 of 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.

Barack was raised by a single mom 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, 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.

If our parents and grandparents could toil and struggle for us, you know, if they could raise beams of steel to the sky, send a man to the moon, connect the world with a touch of a button, then surely we can keep on sacrificing and building for our own kids and grandkids, right? 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 on Election Day and make our voices heard. 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.

AMY GOODMAN: Those are excerpts of the speech of first lady Michelle Obama. The women’s equality leader Lilly Ledbetter also spoke. She is the namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill President Obama signed into law.

LILLY LEDBETTER: My name is Lilly Ledbetter, and I’m here tonight to say, what a difference four years make! Some of you may know my story, how for 19 years I worked as a manager at a tire plant in Alabama. And some of you may have lived a similar story. After nearly two decades of hard, proud work, I found out that I was making significantly less money than the men who were doing the same work as me. I went home, talked to my husband, and we decided to fight. We decided to fight for our family and for your family, too. We sought justice because equal pay for equal work is an American value.

That fight took me 10 years. It took me all the way to the Supreme Court. And in a five-to-four decision, they stood on the side of those who shortchanged my pay, my overtime and my retirement just because I’m a woman. The Supreme Court told me that I should have filed a complaint within six months of the company’s first decision to pay me less, even though I didn’t know about it for nearly two decades.

And if we hadn’t elected President Barack Obama, the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded interpretation would have been the law of the land, and that would have been the end of my story. But with President Obama on our side, even though I lost before the Supreme Court, we won. The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I think it says something. It says something about his priorities that the first bill he would put his name on has my name on it, too. As he said that day, with me by his side, “Making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody.” The president signed the bill for his grandmother, whose dreams hit the glass ceiling, and for his daughters, so that theirs never will. Because of his leadership, women who faced pay discrimination like I did now can get their day in court.

That was the first stop, but it can’t be the last, because women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. Those pennies add up to real money. It’s real money for the little things like being able to take your kids to the movies and for the big things like sending them to college. It’s paying your rent this month and the mortgage in the future. It’s having savings for the bill you didn’t expect and savings for the dignified retirement you have earned. Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account or Cayman Island investments, an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars, but, Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over the entire lives, we lose—just cannot be measured in dollars.

Three years ago, the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act to level the playing field for women in America. The Senate Republicans blocked it. Mitt Romney won’t even say if he supports it. President Obama does. In the end, I didn’t get a dime of money. I was shortchanged. But this fight became bigger than Lilly Ledbetter. Today, it’s about my daughter. It’s about my granddaughter. It’s about women and men. It’s about families. It’s about equality. It’s about equality and justice. This cause, which bears my name, is bigger than me. It’s as big as all of you. Which began as my own is now our fight, a fight for the fundamental American values that make our country great. And with President Barack Obama, we’re going to win.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lilly Ledbetter, whose name appears on the first bill President Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas, delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

MAYOR JULIÁN CASTRO: Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it. A few months ago, he visited a university in Ohio and gave 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—not in America, not here, not in the 21st century. 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 love who they love and marry who they want to marry, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to expanding access to good healthcare, Mitt Romney—

AUDIENCE: Says, “No!”

MAYOR JULIÁN CASTRO: Actually—actually—actually—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 in November, we’re going to say, “No!”

AMY GOODMAN: Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas. He delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We are “Breaking With Convention.” When we come back, one of the first acts of civil disobedience at the DNC. Stay with us.

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