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Obama: ‘We Have To’ Protest⁠—And Vote⁠—To Affect Real Change In America


After six days of sometimes violent protests over George Floyd’s death, with little response from President Donald Trump other than to cheer on law enforcement, former President Barack Obama published a Medium piece Monday with some thoughts on how real change can be affected during this pivotal time in U.S. history. Here are the highlights:


The protests represent “a genuine and legitimate frustration” over the failure to achieve policing reform, Obama writes, adding that protesters should not be condemned, but deserve “respect and support.”

He drew a line at the violence seen over the past week, writing that not only is destruction putting people at risk, but hurts neighborhoods that are already lacking in services, and describes seeing an elderly black woman crying on the news because the only grocery story in her area had been burned down.

Protest and civil disobedience is “often only” what’s brought the political system to pay attention to marginalized communities, he writes, but adds that electing government officials who can make change a reality is also necessary.

He stresses that local and state governments are “who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

Voter turnout is low in these areas, Obamas writes, “which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues.”

Lastly, Obama recommends that the more specific demands voters can make in criminal justice and police reform, “the harder it will be for elected officials to just offer lip service to the cause and then fall back into business as usual once protests have gone away.”

Crucial quote

“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,” Obama 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.”

Key background

Former presidents rarely enter the public sphere to comment on current politics, and Obama has largely refrained from doing so during Trump’s first term. Trump has often blamed Obama for problems faced by the current administration, including the coronavirus pandemic, and has accused him of an unspecified crime referred to as “Obamagate,” to which no evidence exists. Most recently, Obama spoke out on Floyd’s death Friday, saying in a statement “this shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America.” Obama also said he cried when watching the now-viral video of a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Trump addressed Floyd’s death in a Saturday address, which he called a “grave tragedy,” and that “healing, not hatred, justice, not chaos, are the mission at hand.” Trump has since recommended stricter law enforcement measures against protesters.

Further reading

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change (Medium)

Obama On George Floyd’s Death: ‘This Shouldn’t Be ‘Normal’ In 2020 America’ (Forbes)

Trump Accuses Obama Of A Crime In White House Press Briefing (Forbes)

As America Burned, President Trump Largely Stayed Silent (Forbes)

Source: Forbes Business

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