Barack Obama is using his platform to help “bring about real change” amid protests and police violence
Barack Obama may have left office in January 2017, but he’s always been the leader millions of Americans look to in the absence of a real president in his place. His voice is now needed more than ever as our country grapples with both a pandemic and an uprising in demand of racial justice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers. The former president took to Instagram this morning with a message on how we can move forward and bring about change our country has needed for decades.
Obama shared his “thoughts on how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change” just moments ago. “As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change,” he wrote.
Obama says it will ultimately be “up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times” but that history can help us remember some “basic lessons” as we move forward.
He acknowledged the feelings behind the protests. “First, the waves of protests across the country represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States,” he writes. “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible, and inspiring. They deserve our respect and support, not condemnation — something that police in cities like Camden and Flint have commendably understood.”
He noted the “small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms” that are making life harder on small businesses already suffering from the pandemic — and for the communities that depend on their presence. “I saw an elderly black woman being interviewed today in tears because the only grocery store in her neighborhood had been trashed. If history is any guide, that store may take years to come back. So let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it. If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves,” he says.
Obama says he “couldn’t disagree more” with the notion that voting is “a waste of time” and that protest is the only way to bring about needed change. “The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.”
He noted the importance specifically of local government when it comes to “the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices.”
“So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform,” he writes.
He provides resources for those who want to take action including “a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House.” He also pointed to his own website. “And if you’re interested in taking concrete action, we’ve also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who’ve been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years.”
“I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life,” he writes. “But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.”