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A farewell to the forty fourth

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JANUARY 29, 2017

It’s very easy to post pictures of Barack Obama on social media, with descriptions filled with heaps of praise, his most laudable qualities and his list of accomplishments. It’s especially easy when the new U.S. president is shaping up to have the antithesis of the aforementioned praise, those qualities and that list of accomplishments.

Obama has, in many ways, been a force for progress in this country. Just to name a few of his big achievements: Economically, it was his administration that reversed the Great Recession. His appointees helped to direct our economy so that, in December 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. In January 2009, when he was sworn in, the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, and it reached a peak of 10 percent in December of that year.

Obama was able to appoint two women to the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The Trump administration is barely older than my leftover pasta, yet it is already posing a massive threat to a woman’s right to choose, making these two Obama appointees an important line of defense in an already long-fought war on women that looks to be raging on.

Obama, although slow to publicly state his support for marriage equality, has in my opinion been the best president ever for the LGBTQ+ community (not that there was much competition). He oversaw the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and made it a hate crime to assault anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is worth mentioning that Joe Biden pushed Obama to publicly support same-sex marriage, before which he was notably silent on the issue, and even before that he believed that marriage was intended to be between one man and one woman.

You can probably see the tone I’m going with here. I am very cautious, unlike some of my other friends, to shower Obama with praise as he boards the helicopter formerly known as Marine One for the final time. I do not mean to detract from his historic achievements. I realise that, especially as a (basically) Black man, his achievements have paved a path for myself and others like me to succeed.

But I’ve gotta keep it real.

You got a lot less privacy under the Obama administration. We learned about how wide reaching the National Security Agency was in the bulk collection of our data, and how its capacities became even larger under the Obama administration, which is a great cause for concern. A lot of people had already assumed Big Brother was watching, but even Orwell had no idea Big Brother would one day also own golf courses and try to sell steaks on television.

Obama’s foreign policy will be a stain on his legacy. Yes, he was better liked than his predecessor on the international stage, so much so that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize after swearing in not even nine months earlier. However, his disastrous drone war was conducted with little oversight, little transparency and, it seems, little accuracy. Hundreds of innocent people have been killed based off of flawed information. We have struck weddings with drones. We have struck the first responders to those attacks with drones. According to some reports, we could have struck the funerals of drone strike victims with drones.  Those victims had loved ones. They were emboldened with anti-American sentiment. They’re ISIS now. Thanks, Obama.

“I am very cautious, unlike some of my other friends, to shower Obama with praise as he boards the helicopter formerly known as Marine One for the final time.”

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Barack Obama was always too cozy with elites, at a time when America was not in the mood for coziness with elites. He appointed lobbyists to his administration, after saying on the stump back in 2007 that the revolving door of people going from the private sector to government agencies would “be closed in the Obama White House.” While the media was paying close attention to Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails, what was largely ignored was that the Obama administration made appointments that were largely the same ones that were favoured by a Citigroup executive — and we all know that bank executives always have the best interest of the American people at heart. Just ask Sept. 29, 2008.

As of noon EST on Jan. 20, 2017, the retrospective on the Obama legacy has officially begun. Historians and political scientists can debate the dichotomy of a president who talked the progressive talk, yet walked the centrist walk.

Perhaps, eight years ago on that day, a younger, darker-haired, optimistic Barack walked into the Oval Office with pep in his step and opened up his presidential briefing, only to emerge four hours later from that famed chamber with the 1,000-yard stare, realising that his Hopes were doomed to be Nopes, his Change to be Estranged.

Or, perhaps, the realities of the presidency setting in didn’t deter him, and he kept trying to fight for progress, only to find obstruction in his path.

Or perhaps, from the beginning, he was just another politician, driven by ego and legacy.

This is a narrative that will be written in the years to come. I’m not ready to decisively state what his motivations were. I can say that some of his final actions as president give me a glimmer of that feeling I had as a 13-year-old mixed kid watching the news on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008: That feeling was hope.

His parting shots: He worked to delay the Dakota Access Pipeline, he commuted the sentences of hundreds of non-violent drug offenders and perhaps most shockingly, he signed an early release for whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Maybe there was a progressive hiding in there all along. But let’s take the best-case scenario, that Barack was a well intentioned guy stuck in a system that constrained him from doing what he really wanted. In that case, his presidency has taught us an important lesson as we trudge forward into Trumpland. Maybe if we want to make the change we need, to borrow one of Barack’s quotes, “change doesn’t begin in the halls of Washington, but on the streets of America.”

The Obama we now need to look to most is not the president, it’s the community organiser. The one who was on the ground in the Southside of Chicago, talking to people who were neglected and marginalised by society. The person who worked with those who, while they were struck by systemic hunger, poverty, violence and undereducation, were still passionate enough to mobilise for their own wellbeing. The person who gave them the tools and guided them toward advocating for change on their own, with the help of politicians but without relying on their efforts. Our national government appears to be more indifferent than ever about the needs of a large segment of the population. Do you want to make the biggest difference? Today? In 2017? Educate. Organise. Resist. Win. Just like he did.

Now, please, Mr. Obama, you’re a private citizen now. Have yourself some weed.

“Have yourself some weed.”

Contact the Weekender at [email protected].

JANUARY 29, 2017