President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged the country to not lose sight of the progressive America he promised to establish nearly a decade ago, while calling on Americans to stand united as the reins of power prepare to change hands.
In his farewell address, Obama urged a country that has been starkly divided by the visceral 2016 presidential campaign to “help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”
He spoke out against discrimination.
“Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system… we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem,” Obama said.
“Democracy does not require uniformity,” he told thousands of supporters gathered in Chicago. “Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
In a pointed critique of the politics of fearmongering, Obama declared: “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.
“We must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are,” he said. “That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.”
The address marks the end to a months-long tour for Obama who heavily campaigned for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in last year’s race for the executive mansion. Her defeat by President-elect Donald Trump signaled in many ways a tide shift away from the progressive politics Obama has championed over the past eight years.
“For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some,” Obama said during a speech that often felt raw and emotional for the outgoing executive.
Obama rarely made mention of the upcoming transition in administrations, but when he did the assembled supporters erupted in a chorus of “No, no, no”.
He quickly rebutted, saying that the peaceful transfer in power is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. And earlier when the crowd chanted “Four more years” his reply was simple: “I can’t do that.”
Still, Obama stood proud on his achievements, touting economic gains made since the nadir of the economic recession, diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran, assassination of al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, and establishment of universal healthcare.
But he urged Americans not to be complacent or to give in to political apathy, saying “If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”
“I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”
Echoing his 2008 campaign slogan, Obama declared, “Yes we can. Yes we did.”
Additional reporting by The Muslim News
[Photo: President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during his farewell speech at the McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, on January 10, 2017 in Chicago, United States. Photographer: Muhabiri Bilgin S. Şaşmaz/AA]